It can be difficult as a parent to physically and emotionally connect to your children as they grow up and form their own identities and develop their own interests.
Stepparents typically experience heightened difficulties connecting to their stepchildren.
Although building a new relationship with someone you care about can be an exciting and rewarding time, a step-parent’s experience can also feel painful and confusing. I spoke briefly about this challenge in a prior blog called A Blended Family Divided.
Some stepparents that I see at my office has described this task as one of the most frustrating. They typically enter into the family system not having a genetic or emotional bond to the stepchild. The stepparent typically does not have the historical data of child’s entire life because he/she was not there and doesn’t have a sense of “in the know”. As a stepparent you may begin to feel like an outsider because of this, thus making connecting in a healthy way even more difficult.
Below are some very effective ways to help you connect with your stepchild and build the loving relationship you desire:
- Practice patience – Meet your stepchild where they are. Because of loyalty binds that may be tight with their biological parent, they may need more time before they are willing to allow you to come closer without feeling guilty and great loss. Instead of feeling rejected and angry, show compassion for your stepchild’s experience.
- Offer to help – If you see that your stepchild may need help with a school project or simple homework assignment, gently ask “Can I help you with anything? I’m here if you need me.”
- Ask to participate – Do allow yourself to be assertive. Even if your stepchild barely talks to you or acts uninterested with you, continue to make attempts to connect. Meet your stepchild on their “turf” and ask to participate in activities with them when appropriate. For example, your stepchild is in the driveway shooting hoops you may ask, “You mind if I join you?”
- Allow yourself to be taught – Inquire and be interested in your stepchild’s interests. This is an excellent opportunity to connect and learn something new at the same time. For example you can say, “That seems very interesting can you tell me more about that?”
- Prepare a safe haven – I encourage stepparents to have a peaceful place in the home that is just for them where they can emotionally regroup. Although a consistent effort to connect is very important, it can be very frustrating, painful and draining. In order to avoid becoming angry and connecting in damaging ways, this strategy is extremely helpful. Parents will need to support their spouse as well with this safe place.
- Have loyalty bind talks – Do be very open with your stepchild about not trying to be his/her parent. Let them know you understand they already have a mom/dad and that they will never replace them. Tell your stepchild you hope to get to know them better.
Porsha Jones, LMFT
Pjones @ growcounseling.com
Photo Cred: Phil Armstrong