Nearly half of all American families have a step-relative, says the Pew Research Center. With so many blended families, there’s bound to be relationships that are difficult to manage. Here’s how to make it easier.
Some of us are naturally inclined to love children that aren’t ours, and some of us aren’t. Some of us strive for our step-child to think of us as their second mother or father – some of us don’t.
And that’s okay.
We seem to have become a society that is set on happy endings, where everyone loves everyone equally. This isn’t always the case in blended families, and despite the many who think it will be perfect if only all parties would make an effort, blended families are as far from perfect as traditional families are.
More than 40 percent of Americans have at least one step-relative, according to a recent Pew Center study. Those numbers have been steadily rising alongside with divorce rates, producing a need for more education and resources on step-parenting and blended families.
This is not to say blended families can’t function better than traditional ones given the right circumstances. But, can you ever really love your step-children? Of course, you can!
You can also not love them. You can even dislike them. There seem to be various answers from experts to that question, but one thing that’s certain is you may find it difficult to love or like your stepchildren because of conflicts in personality, behavior or other parts of life.
After all, sometimes we don’t like our own children (of course, we always love them), which is why when they’re pressing nerves we weren’t even aware we had, we can handle it better because we created this small human who was put on earth to test us and the bond is like no other.
So how can you reach a similar level of tolerance and acceptance with your step-kids?
What to Do When You Don’t Like Your Step-Kids
When the stepchildren are around it may feel like you have annoying permanent roommates. Depending on your personality type, need for privacy, and whether or not you have your own children, this can be a real obstacle.
Hopefully, it’s one you discussed at length before taking the step of combing families. If you don’t have your own kids, the normal things kids do – throwing tantrums because they got the yellow cup instead of the blue one; a teenager slamming doors so often you are tempted to take it off the hinges – may create a harder road to navigate.
Here are five ways to work toward better relationships with your step-kids.
1. Remember not to rush things. You fall in love with others at your own pace, and it will be the same case with step-children.
2. Treat them with respect, not as an annoyance. You married their mom or dad for a reason, and they are an extension of them so try to focus on characteristics you do like. (Yes, I promise you can find something.)
4. Try your best to find some common ground, perhaps in the form of a hobby or any shared interest can help you to see positives in one another.
5. If the reason you dislike your step-children is their treating you with disrespect, make sure to bring this up to your spouse and get his/her support in addressing the issues.
What the Experts Say
“You are with your partner despite the fact that he has children, not because of it. Have date night and nurture the relationship daily. The children in your home have already experienced divorce at least once. Try to prevent it from happening again in their lives and yours.”
Mary T. Kelly, M.A.
“I believe those adults who approach remarriage with children based on realistic expectations and not romantic or idealistic ones (“Our love will conquer all”) increase their chances for marital success.”
Carl E. Pickhardt Ph.D.
“Whether or not stepparents are accepted by stepchildren depends on the overall family situation and if they are recognized as being beneficial to their family, either financially or emotionally. However, step-relationships aren’t determined solely by individual actions, but by the collective interactions of both persons in the relationship.”
Larry Ganong PH.D., co-chair of Human Development and Family Studies
“Becoming a stepfamily is one of the most challenging things people can do, especially when the parents are older and less flexible themselves. I strongly suggest that you ask your doctor or someone else you trust for a referral to a couple’s counselor. You and your husband could both use some practical advice and support while you shift the relationship to the adult children to a more comfortable and positive place. An experienced counselor can help you two learn how to work together so everyone’s needs are met, or at least met enough of the time for life to feel much better.”
Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker Focus on Sympathy
Focus on Sympathy
Realize that you feel like a guest just as much as they feel like a guest in the home. It isn’t easy for them either. You being the adult and the one who willingly made this decision – a decision that was made for them – there are going to be some sacrifices made on your part as the step-parent.
“Yes, in a way it is the right way to feel,” says Exeter University psychology professor Janet Reibstein. “That expectation of immediate love and intimacy is too much, and if you get forced into it, on both sides there’ll be resistance, which will continue to create problems.”
Take it slow and know you can never prepare enough before moving in together. Ease into the transition as smooth as you can to make the best possible situation out of combining families and it will be worth all the work in the end.
“It takes both parties – children and adults – to build positive relationships in step families,” says Larry Ganong, professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies.