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. The new couple 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 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. 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 are some things to expect with regards to gender and different ages of the children. This 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 for example, if you try to hug them and they pull away, then that’s a sign that you are not there yet so avoid it. If you tell them “I love you” and they are silent again know that your relationship with them has not got to that level yet. When they are comfortable with it they will let you know, through their actions.
Boys also tend to accept a stepfather more easily than girls do.
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. As a step parent you need to allow your partner spend time alone with his/her kids in order for them to get this. 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.
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Have a great week!