Step parenting –What you MUST know, to make it all worthwhile!

Ten insights for building strong relationships with your Stepchildren

Amy and Kira

This weekend in Australia is Mother’s Day, a day that Stepmothers often dread. I think that is why Hallmark (or whoever) created Stepmother’s day to occur the following week. For years I was one of who dreaded Mother’s Day.

In addition to my own two I have four stepchildren (2 boys and 2 girls). When I first got together with their Dad their ages ranged between 1 to 18.

For many years I used to hate the idea of Mother’s Day and felt sad that I wasn’t recognised. Although my own two would help me celebrate it was difficult with one who lived 900 km away. A phone call and posted present was all she could manage most of the time.

I have been an active parent during most of my stepchildren’s lives. They each have lived with us at some time or another, and I have supported them financially, emotionally and physically through a good portion of their lives.

Sometimes relationships were a bit strained; usually as a result of external influences. This has made it difficult for them to openly acknowledge my contribution to their life. Although to be fair one of them, the eldest, at least has always tried.

It took me quite a few years to realise that it actually wasn’t personal. They knew it would be more painful upsetting their own mother than ignoring me, so in hindsight, I understand the decisions they took,

Once I realised this, I chose to relieve them of any angst by planning to be out of town on the Mother’s Day weekend. This meant they didn’t have to ‘squeeze me in’ with obligations to their own mother and mothers-in-law, and in the last few years having their own children honour them on this special day.
Over the last few years my relationship with the girls has really deepened. I have found that more and more they call me up to share or ask advice. To add to the joy the grandchildren have no qualms at calling me Nanna and they don’t care that there is actually no blood-line. Happily, the angst of Mother’s Day has now all but disappeared.
This year it was with great joy and a lovely surprise when I received a beautiful flower arrangement from the girls wishing me Happy Mother’s Day. What really touched my heart, and probably more importantly, was the message that the girls created together to accompany the flowers. It read:

We started with one Mum,
And now we have two.
Who knew our second Mum
Would be as special as you.
Happy Mothers Day, love you heaps.

Mothers day flowers from stepchildren

To add to that was the totally surprise message received from one of my stepsons.
This got me thinking about the journey to this wonderful state of affairs. I have to say that ten years earlier I was definitely ready to throw in the towel and walk away. I found that whatever I did wasn’t right; a gesture to help would be interpreted as interfering, or I was ignored, or what I said was twisted and perceived as the complete opposite! It was all too hard. But I learned from all this and the mistakes I made.
The following insights are a result of this soul searching, and I highlight them now so you may see what might work for your situation. So here goes:

1) Always be true to yourself, and don’t compromise your own values just to be liked. Act from a position of integrity and authenticity, anything less will come back to haunt you.
2) Take time to understand what makes each of the children ‘tick’. Understand their different personalities, what they value, their love language and their needs. (Check out Chapter 6 of my book Second Chance for a Love to Last for more information on how to do this). Communicate in a way that is meaningful to them, not necessarily to you. Many times you just won’t understand them, just know it is likely to be very different to the way you think and consider that they won’t understand you either.
3) Listen empathically to your stepchildren – what excites them, their fears, dreams and foibles. Acknowledge all this, without judgement, when trying to build a relationship with them. Learn what is important to them and act accordingly.
4) Never stand for bad behaviour and let them walk all over you for fear that standing up to them will make matters worse, or that they won’t like you. Once they know they are getting to you, it often gets worse before it gets better. If they need to be disciplined it should be carried out by your partner not you. You should never back away from minor disciplining but your partner appropriately disciplining them on key issues will send them a much stronger message.
5) Never disagree in front of the children about the way your partner talks to, or carries out disciplines, or lets them get away with things. Discuss your views behind closed doors and out of their earshot.
6) Just know that at some time your partner will side with his/her children over you. Try not to feel abandoned or angry. His/her children will have obtained their values from their biological parents and therefore they are a reflection of him in many ways. He is more likely to see their viewpoint rather than yours.
7) Build their trust; filter what you pass on to their parent. Ask yourself: 1) who will it serve, 2) is passing it on going to help or hurt 3) why did they confide in you in the first place. It will take time but let the stepchildren know that you respect their willingness to share with you.
8) If your stepchildren are complaining about their biological parent don’t get sucked in and agree with them in order to gain kudos; this will backfire every time. Sympathise but don’t give an opinion or criticise.
9) Be patient and build a thick skin, often they will hit out at you to get back at their parent, believe it or not it usually isn’t personal!
10) Try to love them like your own, even when they are being horrible to you. Remember they are the children of your partner, and they come as a package.
All of what I have listed above is very hard to achieve, especially if you are being verbally abused, ignored or treated badly by your stepchildren. However, if you persevere and have patience they will learn, eventually, that you are not a threat. In time most step parents and step children build a strong bond if they genuinely want to.
Jann Bleckstone-Ford is the author of the book “Ex-Etiquette for Parents”. She never talks about step parents or blended families. She uses the term Bonus, as in Bonus parent, Bonus family, etc. Doesn’t that put a much more positive spin on everything.
So why not try this with your family? Once I started thinking of my four as my BONUS children it made a whole lot of difference. I now have 12 BONUS grand children who enrich my life every day. I wouldn’t have had them had I given up on my stepchildren ten years ago! Incidentally, five of the grandchildren are additional bonuses as they are the stepchildren from two of my step children!!! I am certain that my step daughter has learned a lot of lessons from having a step mother, lessons that she can now apply to her own situation.
So hang in there, and love them with all you’ve got, the rewards will come back ten fold if you can apply the insights I have given you. Even five years ago I would never have dreamed I would be honoured so lovingly by receiving flowers on Mother’s Day with such a loving message attached.
So I want to say THANK YOU to my four step children. It has been, and will continue to be, an honour to be your Stepmum and you have been my greatest teachers.
Oh and Happy Mother’s Day to all of you, both this week and as a BONUS next week too!.

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