Most step moms don't expect warm and fuzz Hallmark greetings this holiday. But, you can have a loving relationship with your step children. It just takes time.
With about half of marriages ending in divorce and a strong remarriage rate, millions of women inherit children they are expected to love, honor and cherish the day they say, "I do." It's rarely easy. But it's worth the effort.
Here are some tips to help you bond with the brood you've been given:
Be patient with your stepchild and yourself. They key is to be realistic. Remember loving feelings do not spring up automatically on either side. As one step mom said to me, "I thought I would love my husband's ten-year-old son and I had a lot of guilt when I couldn't get past some of his bad behavior."
Be sensitive to the stress he or she is experiencing. Children of divorce have to deal with many changes during and after divorce. First they had to adjust to life with a single parent, now they have to adjust to remarriage and possibly a new family constellation made up of other children and a host of new relatives they didn't bargain for.
Learn to know the child as an individual. Spend quality time with your stepchild without your husband. During those times, allow the child to direct the activity — even if it's just spending a couple of hours watching cartoons.
Don't try to replace the parent or try to buy love. If you buddy up too quickly, kids are likely to get suspicious. Besides, kids can smell a phony a mile away.
Earn respect by being respectful of differences. Don't make judgments or compare your stepchildren to other kids — especially your own! Recognize that much went into shaping the child's personality. The more open you can be, the better.
Anticipate that the child will maintain his or her distance. No kid goes to bed at night wishing for a step mother. You are perceived as a threat. Maybe the reason Dad left Mom in the first place. You are either too pretty or not pretty enough. Too young, too old-fashioned, too this or too that. Right off the bat, know that step moms have to prove themselves.
Establish boundaries about what you consider to be unacceptable behavior. In your rush to be accepted, don't let the kids walk all over you. Nip disrespectful and offensive attitudes and language in the bud right away or you will find it tough to break such behavior patterns down the line.
Don't try to be the disciplinarian. Children of divorce are dealing with trust issues and their parents' split has made them feel as though they've already been dealt a bad hand. Don't add to the negativity. Until you and the child have built up a strong relationship and the love is proven, let Dad do the "bossing."
Be yourself. Remember, this is a marathon not a sprint. If you want an authentic relationship with your stepchild, you must be an authentic step mom. I know many a step mom who share close and abiding bonds with their step children. Once you've stuck it out, you will occupy a unique space in their hearts. And your step children will likely see you as a more objective and fair-minded confidante than their biological parents. In other words, over time you will no longer be an afterthought on Mother's Day!
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