Tips from a step-parent therapistDave Smith
The stepfather can bring much joy, and also many challenges. Just as a father-son relationship evolves over time, so does a step-father-son relationship.
Consider these six tips to help nurture your connection with a stepchild:
The relationship is a job of two people. You cannot build any relationship alone, including this one. Of course, with young children, their approach has tremendous influence. While the same can be said of older children, these relationships need more conscious acceptance of the child.
Cultivate the relationship, instead of trying to force it. Go slowly, taking the time to meet the child. Connect with who the child is as a person, appreciating his humor or intellectual curiosity or love for music.
Keep in mind that although love is expected to grow over time, you do not need to love your stepson. However, it is essential that you respect them, your role with them and that you treat them with kindness.
You are a stepfather, not a father. Talk to your spouse about what your role is and how you would like it to develop. It may be more a babysitter (being in charge while mom or dad are not available), a respected adult (such as an aunt, uncle or mentor) or a full father figure with all the authority that this entails.
The younger the child (under 6 years of age), the more likely he becomes a father figure. However, whatever the child’s age, he can develop more authority over time.
It cannot replace the lost father. This father has a place in the child’s psyche if that father died, if the parents divorced or if that father left the family. This is even true when you assume the main role of father. Therefore, it is important not to speak ill of them. By respecting the place that parents have in the child’s heart and mind (if not actively in their current life), you allow the child to have their own feelings towards that father, as well as develop their special relationship with you.
Supporting your spouse as a parent is essential. Share your thoughts on how to raise the child, but respect that your spouse is most responsible for making decisions.
If your spouse and your ex are fighting for paternity, don’t stand between them. Doing this exceeds the limits of your role, probably angering the other parent, and undermines your spouse’s authority.
Instead, when the two are alone, support your spouse to defend yourself. Keep in mind that parenting is a learned skill. If you have not raised children or been close to them, it is okay to get some training. Not only is it difficult to raise children, but being a stepfather can be a particularly difficult concert. Therefore, consciously acknowledge that this is new for you. And be kind to yourself in taking on this challenge. Such compassionate self-awareness can free you from unrealistic expectations and make your life so much easier!
This way of thinking will also free you to ask for help from your spouse or other experienced adults, especially those who know the child well. When you feel insecure about yourself, look at them, not the child, for emotional support and encouragement.
Finally, as important as fostering connection with your stepson is to prioritize your relationship with your partner. This will strengthen that relationship and your roles together as a parenting unit, whether you are a co-parent or have a supportive role.
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