Hello, I’m Celeste.
A bit of an introduction here: I created this site so that there was a place for every member of a non-traditional family to go to for inspiration, connection, and guidance.
A place where we can discuss issues together, and get perspective from all sides, a place where people can reach out and receive coaching from someone who gets it, and a blog where I’ll attempt to cover all the topics relating to stepfamilies, messy or not.
I wanted to remind all of us that we aren’t so different – we’re just trying to navigate our situations the best we can, and create happy, healthy children.
I hope you’ll decide to join us – click here!
Please enjoy the first article of The Family Turf below, where we cover dealing with Stepchildren.
This article can be relevant to you whether you’re a parent, caregiver, stepparent, or even stepchild.
A little perspective is never a bad thing.
Take care. 🙂
Warning: Honest advice ahead, no statistics.
I’ll be honest with you.
I could have made this article listing all of the statistics that we as stepparents have already glanced over.
I could tell you the percentage of children who will live in a stepfamily before they’re 18, and the number of years a second marriage usually lasts.
I could tell you the worst thing about having stepchildren, and try to scare you into reading it.
But how does that truly help your current situation?
You could get scared, and you could realize how many people fail at being stepfamilies, but are you really looking to get scared, or do you want some practical advice, from someone who’s been there?
I’m going to tell you that every situation is unique, and every stepchild is unique. So i’m going to do this differently. I’m going to ask you to imagine that you’re your stepchild. I’m going to ask you to open your mind to that possibility of empathy before you skip this article, hear me out. What have you honestly got to lose?
Dealing with – Stepchildren who are rude to you
Scenario: You tell the children to do something they respond with “I don’t have to listen to you!”
Root Problem: According to Talking Philosopher, rudeness can be someone trying to make a statement. What statement is your stepchild trying to make? It can also mean petty defiance, or that your stepchild is trying to be superior to you.
Advice: “If they like you, they’ll tease you.”
Stepchildren may not need you, but they care about you. They may never admit it, but you are important to them.
Do you remember being told as a little girl “If he likes you, he’ll tease you” Now i’m not saying this is advice that you should pass on to your children, but think about that message in perspective with your stepchildren.
If they had absolutely no feelings toward you, positive or negative, then i would worry.
That would mean you make absolutely no difference to them in their lives, or, that is what they’re pretending. We’ve all been kids and teenagers.
Pretending not to care is much different than actually not caring.
These kids are dealing with major issues, adult issues. Divorce, a new person in their house, a new voice they have to hear and consider constantly.
Do you remember how you felt when you had a relative “overstay” their welcome?
You’d miss your moments alone with your spouse, and you’d reminisce about that time before they were there? How do you think kids feel when this new person lives with them: they feel it constantly.
It doesn’t mean they’re bad, and it doesn’t mean you’re bad.
It means they need time to get used to having you around all the time.
Dealing with – random bouts of anger from your stepchild
Scenario: You ask your stepchild about their day and they snap at you “It’s none of YOUR business!”
Root Problem: According to Psychologistanywhereanytime.com, Anger is an emotional response to a real, felt, or imagined grievance.
Advice: What was it like before you?
Have you asked your stepchild what your household was like before you moved in? I know that may be an uncomfortable question to ask, but think about it.
How respectful would it seem if you just sat down with them and said “You know what, I’m tired of pretending that this is going how we’d both like it to go. Could you tell me something? Could you tell me what you and your dad did before I moved in? What was your relationship like?”
If they won’t talk to you about it, ask your partner.
Once you have this conversation, see if there’s something that either your partner or your stepchild said that they did, that you wouldn’t mind if they continued doing.
Say they always watched the football game together on Sundays, but since you moved in you sit down to family dinner. The child was always extra snappy to you at dinner, but now you know why. Say you know what? We can eat dinner on Sundays in front of the game for sure.
Even buy them both matching team hats, or tickets so the two of them can go to a game. Wait for them to invite you along.
This is of course just an example, but if you show the child or your partner that what they did before you arrived matters to them, then the respect can only build from there.
Dealing with – Stepchildren being rude or distant at social gatherings.
Scenario: You’ve arranged for a dinner party at your house, and your stepchild won’t come out of their room.
Root Problem: According to Vasa RA, Pine DS. social withdrawal is linked to psychological maladaptation as it represents a behavioural expression of internalized thoughts and feelings of social anxiety or depression
Advice: How would you like to be involved?
With a new stepfamily, kids are expected to adapt to having two sets of household rules. Rules are fine and good. Structure is great. But on those family occasions, or if you get a sixth sense that your stepchild is uncomfortable about an upcoming event, ask them how they’d like to be involved.
This doesn’t mean they’re allowed to hide out in their rooms, but ask them if they’d like to have a task to do, so that there’s less socializing for instance, or ask them if they’d like to feel like the most special person there?
Say you’re having a party at your house, do they want friends there, or would that be embarrassing?
Would they like to help figure out food for the party, and help tray it? (A childhood favourite of mine).
Sometimes making the child/adolescent feel like they’ve decided something about a special occasion, and contributed to it, can make all the difference, instead of being told where to be, and when.
And if they decide to bring their friend and only socialize with them? That’s fine. Next time you can make a deal that they have to introduce themselves to 5 people. One step at a time.
