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Step-parenting: Establishing New Relations

Becoming a parent by blending families or marrying someone with kids can be a rewarding as well as a fulfilling experience. If you've never had kids, you'll get the opportunity to share your life with a younger person and help to shape their character. If you have kids, you'll offer them more opportunities to build relationships and establish a special bond that only siblings can have.

On the contrary, the stepparent stigma is a strong one - especially because many of us automatically think of wicked stepparents and devilish stepchildren as portrayed in the media. The good news is that there are things that can be done to smooth the bumps along the way, even if you can’t completely make them disappear:

Establish Your Role

Speak with your partner and determine the exact role they want you to play in their child’s life. This will likely depend on the child, whether both parents are still involved, and both your skills/needs. Understanding who you are will help determine how to best fit into a complex family dynamic.

Make a Fast First Impression

To take the pressure off the initial meeting, make it a quick hello and avoid long dinners or giving expensive gifts. "Keep your initial expectations limited. Plan a short meeting -- you don't want an all-day affair". Anything that puts pressure on the child or that comes across as excessive may backfire and cause the potential stepparent to be rejected. No one wins in a meeting laden with expectations. Over time, let the child set the pace of the relationship. When they are ready for a closer relationship, they’ll let you know. That's far better than rejection for everyone.

Understand the deeper impact of divorce for everyone involved.

Divorce has a lasting impact on both children and parents, sometimes resulting in years of conflict and drama. Often, there is guilt from both parents because they were unable to make the relationship work. These uneasy feelings might be best communicated to children, even if unconsciously.

Develop Trust and Honesty

Trust is a key component in any relationship and it can take time to build as a child observes how you handle different situations. Do you listen, actively? Do you keep private information private? Do you take an interest in what is important to your stepchild? Children can sense dishonesty and insincerity. Wenck and Hansen said, "Demonstrate honesty, confidence, making good choices and being 'real'...Kids will know, one way or the other." If you're able to earn their trust, over time, you may become an important confidant.

Create new family traditions

Find special activities to do with your stepkids, but be sure to get their feedback. Some new family traditions could include board game nights, bike riding together, cooking, doing crafts, or even playing quick word games in the car. The key is to have fun together, not to try to win their love. Kids are smart and will quickly figure out if you're trying to force a relationship.

Don't be a frenemy

Another conundrum that arises when being a stepparent is that you will probably have to interact regularly with your partner's ex. If there were no children involved, you would usually never normally have contact with a partner's ex, so this can be disconcerting. It may be helpful to really think about the fact that this person is either the mother or father of your partner's children. So there is no competition there, really. Honor their relationship as much as you can, trying to dispel feelings of competition and jealousy no matter how normal they may seem to be.

Keep in mind that your stepchildren didn't choose you

This is hard to digest, but it is the truth. Simply because your partner loves you and wants to be in a relationship with you does not mean their kids want you in their lives. You cannot force them to accept you or love you. If you let go of that notion early on, then you will be a better stepparent. Consider them with positive feelings, and make space for their humanness.

Being a stepparent can feel very unnatural in the beginning, and it's often hard to know what is right or wrong. If you take your cues from the children and let go of your own expectations for the relationship - your partner, and the other parent will also likely feel more at ease. Being a stepparent is, in a large part, a process of acceptance.

“Being a step parent is a tough job. Yet, going to bed every night knowing that you are loved by kids who aren't biologically yours is a great feeling.”

As a stepparent one should keep in mind that in the entire divorce procedure, children are the major sufferers. They are the innocent souls bearing what they never caused and never knew. Hence, it is not only the responsibility of the stepparent, but also the biological parents and the entire family to make sure that the child remains unaffected of the mishappenings in the family. This enuste that the child can take time to build a healthy bond with the stepparent and accept new family relationships happily. 

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