When you get into a relationship with a man (or woman) who already has children, it can be a whirlwind of uncertainty and adjustment for them – and for you. Here are four simple bits of knowledge that will help new step-moms create a much-needed bond of trust with her step-child(ren).
Why Trust Is Important:
The first thing any new step-mom needs to understand is that the child already has a mother. Even if that mother is not around, you will never be their mother (Ferrier). This sounds harsh, heartbreaking really, but it is the truth. You are not in the picture to replace their mother or even to be an "extra" mom. According to The National StepFamily Resource Center, a step-parent's role is not clearly defined, like that of a biological parent. Instead of assuming the parenting role right away, time should be spent developing a warm, caring relationship with your stepchild (Burton).
How To Build Trust
1. Leave discipline to the biological parent
A step-mom may be tempted to immediately discipline her stepchildren. Usually, this impulse pulls her toward being an authoritarian (Papernow). This is not a viable path to a trusting relationship. The relationship should be more similar to that of an adult babysitter (Papernow). This creates much-needed trust between a step-mom and her step-child while leaving the primary disciplinarian duty to the biological parent. This way, the child does not feel cornered by his/her step-mom; instead, he or she feels accepted and loved.
2. Do not try to rush the bonding process
It can be scary when you start a new marriage and it seems as if the child hates you. It used to grind my heart when my step-daughter would ask her daddy why I have to be around. You may have insecure thoughts such as "this child will never accept me" or "how is my marriage going to last if his child hates me?" It's important to take a breath and ignore these thoughts.
A new marriage is a big change for a child. Often, it crushes their hopes of their biological parents ever getting back together. It is important to remember that is takes time for a child to warm up to a new parental figure. According to Peggy Nolan, executive director of "The StepMom's Toolbox," it can take up to seven years for a family to blend (Burton). So while you are taking the much needed time for you and your step-child to adjust, just focus on the important things, like building trust.
3. Show interest
Just like adults, kids have interests too – though usually they are much simpler. Personally, my step-daughter loves Netflix and Barbies. Sitting down and talking to your step-child about their interests opens up an avenue for communication. This can show them that you truly care about them and what they like. It is important to remember that you are the adult, and you should be mature even if they shut you out (Gaspard). Also, setting aside time to play and have fun shows them that they hold a place in your day. Kids do not like to feel that they are unwanted burdens. As a step-mom, it is important to prove to them that you love and care for them so that they know they can turn to you.
4. Respect the child/biological parent relationship
An obvious obstacle a step-mom may have (especially with younger children) is the child feeling as if you are taking their parent away from them. You know that there is enough love to go around, but for a child this can be confusing and scary. Sometimes your partner and his or her child will need to spend some alone time to combat this feeling. It is important to step back and not to feel threatened by this (Gaspard). The ability to step back and let the child enjoy time with his/her biological parent without interference can lead to trust between the step-mom and the child. This is because the child will feel less threatened that you will take away their parent and eventually come to realize there is room for both of you.
This is by no means an all-inclusive list. There are volumes and volumes about building a trusting relationship with your step-child. All of these ideas take time as well as trial and error. Some things may work for some step-moms, while others may not. It is critical to bring forth the effort, love, support, and strategies you have to offer and let the bond develop from that. Being a step-mom is not easy, but it is a rewarding experience that comes with the love of a family. Just remember your goal and try your best; that's all any of us can do.