Stepparents usually have to put in more time and effort to create a bond with their partner’s child – these relationships can be enriching and loving even if they are slow to start. Children are biologically wired to love their birth parents – accepting a new adult into their family can be challenging. You may not feel instantly connected to your stepchild, but with patience and respect, you should be able to form a bond.
Whether your stepchild is an infant, toddler, or teenager, you are the adult in the situation. You will need to exercise maturity and might need to cut them slacker than you can expect to receive from them. Be a role model for respectful behavior.
If you are having issues with your stepchild, speak to your partner first. Conversations about behaviour, rules, and expectations should be a family matter or sometimes left to the discretion of the biological parent in the early days. You are not an ‘evil stepparent’ for struggling to bond with your stepchild. All relationships take time and getting-to-know-you, so if you put in the effort, the child will likely meet you halfway eventually.
Showing an interest in your stepchild can open up avenues for bonding. Finding common ground is an excellent way for any two people to bond. Take the time to find a TV show, band, game, sport, or activity that you both enjoy. Set aside time each day/week/month to enjoy your common interest together.
Spending time alone can help both stepparents and stepchildren feel they have a bond outside of the family unit. If your stepchild is old enough, consider starting a project together, like a puzzle, learning to cook, or building something. This will take the pressure off conversing and create shared memories and a sense of achievement
If your stepchild is an infant, it may be easier to build a connection as you’ll be present as they’re developing. It’s still important to spend quality time with young children, like being involved in the bedtime routine, feeding them, or cuddle time.
Perceiving your family as a unit is crucial, but it can be helpful to mentally separate your relationship with your stepchild from your relationship with your partner in some regards. Avoid ‘taking out’ any negative feelings about one person on the other person. Remember your partner is forever bonded to their child, but this doesn’t mean you need to feel threatened. A relationship with a partner is very different from a relationship with one’s child, so keep in mind that you all have different and equally valuable roles to play.
Treat your stepchild with the respect and consideration you would like to see from them or any other adult. Be mindful they still require quality time with their other parent/s.
Introducing a ‘family day’ could be a great way to grow as a unit. Consider catering the group activities to something that your stepchild will enjoy and engage with, so they can build positive associations with spending time together.
You can do this! Replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts. ‘My stepchild hates me’ could be rephrased as ‘my stepchild is still getting to know me, and that’s okay. If you are struggling with this dynamic, consider consulting a therapist for support and guidance. Step-relationships have the potential to become unique and special bonds – you may be getting more family than you bargained for when you fall in love with someone who is already a parent, and this could be one of the best things you never expected!