It is human nature to want to be liked. When you are taking on the role as a stepdad and wanting to build a supportive and happy new family unit, it is normal to be concerned when one of your stepchildren doesn’t seem to be connecting with you, or actively dislikes or disrespects you
It is important to try to not take it personally, as personal as it may sometimes feel or even come across. Your step children probably don’t dislike you as a person. What they dislike is the disruption in their lives, which they have had no power over, and you have become a scapegoat for them.
When this happens, it can be very difficult, and lead to feelings of isolation within your own home. Even when you know it is not their fault, it is not always easy to experience.
There are things you can do to try and nurture a more positive relationship with your step child, and the first one is remembering that it will take patience, especially with children who have been through a lot of traumatic changes in their lives.
There is a possibility that your step child may never really like or respect you in the way you would like, but they do have to know that it is not acceptable behaviour to be directly rude or disrespectful to/about you.
So what can I do?
Talk to your partner
You and your partner will need to provide a united front, so talking to them about what is happening, how you feel and how you can work together to manage it is an important step.
It is important to not criticise your step child, and to tell your partner that you know that the behaviour is just a result of your step child currently feeling unsettled and vulnerable. However, you do need to try and agree a way to work together, for the sake of the whole family, to try and improve the situation.
It may be best to talk about it when your step children are not at home, so there is a bit of space between them and what you need to say. Perhaps discuss it when/if they go to visit their dad for the day, maybe even choosing a neutral venue to try and give you both a break from what can sometimes be a bit of a hotpot!
Set mutually agreed rules/expectations
To avoid your step children feeling like you have come into their family and imposing your own will over them, it is helpful to get everyone together to agree a set of family rules and expectations. Where these are set together, they are more likely to be followed.
More ideas about how to do this are at Communication within your family
One step at a time
Where there is hostility, don’t overdo it and try to force too much. Focus on just attempting one positive interaction each day. Give a compliment, an offer of help, ask an interested question. Just one thing. When you are able to engage your step child in one positive interaction each day, then move up to two, but no more. It can take a long time, and you may never develop a very close relationship – but a respectful and polite one may be possible.
Remember that consistency for children is important, when they come to realise that you will not give up on them, that you do consistently care about them, and you keep your interaction positive – eventually they may relax and trust you enough to start to open up a little.
It can be difficult, and there may be days when you feel there are set backs – but try and keep your frustrations private, and just start again at the beginning, as many times as needed.
Give them time with their mum
Because your step children have been used to time alone with their mum, and have built a strong bond with her as a result, it is important that you give them some time to keep nurturing that. Trying to break it, or always being in the way of it, is not the way to build your bond with the children. In fact, showing that you respect their time with their mum and know it is important, is really helpful. This helps show the children that despite you are now around, they are not losing their mum – this fear that they may lose another parent can be a big one.
Remember that everything is still changing for them, and being able to cling to some consistency will give the feelings of security, which will make accepting change easier. When they are uncertain, they are more likely to resist change. So, if there was something that they are used to regularly doing alone with their mum, give them all space to keep doing this. And if not, encourage them to find something they can do together, be it a regular trip together to the coffee shop, or to the park, etc. If you can show that you are not there to get in the way of their relationship, this can be reassuring.
Also remember to give your Step Children space to talk about their life before you. This is an important part of who they are. You can ask them to tell you more about certain stories, or even show you photos – be interested in them, rather than changing the subject so that you can be involved, so that they can see that you are not trying to whitewash their important memories.
Establish some family traditions
As well as respecting their past, at the same time you can also start building your own collection of memories and bonds with your family. Discuss possible family traditions, things you commit to all doing together. These might be weekly/monthly or annual traditions, but they are all an important part of building your new family unit and creating opportunities to build a positive relationship. Your step child might not be thrilled at first, but keep going with it and give them the opportunity to allow their guard to come down.
Get some outside support
Talking to your partner is important, but as some of the conflict you are dealing with involve her children, it may not always feel the most appropriate place, and indeed won’t be, to be able to sound off when you have had a particularly bad day with your step child.
Being able to get out and de-stress is important. Make sure you don’t fall into the trap of doing it too often, but it is important to be able to get some space and spend time with some friends from time to time.
Being able to talk to other Step Dads who are also going through similar circumstances can be helpful, you can get other ideas from them, and at least feel like you are not alone going through these things. We can feel like something must be ‘wrong’ but when you start to talk to other step dads, you begin to see how issues like this can just be part and parcel of family life. Plus, it is very reassuring to be able to talk to real life dads who have made it through these issues to the other side! Why not join our Dad Info Forum to find other step dads to talk to?
Finally, if it does all become too much, or you feel you are not making progress, do look for some experienced professional support. Family counsellors who are separate from the situation can sometimes make a big difference in supporting family issues.