How to Build a Great Relationship with Stepchildren

By March 8, 2017 February 22nd, 2018 Communication, In-laws & Family

Whether you’re getting married for the first time to a person who has children–or getting remarried and blending a family–you’re going to be navigating some unfamiliar territory in the coming years. Like starting a marriage, becoming a stepparent has its own set of challenges and rewards, and you’ll learn how to nurture these relationships as you begin your new life as a family.

Stepping into the role of stepmom or stepdad is a daunting and delicate undertaking. Making this transition well isn’t easy, but it’s very doable. The result of treading carefully into this new territory will be building a rewarding relationship with your spouse’s children.

Today we’re sharing a few tips to help you start on the right foot as a new stepparent.

Make a Gentle Transition

Whatever the situation, kids tend to have mixed feelings about a stepparent entering the picture. There may be things about your presence in the family that your spouse’s kids love…and then there might be a part of them that feels resistant to the changes.

It’s natural for children to feel excited about having a stepmom or stepdad on one hand (in particular, if the child has grown up in a single-parent home and has been craving that second parent in their life). But on the other hand, they’re likely aware of the fact that they’ve made it just fine all these years without you (and at some point, you’ll probably hear about it).

While you might feel overly eager to start this relationship on the right foot, be gentle as you make the transition into being part of this family. Don’t try to establish yourself as a parent just yet, and don’t aggressively pursue a connection with the kids–instead, seek to cultivate a friendship with your stepchildren. Be patient and allow the relationship to naturally deepen over time.

Show Genuine Interest

Let your spouse’s kids know you’re genuinely interested in them. Work to find common ground–identify shared interests, activities you both enjoy, and any relatable topics that come up between you as you’re getting to know each other. Get on their level, and actively listen when they speak to you.

Show up to support them in their activities, like ball games and dance recitals. If your stepkids are creative, show an active interest in their artwork, music, writing, and other creations. Your stepkids will come to know they have an ally in you if they know you are for them.

Respect Their Traditions

It’s important for you to show respect for the traditions your stepchildren and their parent have created as a family. If you attempt to come into this family and change everything they’ve been doing together up till now–whether those are holiday celebrations or simple weekly rituals–you’ll set yourself up for failure right off the bat.

Learn about your stepkids’ traditions, and work with your spouse to preserve as many of those as possible (if you have children of your own and are blending two families, this will be tricker–but can still be done). Over time, you’ll be able to slowly create new traditions with your spouse and stepchildren, and maybe even incorporate a few of your own. But for now, be patient and willing to let your spouse and their kids take the lead, understanding that slow changes will come with time.

Don’t Try to Replace Their Other Parent

Whether your stepchildren have lost their other biological parent to death or divorce, be respectful of their attachment to that other parent. Communicate that to your stepkids, and be direct with them.

A great place to start would be to let them know you understand the special relationship they have with their mom or dad, and that you have no desire to replace that in any way. Let them know you’re glad you’re in their life, and welcome them into yours. It’s also good to let them know that you hope to have a strong relationship with them in the future.

Once you’ve established that your stepchildren can be friends with you–and that you do not expect to replace their biological mother or father–that can pave the way for a great connection between you and them. Getting this out into the open will release them from any notion that having a good relationship with you will create a conflict of interest with their other parent.

Let Your Spouse Handle the Discipline

A fundamental reality of blended families is that the biological parent has to be responsible for disciplining the children. Being a stepparent is a role governed by mutual respect and friendship, and stepping into a disciplinarian role with your stepkids could hinder that goal. Enacting discipline must be your spouse’s choice.

That said, since your unique position in the family demands mutual respect, if you’re being treated unkindly by your spouse’s child, it’s within your right to remove yourself from the interaction. Tell the child you feel disrespected and that you won’t stay in this conversation while they are being unkind. You must be clear about what is taking place, then do what you’ve said and remove yourself from the situation.

You can certainly communicate privately to your spouse about what is going on, but in the end, he or she must be the one to discipline the children for bad behavior.

Did you marry someone who already had children? How did you establish positive, meaningful relationships with their kids? Let us know in the comments!

