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In some cases, new family members get along without a problem. But sometimes there are bumps in this new road.
Figuring out your role as a parent — aside from the day-to-day responsibilities that come with it — also may lead to confusion or even conflict between you and your partner, your partner’s ex, and their kids.
While there’s no easy formula for creating the “perfect” family, it’s important to approach this situation with patience and understanding for the feelings of all involved. Here’s how to make things easier as you adapt to your new role.
The initial role of a stepparent is that of another caring adult in a child’s life, similar to a loving family member or mentor. You may desire a closer bond right away, and might wonder what you’re doing wrong if your new stepchild doesn’t warm up to you or your kids as quickly as you’d like. But relationships need time to grow.
Start out slow and try not to rush into things. Let things develop naturally — kids can tell when adults are being fake or insincere. Over time, you can develop a deeper, more meaningful relationship with your stepchildren, which doesn’t necessarily have to resemble the one they share with their birth parents.
Things That Affect Your Relationship
Children who are mourning the loss of a deceased parent or the separation or divorce of their birth parents may need time to heal before they can fully accept you as a new parent.
For those whose birth parents are still alive, remarriage may mean the end of hope that their parents will reunite. Even if it has been several years since the separation, kids (even grown ones!) often cling to that hope for a long time. From the kids’ perspective, this reality can make them feel angry, hurt, and confused.
Other things that may affect the transition into stepparenting:
How old the kids are. When it comes to adjusting and forming new relationships, younger kids generally have an easier time than older kids. But there can be a “sleeper effect” with young children. Some take big changes in stride at first, but disruptive behaviors or challenging emotions come up years later. Talk openly with kids, even if they seem OK with the big changes, to help prevent trouble later.
How long you’ve known them. Usually, the longer you know the kids, the better the relationship. There are exceptions (for example, if you were friends with the parents before they separated and are blamed for the break-up). But in most cases, having a history together makes the transition a little smoother.
How long you dated the parent before marriage. Again, there are exceptions but typically if you don’t rush into the relationship with the adult, kids have a good sense that you are in this for the long haul.
How well the parent you marry gets along with the ex-spouse. This is critical. Minimal conflict and open communication between ex-partners can make a big difference regarding how easily kids accept you as their stepparent. It’s much easier for kids to adjust to new living arrangements when adults keep negative comments out of earshot.
How much time the kids spend with you. Trying to bond with kids every other weekend — when they want quality time with a birth parent they don’t see as often as they’d like — can be a hard way to make friends with your stepkids. Remember to put their needs first: If kids want time with their birth parent, they should get it. So sometimes making yourself scarce can help smooth the path to a better relationship in the long run.
Knowing ahead of time what situations could be a problem can help you prepare. Then, if complications arise, you can handle them with an extra dose of patience and grace.