The Family: How to have a good relationship with your stepchildren

March 12, 2018

Photo by: Saul Padua Photography
¡Hola! Today's post is more on the personal side. As you may know from my description in every About Me section, I am happily married to an amazing man and am therefore also stepmother to this beautiful girl pictured above. My husband and I dated all throughout medical school, got married in the middle of my third year, and have now been happily married for two years. That means this little one has been in my life for roughly six years! 

When my husband and I first started dating, we would tell her we were just friends and all three of us would hang out together to get a feel for one another. We hit it off immediately! When things became more serious and we told her we were officially together, at first she was taken aback. She was scared that I was going to take her father's love away from her. But, we did our best to make sure that she never felt that way. When we got engaged, she was the first person we called. She was elated! Our wedding came and went (she looked so beautiful!) and the marriage and real challenges began. Every day we get to spend with her are the best moments of the year (she lives with her mother in the U.S. during the year).  I'm going to explain in further detail below how we make sure all of our relationships (father and daughter, stepmother and stepdaughter, husband and wife, family of three) are well-balanced and joyous. 

Although I listen carefully to my parents advice and apply their methods of raising me and how they have such a successful marriage into my life, I don't know anyone my age that is going through the same things I am as a stepparent (which is completely different to being a regular parent but equally as challenging because of the circumstances I explain below), so I've had to figure most things out on my own. Maybe one of you is going through the same situation and doesn't have anyone to ask for advice either. I'm here for you.

I can proudly say my stepdaughter and I have a beautiful relationship that I cherish deeply. I feel privileged to have her love and respect. I have so much to learn still (teenage years are sure to be interesting!) but, I thought I'd share what I've learned so far and my advice on how to have a loving relationship with your stepchild because, thankfully, these tips have worked for our family and can maybe help you. 

I cannot stress this enough. If there's anything you take away from this post, I hope it is this point. You are coming into their already formed lives. You are an outsider and you have to earn their love and respect. You do this by showing them you care about getting to know them, know their likes and dislikes, learn and respect their personality. Let them know you are not trying to replace anybody. Start off by becoming their friend. Kids recognize effort!

When you are in a relationship with someone who has a child, understand that you may come in second. The child's needs and feelings take priority at this moment because they are in such a vulnerable stage of life. Whatever actions are taken during these years are forming the foundation for the child's future being. Be patient. Help your partner guide his/her child by listening and being there. This is something that I plan to write more on in a different post because this should change as your relationship grows, more so if you marry. In a marriage, your husband/wife come first. This is a shift that must be handled gently and gradually. But, for the time being, your partner's child will come first.

When it comes to the child's mother/father (not your partner), be respectful. They played a big part in making this beautiful soul and will forever be in their lives, therefore they will forever be a part of yours. The world is such a tiny place (and Puerto Rico even tinier), I've actually known my stepchild's mother since elementary school! Although we were never BFF, we got along fine. Through this new journey, I've got to learn more about her and deeply respect her for being, not only an exceptional mother to my stepdaughter, but also to 2 more angels! The worst thing you can do is make the other parent an enemy. You are all part of the same team and you all have the same purpose: to raise a young child to the best of your abilities. Put aside your differences and work together towards the same goal. Besides, the child can sense if there is discord between you and that only worsens his/her feelings of guilt or anger.

Now that you've earned your stepchild's love and understand your place in the family, you can start acting like a parent. Don't wait until you're married to start doing so! You have to begin to set your role in your stepchild's life beforehand. You can't just wake up one day and start acting like a parent and except them to follow along! I'm not saying to go power crazy with timeouts and punishments  (that will surely backfire) but, do start setting limits and rules as a team with your partner. 

Many times, children from divorced/separated parents get the "ay, bendito" as we say here in Puerto Rico. This means authority figures in their lives, feeling sorry for them, fail to set structure. You're lucky enough to see things from a different perspective. This kid has a whole army of people that love him/her! Its important that they see that instead of feelings of lament towards them. Along with your partner, set rules and boundaries so they understand that there are limits. Good behavior should be rewarded and bad behavior should have consequences. Being a part of the child's discipline when he/her is with you and your partner is paramount to gaining their respect as a parent. Trust me, kids love structure when you do it in a kind, fun and patient manner!

Now things are starting to feel like you have your own little family! Take that show out on the road! Planning activities that will bring you closer as a family is a win-win situation: your relationship as a family grows deeper and you have fun! Start off with simple activities such as a trip to the movies or a restaurant and move on to trips to the park and weekend getaways in time. Here's a list of family-friendly activities:
  • Catch a movie! (remember to check movie ratings! PG-13 movies are practically what used to be R rated movies nowadays, in my opinion, so I stick to G or PG!)
  • I scream, you scream, we all scream for ICE CREAM! trip
  • Picnic at the Park
  • Play a sport!
  • Go to the beach
  • Have an arts & crafts day! (you can find so many ideas on Pinterest! Check out my Crafts board!)
  • Hit up a bowling alley
  • Host a family game night
  • Go for a bike ride
  • Visit a museum
  • Fly a kite (no better place to do so than at El Morro in Puerto Rico!)
  • Create a scavenger hunt
  • Take turns eating at your favorite restaurants
  • Play games at you nearest entertainment center (e.g. Chuck E. Cheese's)
  • Go on a road trip
  • Visit nearby historical landmarks
  • Adventure into nature
  • Spend a weekend at a hotel soaking up sun and fun by the pool and exploring nearby places

The list goes on and on... The important thing is to be present. Sure, take photos, these are memories you'll want to cherish forever. But, don't be constantly looking at your phone during this time. Focus on enjoying your family. At the end of the day, our little family plays a game at dinner where we each share the worst part (so we can be more aware of each other's feelings and/or cheer them up) and the best part of our day. It is one of the best habits we have.

This is were you have to give your most and it'll test your maturity and selflessness. Once you've really created a bond with your stepchild, they'll hopefully feel comfortable with sharing their feelings and fears with you. After all, you are now an integral part of their life. 

Hard times are going to come: sadness due to distance from a certain parent, missed birthdays,  holidays, and milestones, new brothers/sisters stealing the spotlight, etc. These are certain to happen. All you can do is provide a shoulder to cry on, arms to hug, and ears to listen without judgement. Try putting a positive spin on things, bring in stories from your life were you felt similar, let them know they are not alone and that what they are feeling is normal. Your stepchild may even be so comfortable with you to admit that they wish their mom and dad were still together. You better poker-face through it and understand. What kid wouldn't wish this? It has nothing to do with you or your relationship with them. Don't take it personal. In fact by opening this conversation, you are getting closer and you're helping him/her move on. 

This is can be either easy or hard, it really depends on you, but just open your heart. When you fall in love with someone who has a child, you have to fall in love with their child too. There's no way around it if you want to have a happy household. Let them into your heart and make your family a part of it too, after all you are all united now!

Teach them the values and morals you believe in just as you would for your own child. Include them in your decision making. Write down their special days on your calendar. Share a special meal together just the two of you or even a whole day! Make them a part of what makes you happy. Soon enough, they'll take hold of a place in your heart you didn't even know existed.

People have told me that I'm not a parent because I "didn't have her" or that its not equally important or valuable, but I disagree. I form part of an amazing team of four parents, each willing to give life and limb for our child. I am a parent because this little one gives me a sense of purpose that nothing else in my life can match. I am a parent because I choose to be one. I applaud you for choosing to be one too. 

This was a long one, I know! Its just something I'm incredibly passionate about. 
Thank you for reading!

Are you a stepparent? What other tips and/or advice have helped you?

Con amor,
María Eugenia


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