11 Comments

  • Linda Bemis says:

    I have done exactly this in every way you describe and it worked beautifully! My husband’s daughter was thrown at us the first day of high school senior year by her mother who said she was incorrigible and it was a year full of challenges, but God did a miracle! My husband and I actually got through the year without a fight! I had a grandchild older than his daughter, but I became her friend and she came back two years later saying that the year with us was the best in her life! We were very strict, but gave her all of the love and respect she needed.

  • Greg says:

    What if the stepchildren are adults. Does same rule apply. My stepdaughter recently was disrespectful to her mother in front of me. Should I have stepped in and not allowed it?

  • EJ VOYT says:

    Helping your stepkids have dates with their biological parent (your spouse) is very important as well. This way you let them know that you value their relationship with their parent and respect their need to reconnect. They will see that you are not trying to take their mommy or daddy away from them. For example, I gifted two tickets to a movie theater to my stepson for him to take his dad out on a boys date. His eyes were sparkling. He loved it!

    Also, try making surprises for your stepkids. They love it. Of course, it’s going to be a different suprise for each child depending on their age. For example, I decorated our place with red balloons and organized treasure hunt for my 9yo stepson on Valentine’s day. He really felt loved and included.

    Finally, be nice, patient and kind, but don’t forget to set your boundries as well. Do it in a loving way.

  • Josh says:

    Being a step dad is the hardest most rewarding thing I have ever faced in my life. I was 28 when I met a beautiful strong woman and my now wife she had two young children from a previous marriage. We took it very slow getting to know each other before I met the kids. The first day I met the kids I went to her house for dinner, I had stopped by the store and picked up color books thought that would be a great way to break the ice ” which it was”. We ate dinner sat around the table eating and talking then after we hit the color books. Over the next year I built a relationship with the kids, teaching them to ride bikes, playing catch, teaching them to swim, just activities that would help us bond. I knew their dad is actively in their lives which I respect and told them I will never try to replace him but I want them to know that I love them like they are my own. In the short 3 years we have been together and married and we welcomed 2 more babies into the world so we have a total of 4 kids, ages now are 8, 5, 2 and 8 months. We are raising the kids to think they are brothers and sisters no half brother or half sister. We had a hard time in the beginning of our relationship with my wife’s ex husband telling the kids that they have a ” new” dad now so at times if felt like we were going backwards instead of moving forward. Being a step parent is hard ,I explain to my friends like this. It’s like walking a thin red line if you go to far one way the kids will think you don’t like them or want anything to do with them and if you step over the other side their dad thinks you are trying to steal his kids from him and replace him. I’ve become Joshy to the two oldest kids which I’m totally OK with since they have a dad in their live. I guess my biggest advice I could give to a new step parent or someone thinking about getting into a relationship with someone with kids is be respectful and find things to bond over and never try to replace their other parent, instead let them know you will always be there for them and you love them and their mother/father. I take my step daughter on “date nights” which included dinner and a movie or mini golf I let her decide. Doing this has helped us bond still to this day. I try my best being a great role model since being a step parent we play a big role in molding the kids lives, when they get older they will look back at these times and say ” Joshy was always there for me no matter what”. As a step dad and dad I’m always learning and growing sometimes learning the hard way but I believe GOD planned for us to meet and for me to be in these kids live.

  • Maria S says:

    I have a teenage daughter and she has completely rejected my husband (her step-dad). We have both made it very clear that he isn’t there to replace her father and we both encourage her to have a good relationship with her father. She is able to contact her dad on her cell phone whenever she wishes. There are no restrictions at all.
    My husband and I both agreed to have me handle the discipline with her prior to getting married and also told her directly. We have followed through with that.
    We have kept the same traditions I just added my husband to the same traditions.
    He has tried to show an interest only for me to be told by my daughter that she insisted he not go to any of her sporting events. she is afraid people will think he is her father and not her step-father. She mainly ignores him and very rarely says a word to him. He does feel hurt by this. I have had several talks with her about treating others with respect. No change at all. She will not even eat a meal at the same table with him. He has been very kind to her and only says positive things to her. We do pray before every meal and she is a part of that. I am not sure what else to do to. Should I just ride it out and let her come around? I think if I enact any punishment it will have the opposite effect and make her stick her heals in even more. what do you think?

