As a stepdad, I found some ways to help my step kids feel like they fit into our blended family.
Becoming a stepdad when my step kids were 8, 10 and 12 made my life way more chaotic than I had ever experienced and at the same time more fulfilling. In a real sense, I wasn’t marrying just one person; I was marrying into a family of five. My wife and I prepared ourselves and our kids the best we could for our new blended family prior to getting married. We went through four months of pre-marital counseling and four months of pre-parenting counseling for me. The key to our success was the effort we put in before we were married. But don’t lose hope, many families can get it together even after many years of blending their family. It is not too late for you. However, nobody can fully prepare themselves for every parenting situation that will come up.
Nobody can fully prepare themselves for every parenting situation that will come up.
Now, thirteen years later I reflect on the decisions we made to bring our family together. Some things worked and some things didn’t quite work out the way we thought they were going to. At first, we thought it was a good idea that I could give out a punishment if it were needed. It didn’t take long and I saw that it wasn’t my place. My wife, my stepkids’ mother needed to be the one to handle punishments. She and I would talk about it without the kids present and decide together, but we saw that the kids needed to know that their mom was still in charge of them, that she hadn’t given that up to a newcomer. There were a few punishment failures that didn’t help to get to the heart of the matter, so we learned as we went.
There were times we had to push through even when it felt like we weren’t getting through to our kids and other times we had to change what we were doing. We wanted a strong family that could overcome obstacles together and we knew we had to be intentional. I wanted my step kids to feel that they belong to our family, that I believe in them and that I want to see them become the person they were created to be.
Kids need to feel that they are part of the family. If they feel like they are “on the outside”, not valued or played as a pawn, their confidence in their parents and themselves will suffer. If you are like me, you want to build your step kids up so that they know they are loved and can always depend on you. With some kids, it takes time and a lot of effort. The kids are watching you, their step parent. They want to see if you are going to 1. stick around, 2. care about them, and 3. invest in them. They may push buttons and act out to see if you’re going to leave. Remember, they’ve been disappointed and hopefully worked through their grief.
They are going to, in ways that don’t make sense to us, protect themselves from ever being hurt by another adult again. When you see a bad attitude or moodiness, take a few minutes to think about why they are feeling that way. If they are dealing with ongoing disappointment then you might be able to calm that a little by showing them sympathy that they belong to your family. Don’t assume you understand what they are going through, unless you may have been a stepchild yourself. The old adage is true, “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
Our family gives us our identity. Just because I have a blended family doesn’t mean I have to settle for a family that just survives. I’ve heard parents say, “If I can just get them to 18, they won’t be my responsibility anymore”. To be completely honest, during hard times I looked forward to the day I was no longer responsible for my step kids. Then I realized how selfish that is and I stopped thinking that way; I started focusing on how I could be a support to them. I’m not a quitter and I don’t like to lose, so I decided that my time was best used to press my family toward excellence, to guide them as if they are my blood. They didn’t always listen to me, they didn’t always listen to their Mom either but we never quit gently giving them positive things to think about. If kids don’t feel like they belong to their family, they will find somewhere else to belong.
Kids join gangs to feel that they have an identity. The gang replaces the family, and they have a new identity. They join because they want to belong, to have the structure (rituals) and the traditions.
These are all things that a family should be supplying and if the families were providing then there wouldn’t be a need to look for identity elsewhere. Our job is to create a family culture that is strong enough and more appealing to be with their blended family rather than look for other options.
Steps to help your stepchild feel that they belong to your family:
- Acknowledge that you aren’t going to replace their biological parent.
- Give them a comfortable space in your home.
- Be supportive of their relationship with their biological parent.
- Encourage your spouse to spend alone time with their child.
- Engage in their lives, get to know them.
- Find new family traditions that include your stepchild.
Along with the biological parent, the stepparent can find ways to restore hope to your stepchildren. Your spouse is a great source of information, they love their children more than anybody else does and they know them pretty well. They can shed light on areas that you may be struggling to understand about your stepchildren.
Whatever the background of your spouse or yourself, you can resolve to change the negative patterns and build something new. You have the power to build a sense of belonging in your stepchildren. You can change the atmosphere in your home by following the simple steps I’ve listed above, but you need to do it with a sincere heart and genuine concern for your stepchildren.
Brian Hauff has been a stepfather to 3 amazingly talented kids for 13 years. He and his wife, Nicole married in 2003, had 2 children together and blended their family successfully. Brian works as an architect, managing higher education construction projects, designing houses, and master planning university campuses. His greater passion is to help stepfamilies understand their true identity so that they can be a positive force for change in the world. He and his wife have been featured in the Huffington Post and they mentor one on one with stepfamilies. More encouragement for stepfamilies can be found at www.blendinggodsway.com.