How to be a Step-Parent That Kids Need and Adore

Stepparents have the opportunity to build a relationship with their stepkids that benefits everyone in the family. They can be a safe place for kids to share their feelings, ease the parenting stress on their spouse and introduce fun, new traditions to strengthen the family bonds. It’s not without its challenges, but step-parenting can be rewarding for the entire family when it’s done right. 

So how exactly do you do step-parenting right? 

Starting Off as a Stepparent

The most important thing to remember when becoming a stepparent is to start slow. Allow the kids to lead the relationship with you. When they first meet you, kids will be focused on figuring out how you fit into their family. During this time, while you’re still dating, it’s important to respect the kids’ relationships with their biological parents. Over time, you will begin to take on more of the stepparent role as it feels natural. 

Factors that Affect Step-parenting

There are a lot of things that can impact your role as a stepparent. Keep these in mind as you build your relationship with your stepkids.

  1. Age: A child’s age impacts their understanding of divorce and what it means for their family. Younger children may not even remember their parents being together. Older children may be resentful that you’re taking the place of their other parent. Keep an eye on how the kids react, and talk openly with them about the situation (as long as it’s age appropriate). 
  2. Time: Some kids will be ready to have a stepparent right away. Others may take awhile to come around. The longer you’ve known the kids, the easier it will be for them to accept you as a parental figure. It can also depend on how long their parents have been divorced. Typically, the longer you’ve known the kids and the longer their parents have been divorced, the easier it will be for them to embrace you as a stepparent.
  3. The ex-relationship: The relationship between co-parents can influence how kids feel about bringing a stepparent into the family. It’s easier for kids to adjust when everyone gets along and there’s no negativity. 

How to Be a Better Stepparent

The most important thing to keep in mind when it comes to becoming a stepparent is that you’re now part of the co-parenting dynamic in the family. By understanding your place in the family – in relation to your spouse, their ex and the kids – you can become a stepparent that kids need and adore. 

Put the kids’ needs first. 

You’re a co-parent now, so everything you do as a parent needs to focus on what’s best for the kids. Look for ways to be part of your stepkids’ lives. This could be attending school functions and sporting events, helping with homework or taking an active role in the bedtime routine. Great stepparents also avoid situations that make the kids uncomfortable.

Keep house rules consistent. 

Providing consistent rules and expectations between homes can make it easier for kids to go back and forth. When morning routines and bedtimes are the same for example, kids stay on a schedule regardless of whose home they’re in. Setting similar expectations for homework, chores, and privileges is also important. Try writing down your suggested rules, then bring all the parents together to discuss everyone’s ideas. These group discussions are a great way to work through a lot of expectations at once so that everyone can quickly get on the same page. 

“Both Ben and I can get very defensive of Asher when someone else challenges or disciplines him, and we’d learned to warn our co-parents before there was an issue.” ~ Nikki DeBartolo    

Respect all parents. 

Communication and respect go a long way in creating healthy co-parenting relationships. Current spouses and ex-spouses all need to be on the same page. The relationship between “new” and “first” spouses can sometimes be difficult, but working together is what’s best for the kids. When children see all parents working together, it helps them accept new family dynamics. They won’t feel defensive of their parents because they see everyone being kind and respectful to each other.  

“Nikki and I eventually went from being co-parents to real friends. Nikki and I call each other “wife” because it’s the closest possible term we can find. We are raising a family together.” ~ Nadia Heldfond

Communicate openly

Always pick honesty when answering kids’ questions about your role in the family. Remind them that you’re not replacing a parent; you’re adding more love to the family. By being open and honest about your role in the family, kids will feel more comfortable about welcoming you. Consider having family meetings once a week to give everyone a chance to speak up. If possible, include any co-parents and step-siblings in these meetings too – even if it’s not in every meeting – so that the whole family has a chance to talk about important topics.

Building a Strong Relationship with Your Stepkids 

Once you’ve mastered these basics of supportive step-parenting, it’s time to focus on deepening your bond. Creating a close relationship with your new stepkids will help bring the family together. By actively working on your relationship with them, you’ll become a stepparent they adore. 

Find one-on-one time. 

Try to create some special one-on-one time with each stepchild each day. This can be as simple as sitting with them while they eat breakfast or helping them with their homework at the end of the day. This type of individual attention makes kids feel important and can help them open up to you about what’s going on in their lives. 

Look for shared interests. 

Find the things you both love to do, then do more of them.  Look for hobbies, sports, crafts or favorite pastimes that you can do together. 

Support their interests. 

It’s important to support your stepkids’ unique interests, too. Make an effort to stay up to date on their social lives, ask questions about what they’re learning, or do some research on their favorite hobby. Showing that you support the things that are important to them will help your stepkids bond with you. 

Create new family traditions. 

Go a step further and create some new family traditions together. Look for ways to make everyday activities like dinnertime, bathtime and bedtime fun and memorable. This could be as easy as everyone sharing one funny thing from their day around the dinner table. Or maybe it’s making up a funny family song you sing at bedtime each night. These traditions don’t have to be major activities. Look for ways to make everyday events special and your stepkids will begin looking forward to these sweet moments at your house. 

Committing to co-parenting, communicating and keeping the focus on the kids will help refine your step-parenting skills. Having another parent to love them and guide them will help kids thrive, especially when there’s consistency across both households. Focus on putting the kids first and soon you’ll be a step-parent they can’t get enough of. 

For more great step-parenting and co-parenting tips that will help you build a healthy blended family, be sure to subscribe to Our Happy Divorce blog.

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