  • J says:

    Keep in mind that teenagers are naturally at an age where they pull away from parents anyway, so your new husband might just be a convenient way for your daughter to start that process. They desire to be treated as adults, but having never been an adult they often don’t know how to attain the desired result.
    My suggestion would be to plan a lunch date with her when you are both calm and let her know ahead of time the agenda, which is to discuss your family relationships.
    At the meeting, let her know why you love and trust your husband and have invited him into your own life. Then ask your daughter how she feels about the situation. Listen to her. Ask any follow up questions without getting defensive. Listen some more. Many teens just want to be heard and feel they have a voice. You may find some legitimate fears or concerns perceived by your daughter. Work through those and reassure her. Pray about those things together.
    If it honestly just comes down to her being stubborn, it’s time to stand up for yourself and your spouse by letting her know that you expect respectful behavior at the minimum in your home. It may help to point out that the way she has been treating your spouse actually hurts you. Ask if she would like you to treat her future spouse or boyfriend this way. Agree on what respectful behavior looks like and come up with a consequence for disrespect. One of my favorites is having the offending person do something nice for the disrespected person, but that will need to be up to you and your daughter to decide what works best. These are just my ideas, having worked in teen ministry but not yet having raised any teens myself.

  • Jenn says:

    My now-10-year-old stepson’s parents broke up before he was born, so he has never known anything other than their single-parent-living-with-his-grandparents life-style. Neither of his parents wished to discipline him and be “the bad guy.” So I have stepped in and created loving boundaries, as they grew to know and trust me. They often follow my lead and the three of us are a pretty good team, parenting this boy together. It is totally non-conventional and entirely a God-thing that I get along with his mom very well and we all work together to do what is best for our son.

    He calls me Jenn, but refers to his “Mom and Dad” on school papers and says that means me, too. His mother posts things about “our family” and how blessed we are and how she thanks God for me in his life.

  • Kate Delgado says:

    Do any of you wonderful people know of any good reads pertaining to this…. I just got married and I ha e a step son 1 yr younger than me….He says, “Hey Mom…!” Sometimes chuckling in a innocent and kind way….but I do want to be the BEST step parent that I am capable of being. I haven’t even had a chance to finish reading these 7 messages….but I will read them now and post later! Thanks so very much!

    Kathryn Singleton- Delgado

  • Sid says:

    Right before I got married, i met with the kids mom to make sure she would be ok with me being a part of their life on the weekends as i didnt want any problem (1 kid is not my husband’). She was friendly and after our marriage she even got us a gift. I always had a cool relationship with the boys, people used to think im their sister and we used to go to the mall, to diff fairs, etc and even at home we would be relaxed together. Now their mom broke up with her boyfriend and became so rude with us. She calls them on their weekends here and asks if they are alone with me and screams and hollers that she is coming if they say yes. I feel so hurt i literally give up my weekends for them. My husband says not to but since he works 3 pm to 11 pm they just end up staying online the entire day (literally 12 hours) if i am not there. I am the one who makes the house a home. Now they are absorbing their mom’s negativity, they tell me SHHH! angrily if im talking in the distance when their mom calls. And i feel bad in my own home. Recently she came by and picked up the kids without asking my husband and he was aghast and screaming to bring them back. Then after her screaming on the phone she sweetly texted back that she just missed her kids and would bring them right back. I just started a job and the 2 days i looked forward to for relaxing are now stressful. I don’t have any hate for the kids but no matter how kind i am to them, it is not fair to expect me to be a ‘Mom’ when i feel liable all the time because of the shadow of their mother over our home. Every Monday I am the one who spends the whole day washing sheets, cleaning bathrooms, etc. I have had 2 miscarriages and both times they were after some fiasco relating to her. Sometimes i think it’s a sign…idk..im 35…not sure whether to keep my husband just because no one else is out there…or leave now but potentially be childless.

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