Let’s face it – it’s difficult enough to be a parent to your own children, but what about being a stepparent? Research shows that it takes an average of five to seven years for a stepfamily to accept their new roles and have stress levels return to normal. While you can’t speed up the clock on this one, there are proactive steps you can take to bond with your stepchildren. Like most men, you want to take care of your family, and you can only do this by having positive relationships with everyone in the household.
For starters, don’t expect everything to happen overnight. You may be feeling young and exuberant again as you fall in love with someone new and enjoy a fresh start in life. For children, these changes can be frightening and lead to feelings of resentment. It’s always best to start the bonding process before you remarry, even if remarriage is something that you and your new partner want right away. It’s best to take things slow so that you can adjust to the children and vice versa. When everyone is comfortable with each other, planning a marriage is much easier than throwing together an unsettled family.
Remember that just as your stepchildren won’t fall in love with you overnight, neither will you. Like any type of relationship, the bonding between a stepfather and his stepchildren is one that takes time. This relationship is built on trust, and your stepchildren can only gain this trust when they see your commitment to the family. It’s important to be on the same page with your partner, so make sure that you agree on the rules and consequences before trying to parent. When your stepchildren see that there are clear, concise rules to follow, they’ll be more likely to oblige.
As you embark on your new journey as a stepfather, be patient and most importantly, be yourself. Depending on the situation, you may see your stepchildren daily or on weekends. If you only see your stepchildren on occasion, remember to experience real life together, instead of limiting yourself to fun activities such as amusement parks and move nights. You want to show your stepchildren how to be a family and the lifestyle you and your partner intend to lead.
Your relationship with your stepchildren will be influenced by the children’s age, gender and relationship with their biological father. Despite these factors, know that all children want to be loved, appreciated, respected and valued. Create an open and honest environment where your stepchildren feel comfortable talking to you. Praise and encourage them for their achievements, and let them take a role in the decision-making process when it comes to planning meals, renting a movie or choosing a vacation destination. It’s easy for children to feel invisible, so let them know they are active members in the family.
You may feel that some days you make progress, while other days you take a step back. This is normal. We all have good and bad days, and your family will go through many emotions before normalcy is achieved. Your consistent role will be enough over time to give your stepchildren the security and assurance they need to be confident members in the family. And as difficult as it may be, don’t take on the role as the disciplinarian quite yet. Work with your partner to establish ground rules, but don’t be the reinforcer early on. You have plenty of years to play this role, but for now, it’s best to sit this one out.