How To Connect With Your Stepkids

The fairy tales of the world have essentially ruined things for well-meaning stepparents. Between the wicked stepmothers in “Cinderella” and “Snow White,” to television movies that portray stepfathers as sinister and evil, the stereotypes are abundant.

On the flipside of that, we have the picture-perfect blended families like “The Brady Bunch,” where life’s problems are no more serious than Jan hating her glasses and everything gets resolved in a single episode. While we all want that Brady Bunch family that loves each other and gets along, life’s realities are much more complicated than a ’70s sitcom.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Census, over 50% of families are remarried or re-coupled, with 1,300 new stepfamilies forming every day. It is more and more common for people to marry someone who already has children from a previous relationship.

As we navigate this new role as stepparent, there are bound to be some bumps along the way. It can be challenging, but it can also be very rewarding, and there are ways to manage a blended family that can make the transition smooth and positive. Here are four ways to connect with your stepkids.

1. Don’t come in as an authority figure

Experts recommend that a stepparent should not establish or enforce rules for at least the first year of a new marriage. Couples who both have children from previous relationships should work together to find a common set of general rules that everyone can live with, and discipline should remain the responsibility of the biological parents. Giving kids time to accept their stepparent as a trusted parental figure rather than someone stepping in and creating upheaval is critical in establishing a healthy relationship.

2. Talk to them directly and listen honestly

No matter how old they are, children and teens appreciate someone who is honest and upfront with them. It’s okay to tell them you aren’t sure what to do or how to connect. It’s okay to ask them what they think and how they feel. Kids don’t expect us to have all the answers, and talking to them about this shows that you care about their concerns and thoughts. Really listen to what they have to say and don’t discount or ignore it. Reassure them that you are there to be a positive part of their lives and their opinions matter to you. Keeping an open dialogue helps build a rapport that is strong and long-lasting.

3. Don’t take a backseat in their life

While a stepparent shouldn’t immediately try to parent or bring on a string of new rules, that doesn’t mean they should sideline their involvement. Be an active participant in your stepchildren’s lives. If they need a ride home after the game, help with homework or just want someone to talk to after a long day at school, be that person. Find common interests and expand on that. Whether it’s a mutual enjoyment of sports or music, a certain book you both love or even just catching a movie together, shared time helps build a relationship. As they grow to trust you, they will appreciate your presence in all facets of their life.

4. Have a thick skin

Divorce can be incredibly difficult for children, and it may take them years to recover from the fallout. Even if you come into the picture much later, adjusting to a new family dynamic can bring up a host of emotions and a renewed sense of loss. They may see caring for you as a betrayal to their biological parent or view you as an intruder in their lives.

Children often have wishful thoughts of their parents reuniting someday, and a stepparent effectively quashes that dream. It’s important to try to rise above any bad behavior or negative commentary. If things become too difficult, it may help to have the family attend counseling together to learn better communication skills. Above all, be patient, be kind and treat your stepchildren in the way you yourself would like to be treated.