Adjusting to a new stepfamily may take some time, and there may be a period that is perhaps a little rough where you and your stepchild don't click. If you feel like your stepchild hates you, be patient, consistent, and empathetic. While this can be challenging to go through as an adult, processing this huge familial shift as a child can feel emotionally overwhelming, and it's your job to be kind throughout this difficult period of change.
Understand Your Stepchild's Needs
Regardless of their age, children may feel a sense of abandonment by one or both biological parents. They may also feel highly uncomfortable and nervous as their family system shifts and grows to include a new person. As your new marriage blossoms, some children may feel as if they are in competition with a stepparent for the attention of their biological parent. To work towards unifying the family, prioritize the needs of the kids involved. All children need to feel:
- Cared for
- Like what they say matters
Empathize With Your Stepchild
Adolescents may have the hardest time adjusting to a stepparent, as they have grown accustomed to one style of parenting and household living. From the ages of 10-14, kids are going through a lot of developmental changes. Add major family changes into the mix and this can leave kids feeling overwhelmed, scared, anxious, and like they lack any semblance of control. Understanding what your stepchild may be going through can help you navigate how to create a healthy relationship with them. Encourage lots of open discussions where the child or children can talk about their feelings and opinions. Remember that you made the choice to create this family, and the kids didn't. Offer them healthy ways to deal with their emotions by remaining open and empathetic.
Foster a Respectful Household
You may feel like your stepchild doesn't respect you. Speak with your partner about the house rules, and if you both decide that it's right for you to participate in enforcing them, be sure to remain consistent and firm. Remain calm, and don't allow your stepchild or children to get a rise out of you. Even though this can be tough, it reinforces your role as a parent.
Navigating Discipline as a Stepparent
If you and your partner decide that you will both equally co-parent, rules must be put in place so everyone is on the same page. To do so:
- Create family rules and age appropriate consequences with your partner and share them together with your child or children.
- Enforce the rules in a calm way.
- Don't keep secrets from your partner or make deals about breaking the rules with your stepkids, as this takes you out of your parental role.
- If your stepchild says something hurtful to you while you are discussing them breaking a rule, say something empathetic and validating, then re-focus the conversation back to following through with the consequence.
Know that establishing yourself as a stepparent takes time, and to earn respect it's important to be consistent, loving, and empathetic no matter how challenging the child's behavior may be.
How to Connect With Your Stepchild
It can be challenging to connect with your stepchild when you feel unliked. However, it's important to keep the lines of communication open, so they know you are interested in developing a relationship with them.
Connect With a Young Child
Take your time getting to know them, take an interest in their favorite hobbies, and encourage them to spend time with their biological parent alone, as well as all together as a family. Little ones tend to adapt much more quickly than older children, so be patient and continue trying to build a rapport with them.
Connect With Tweens and Teens
Give them space and show them that you respect their boundaries. Be respectful and ask before jumping into giving them advice, and show them that even if they say something rude or hurtful, you will always be there for them no matter what. With this age group, it is really important that you don't allow them to get under your skin or get a rise out of you. If they see that you are easily irked, they may use that pain point against you in the future, so be sure to process your interaction later on and come up with a few quick responses you can say if something similar happens in the future. Great responses to keep in mind are: "I hear what you're saying." "Let me think about that." "I'm sorry you feel that way."
Connect With Adult Stepchildren
While you don't need to parent adult stepchildren, it's nice to aim for creating a healthy relationship with them. Give them space and time to adjust to this new familial shift, and always show them that you will be there for them, even if they verbalize not liking you at first.
Keep the Peace With the Other Biological Parent
Both biological parents will play an important role in how well your stepfamily adjusts. Your spouse chose you, but their ex may be uncomfortable with this new family system. While you can't control how the child's other parent treats you, you can:
- Remain positive and kind toward the children and the other biological parent.
- Let the child know that you aren't trying to replace his mom or dad.
- Be honest about how you feel when the other parent speaks poorly about you, and discuss this privately with your partner.
- Never speak negatively about their biological parents with them, even if you feel baited to do so.
Remind children that they can love both biological parents and a stepparent at the same time, and that you will always respect their private time with their biological parents.
Create Family Connections
It may seem like the last thing your stepchild wants to do is spend time with you, however it's still important to plan family outings. This gives you all the opportunity to bond. Encourage reluctant children to participate by:
- Giving teens the power to choose a family activity they would enjoy
- Allowing them to bring a friend along
- Letting them know you are there to listen, interested in hearing about their hobbies, or wanting to spend time together
Creating new traditions, such as the annual celebration of Stepfamily Day, can also help children adjust and bond with a new family.
One of the most common challenges in a blended family is the accusation that one parent is unfair toward his or her biological children or stepchildren. One way you can really tackle this problem is to ask for facts as well as feelings when a child challenges a parent on being unfair. Discuss the facts, validate their feelings, and reinforce the notion that you aim to treat everyone fairly, and everyone follows the same rules.
Teens tend to forge better bonds with adults who speak honestly and authentically with them. This means what you say has to be what you mean because they can read your intentions in facial expressions and body language. In trying to work through a challenging relationship with a teenage stepchild you could:
- Examine any approaches you have tried and what results you got.
- Decide to try something different and let the teen know you are actively working on the relationship from your end.
- Be honest and own your mistakes quickly and clearly.
- Apologize for your part in the problem rather than debating.
- Give them lots of opportunities to connect with you. Make an effort to be in their life, and respect their hesitancy if it takes them a while to feel comfortable with you.
Seek Out Counseling
Family counseling can be immensely helpful when it comes to blended family specific issues. It is really important to not place blame on anyone during the therapy process or when bringing up the idea of going to see a counselor. This means that if two people are not getting along, both go to therapy, or the whole family goes to therapy rather than the child who is having a hard time adjusting to the new family structure. In these specific circumstances, unless the child wants to see a therapist alone, it's best to frame this as a bump that the whole family is working on together.
Working Towards a Relationship
Building a happy blended family can be difficult for everyone involved. Working towards having a relationship with a stepchild who doesn't like you is a common experience for many stepparents. Although it can feel frustrating and at times heartbreaking to deal with this kind of dynamic in the home, it's important to remain consistent, calm, empathetic, and kind throughout this process, without losing sight of the amazing potential relationship on the horizon.