Having a great relationship with my stepkids is something I thank God for everyday. It’s a blessing that I do not take for granted. People who have had the opportunity to meet my children and I are shocked at the great relationship we have. My own husband is amazed at just how well we get along. What no one realizes is that it did not happen overnight, neither was it handed down to me on a silver platter. There was a lot hard work behind the scenes, a lot of sacrifices, deliberate choices I made, disappointments and tears and lots of God’s grace. Despite it all, I stuck with it even when sometimes every inch of my body wanted to run away. I pressed on through my self doubt and every single setback that came my way. Giving up was always an option, but it was never my choice. I eventually found my freedom in that which I was not, their mother.
Children are at the very center of any new blended family. They tend to get forgotten because the couple is so in love, optimistic and ready to start the new life with their new partner. It’s important to always remember that all step-families are born out of loss. Your partner lost a husband/wife and the children have lost either mom and dad through separation, divorce or death. It is difficult for the children to deal with this especially since all children have an innate need to have their parents together regardless of their age. The truth is children are usually many steps behind when it comes to dealing with the loss of one or both parents and therefore it takes a lot of time to adjust to having a new parent; the step-mom or step-dad in their life.
Not all children adjust at the same time. It’s not surprising to find that one child warms up to the step-parent faster than his/her siblings. In my case, my son took a lot more time to adjust and accept me compared to his little sister. Other factors that affect this period of adjustment and new family formation include the ages, stages and sex of the children. Its key to always remember that all children need loving and trusting relationships and it is up to biological parents to reassure them of this through words but most importantly through their actions as well.
Here is what to expect with regards to gender and different ages of the children. It will help you understand your child and their behavior toward the stepparent enabling both of you to respond and react in a manner that will foster good relationships for everyone.
What to expect by gender:
Girls will often be uncomfortable with physical displays of affection from a stepfather. Therefore do not take offence as a stepparent. It’s not a rejection of you as a person. As the mother do not push your child to hug or make other physical gestures that they are uncomfortable with. With time they may come around to doing it but it’s also possible that they never do. Do not take it personally.
Both girls and boys prefer verbal affection such as compliments to physical affection like hugs and kisses. Try and stick to this. The children will generally guide you so go with their pace. When I first got to know my stepchildren I made the mistake of telling my daughter “I love you” after a telephone conversation. There was dead silence on her part. That is when I realized that although our relationship had grown, she was not yet ready for that so i refrained from saying it ever again. One day though during our usual bedtime rituals she hugged her dad and myself and said “I love you”, naturally I assumed that was for the dad so I remained silent as he responded. To my shock, she stood there and said “Wendy, I said I love you” and waited for me to respond. Moral of the story? Let the children set the pace for the relationship, all you have to do is follow their cues.
Boys also tend to accept a stepfather more easily than girls do. It may take stepmothers a longer time to be accepted simply because its a lot harder for children to accept another mother figure.
What to expect by age
Children Under 10:
At this age children are usually very open and tend to be more accepting of new adults. Usually easier to for a stepparent to form a relationship with. They may also adjust more easily to the new family setting because they usually have a strong desire for a complete family. At the same time they are prone to competing for their parents love, affection and attention. A stepparent may feel like they are in some form of competition as they too are seeking the attention of their partner. As a step parent you need to allow your partner spend time alone with his/her kids in order for them to get this love and affection. This works to your advantage since the children slowly stop viewing you as the threat, the person who is stealing mummy or daddy.
Being younger of course means that the have more every day needs and therefore will require attention of the biological parent.
Kids between 10 and 14 years:
Children in this age group have the most difficulty adjusting to step-family. This is because they already have a strong relationship with their biological parents. They also had a great deal of family history before the parents split. This means that they require more time to get over the loss and additional time to bond before they can start accepting step-parent and getting in line with the new family norms. They also take longer to adjust to the stepparent being a disciplinarian so slow down on this one, let their mum and dad take the lead on this.
At this age children will not openly demonstrate feelings yet they will also be the more sensitive ones compared to younger children. They need more love, support, and attention than younger kids so it’s up to dad and mom to constantly reassure them of their unwavering love and support despite the new family arrangements.
As a stepparent be patient, and don’t push them. Slowly work on forming and building a relationship with them.
They are just discovering themselves and usually slowly move away from family life. Their involvement becomes less and less as they try to form their own identity. It tends to be more difficult to form a relationship with them as a step-parent so please be patient. Try to find things you have in common that you can do together. They also need to know and feel loved, they need to be secure even though they will not openly express it. Reassure them as you would younger children
Contrary to popular belief, they do not understand the new family arrangements and share the same issues as younger children. They feel betrayed by a parent’s decision to remarry, they too desire to have their parents together. If they are in the same age bracket it makes it even harder to accept the stepparent. They may hate seeing displays of affection between their bio parent and the stepparent. Pressure from the bio parent to accept their new love is also difficult to cope with.
Having been in the family for so long, letting go of the family history is extremely difficult. Since they have moved out of the nest, with their own careers and maybe even their own family life makes it difficult for the stepparent to establish a relationship since there is no day-to-day interaction. Other factors that come into play are inheritance.
The best thing to do is to give them time as well to adjust the new situations. Being adults also means that they have the capability to step up and proactively work on establishing a relationship with a stepparent. The biological parent should explain their actions, why they love and need their partner and request their child to understand and respect their decision. After all they are human too. And just like all human beings they need a companion, love and happiness.
I hope this has helped you gain some insight as why children may act a certain way when a stepparent comes into the picture and how you can respond and act or help your partner and children reduce the friction during the transition.
If are already a stepmom or are dating someone with children from a previous relationship and you would like to learn more about what to expect when it comes to raising stepfamilies download a free copy of my ebook “The Truth About Stepfamilies” HERE