Moving beyond Cinderella: Creating happy relationships with your stepchildren
Not every stepparent has to match the stereotype. Here are six quick tips to help you break that stereotype and create a strong relationship with your stepchild so you don't have to be the wicked stepparent.
Being a parent is tough. You’ve heard just about every parent say they wish their children came with a manual. Parents wonder about when is a good curfew for their 12-year-old, if their kids are involved in too many — or not enough —activities, what kinds of friends they have and more. Most of all, parents wonder if they’re raising their kids in ways that will help them to be strong, confident and competent adults.
If parenting is tough, stepparenting is tougher
On top of the already mentioned parenting concerns, stepparents have even more to think about. Stepparents have to work to make consistent rules between two households, negotiate rules when a stepparent and biological parent disagree and all the extra legal issues when a stepparent brings a child to the hospital or has to sign for something at school. And then there’s that phrase, “you’re not my parent. You can’t tell me what to do!”. How do you deal with that?
Well, stepparenting doesn’t always have to be so tough. It is possible to have a happy, healthy and successful relationship with your stepchild. Here are six quick tips from a marriage and family expert to help you be the best stepparent you can be.
Create a cordial relationship with the other biological parent
Children naturally shop between parents. Think about it. When you grew up, you deliberately asked your mother certain things before asking your father. Your own children do the same. And stepchildren do it too. Except there are a lot more parents to choose from. Having a cordial relationship with the other biological parent decreases parent shopping.
Let the children decide what type of relationship they want with you
The worst thing a stepparent can do it to push a kind of relationship that their stepchild doesn’t want. With few exceptions, regardless of how hard you try, a stepparent will never have the same type of attachment in the child’s heart as the biological parent. So stop trying. It’s possible to have a strong relationship with your stepchild even if they don't respect you as highly as their biological mom or dad. Let them choose how close they want to be and respect their wishes.
Accept your disciplining role as a stepparent
You really aren’t their parent. So stop fighting about it. Stepchildren will not look up to you with the same type of authority or respect as their biological parent because they don’t have the same attachment to you as their biological parent.
If a problem comes up, say something like, “No, I’m not your parent. But I’m still the responsible adult and you need to listen.” Then when the biological parent is available, discuss with them what happened and discuss how it will be handled moving forward.
Let them decide what to call you
There are no rules saying whether your stepchildren should call you mom or dad or call you by your first name. Requesting them to call you something is fine. Just don’t push it on them. Let them make the choice, unless they want to call you something disrespectful.
Create traditions with them
. One of the best ways to create a strong relationship with your stepchildren is to create fun traditions with them that they like. If they like movies, do a family movie night and take turns picking. If they like food, pick a night each week where they can experiment cooking for the family. These traditions create shared memories and strengthen relationships.
Spend time with them
.Let them decide what to do.This is perhaps the best thing you can do to create a strong relationship with your stepchildren. When you spend time doing what they want to do, you show them that you care. You also make memories. Be open-minded and don’t be afraid to make a fool of yourself. It gives you both something to laugh about afterwards.
These six quick tips are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to things you can do to strengthen your relationship with your stepchildren. There are a host of other things you can do. Remember, creating a strong relationship is about focusing on them. Steparenting is about selfless love. That’s one thing that’s the same no matter what kind of family you have.
Aaron Anderson is a therapist and Director of The Marriage and Family Clinic in Denver, CO. He is a writer, speaker and relationship expert. Checkout his blog for expert information on how to improve your relationship.