Dealing with – (Step)children talking about their (step)mom all the time
Scenario: You haven’t seen your Stepchild in a week, and they come over, and everything you say they respond with “My (step)mom and I do that all the time! My (Step)Mom likes that. My (Step)Mom doesn’t like that.”
Root Problem: The only problem here is your view. The filter through which you’re taking this information.
Advice: The filter you’re applying to hearing this information is that it’s a threat. You’re feeling jealous. But listen. When my stepdaughter used to talk about her mother, it felt like it was a personal attack on me, so I get it. I knew it wasn’t, but it felt that way.
But think about it.
They spend half their life (or more) with this other (Step)parent, who you don’t really spend any time with.
All they’re trying to do is share that part of their life with you.
They’re TALKING TO YOU.
It doesn’t matter what it’s about, they’re talking to you, and that’s the important part.
This can be hard on both the stepparents and the parents, hearing about the other half of the child’s life.
Because it makes it real that the child does have two different lives.
I get it.
It is incredibly hard and no one pictures there life that way. Not the parent, not the stepparent, and certainly not the child.
But how amazing is it that your stepchild wants to tell you about the other half of their life? They feel comfortable enough with you to share it with you.
They should never feel afraid to talk about experiences in their other home. Welcome it. You don’t have to agree with what the child is saying, or maybe you hear something that you don’t approve of, but try to limit your negative feedback if it’s not completely necessary, especially when the child/teen first starts telling you moments from the other house. They will appreciate you listening to them when they’re older.
You’ll eventually learn that it isn’t said to bug you, but it’s there to test you, to test the relationship in a way, and for the child to make sure it’s safe to share.
Make it safe to share.
Do you want to make your (step)child feel that they have to hide their feelings and experiences with one of the most important people in their live from you? Imagine how much you’ll miss out on if this is what you teach them.
Dealing with – the stepchild always putting you second to your spouse
Scenario: You made your family lunch, and your stepchild says they want some more, so her father makes it, and your stepchild goes “My Daddy makes it better.”
Root Problem: Your stepchild is using this opportunity to try to bond with their parent, without realizing the impact they’re having on you, by tearing you down.
Advice: I might be an anomaly because i’m often alone with my step daughter as my partner works a lot, but as soon as her Daddy’s around then everything he does is great and everything i do is suddenly not as good.
It was hard to put my self esteem aside and try to realize what was happening here.
My stepdaughter doesn’t see her dad a lot, and she loves the men in her life.
She loves her Granddad and her dad so much, much prefers them over females, it’s the phase she’s at in her life, so when my partner shows up and does barely anything and gets more of a reaction when i’ve been trying all week, i’m sure you can understand why it would create some resentment.
But I talk to my partner about it.
You should talk to your partner about it.
When your stepchild says “Daddy does this better, etc” then make sure that your partner is on board to stick up for you, because it is completely normal for a child to view their opposite sex parent (Or even their same-sex bio parent) as a superhero, and i’m sure it’s a nice ego boost for the parent to be complemented whenever they see their child.
But your partner also cares about you, and a simple “Yeah, and you’re great at ____, and your Stepmom is great at…..” is a great way to remind the child that everyone has good qualities, and that it is not a competition.
After my partner did this a few times then my step daughter began complimenting me sometimes as well. Children lead by example.
Just try to remember that your stepchild misses their parent, and they want their parent’s approval, and they deep down are somewhat jealous of the amount of time you spend with them.
Try to remember this when you are feeling under-appreciated, that even though it feels like it’s a dig at you, while it may be, it’s more about how the child feels about their changing relationship with their parent.
To sum up:
Just think about this:
Yes, it is really easy to think of yourself first.
It’s easy to justify your decision to step away when the stepchildren come into the house, or to justify your bad mood when they’re around and the focus is off of your relationship.
When you feel jealous that your partner’s affection is now turned away from you.
You didn’t ask to fall in love with a parent.
You didn’t create this child, you didn’t ask to share your partner half or some of the time, so why should you be accommodating?
Because you love your partner, and your partner’s children are the apples of their eye.
You should not get into or stay in a relationship with someone with children unless you are willing to be a part of all of their lives.
The children are dealing with all of the changes that you are, but you have years of experience on them.
You know that as a teenager you have hormones, or as a child you had temper tantrums and you were incredibly honest because that’s all you knew how to be. You also know how much you now appreciate all those people who stuck by you even when you may not have acted all that appreciative of them.
Don’t you want your step children to grow up and realize how much you cared for them and tried all along?
You may not – scratch that – probably won’t get the same love and affection that your stepchild gives their parents, and that’s okay. That doesn’t mean that you can’t have a meaningful relationship with them.
And this article isn’t meaning to say you should allow yourself to be disrespected in your home – if things are happening that are out of line then you need to discuss them with your partner, because you both need to be on the same page with what’s acceptable in the household and what’s not.
When the rules are consistent, the stepchild has a much higher chance of coming around.
I know it’s easier to blame the person who comes in and out of the house for your feelings, rather than the one who you love and live with, but a lot of time the issues you have with your stepchildren can be solved by communicating with your spouse in a different way.
Good luck to you and yours, and have a happy day. 🙂
Vasa RA, Pine DS. Anxiety disorders. In: Essau C, editor. Child and Adolescent Psychopathology: Theoretical and Clinical Implications.New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis; 2006. pp. 78–112.