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Ten insights for building strong relationships with your Step children

Amy and Kira two of the step children in my life

Amy and Kira – My stepdaughters

Around most of the world it is Mother’s Day, a day that Step moms often dread.  I think that is why someone created Step mother’s day to occur the following week.  For years I was one of who Step mothers who dreaded Mother’s Day.

I have two children of my own, and in addition I have four step children.   When I first met Steve they were mostly in their teens with  their ages ranging between 10 to 18.

For many years the idea of Mother’s Day used to depress me, and felt sad that I was largely ignored.  My own two would recognise the day for me but as one lived many miles away, and at first was at boarding school it was hard for her.  My son wasn’t the most organized either!!!

As soon as Steve and I met I become quite involved with his children and participated in their lives.  At some point or another during our first five years together we had had at least one of the step children living with us, as well as my son.  In particular, Stephen’s youngest would spend half his time with us and half with his Mum.    I have always supported them financially, emotionally and physically during the ups and downs of their teenage and later years.

Sometimes relationships were a bit strained; usually as a result of external influences.  This often made it difficult for them to openly acknowledge my contribution to their lives.  Although to be fair one of them, the eldest, has accepted me from Day 1, she was the first to come and spend time with me when she learned her Dad had a new partner, even babysitting for my two during the holidays.

It took me quite a few years to realise that what happened on Mothers Day (and at other times) actually wasn’t personal.  They knew it would be more painful upsetting their own mother than ignoring me, so in hindsight, I understand and can see why they took the decisions they did,

Once I realised this, I decided to recognise any angst they might be feeling by planning to be out of town on the Mother’s Day weekend.  Thus they didn’t have to ‘squeeze me in’ between their obligations to their biological mother and later their partners Mum, in recent years most of them have had children, so now it is their (or their partner’s) special day too.

Over the last few years my relationship with the two girls has certainly deepened as they have both matured into fine ladies and wonderful mothers.  I have found that more and more they call me up to share or ask advice.  To add to the joy the grandchildren do not see me as anything other than ‘Nanna’ and all they care about is having fun with Poppa and Nanna.   Happily, the angst of Mother’s Day has now all but disappeared.

It was still a wonderful surprise though when I received a beautiful flower arrangement from wishing me Happy Mother’s Day.  The girls, who live 1000s of kms apart, took the time to plan the arrangement and the words in the accompanying card.  What really touched my heart,was the message that the girls created together.  It read:

We started with one Mum,
And now we have two.
Who knew our second Mum
Would be as special as you.
Happy Mothers Day, love you heaps.

Mothers day flowers from stepchildren

Flowers from the Step Children

And if this wasn’t enough, my eldest step son, who has had a rocky road of his own, also sent me a lovely Mothers Day message.

This got me thinking about the journey to where we are today.  I must admit that ten years earlier I was definitely ready to throw in the towel and walk away.  I found that I could do nothing right; it always seemed that what I tried to do was interfering, and any gesture I made was recognised as being from their Dad only.  On top of that very innocent things got twisted and played back as the complete opposite to what had actually happened!  It was all too hard, and the drama being generated (mostly not by the kids I realised later) was too much.  But I stayed put and learned from it all and realised many of the mistakes I made.

The following insights are a result of this self reflection, and I present them to you now so you can see what you might take away and use in your particular blended family situation.  So here goes:

1) Always be true to yourself, and don’t compromise your own values just to be liked.  Act from integrity and authenticity, anything less will come back to bite you.

  • 2) Take time to understand what makes each of the children ‘tick’.  Understand the different personalities each of them has, what are high and low on their value list , their love language and their own needs. (Check out Chapter 6 of my book Second Chance for a Love to Last for more information on how to do this).  Communicate in a way that is meaningful to them, not necessarily to you.  Many times you just won’t understand them, just know it is likely to be very different to the way you think and consider that they won’t understand you either.3) Listen empathically to your step children – what excites them, their fears, dreams and foibles.  Acknowledge all this, without judgement, when trying to build a relationship with them.  Learn what is important to them and act accordingly.4) Never stand for bad behaviour and let them walk all over you for fear that standing up to them will make matters worse, or that they won’t like you.  Once they know they are getting to you, it often gets worse before it gets better.  If they need to be disciplined it should be carried out by your partner not you.  You should never back away from minor disciplining but your partner appropriately disciplining them on key issues will send them a much stronger message.5) Never disagree in front of the children about the way your partner talks to, or carries out disciplines, or lets them get away with things.  Discuss your views behind closed doors and out of their earshot.

    6) Just know that at some time your partner will side with their own children over you.  Try not to feel abandoned or angry.  Their children will have obtained their values from their biological parents and therefore they are a reflection of them in many ways.  He is more likely to see their viewpoint rather than yours.

    7) Build their trust; filter what you pass on to their parent.  Ask yourself: 1) who will it serve, 2) is passing it on going to help or hurt 3) why did they confide in you in the first place.  Let the step children know that you respect their willingness to share with you.

    8) If your stepchildren are complaining about their biological parent don’t get buy into it and use the opportunity to agree with them in order to gain kudos; this will backfire every time.  Sympathise but don’t give an opinion or criticise.

    9) Be patient and build a thick skin, often they will hit out at you to get back at their parent, or the situation that has happened to them, you are often the easy target, and believe it or not it usually isn’t personal!

    All children our wedding

    All the children on our wedding day

    10)Try to love them like they are your own, even when they are being impossible to live with.  Remember they are the children of your partner, and they came as a package.

All of what I have listed above is very hard to achieve, especially if you are being verbally abused, ignored or treated badly by your stepchildren.  However, if you persevere and have patience they will learn, eventually, that you are not a threat.  In time most step parents and step children build a strong bond if they genuinely want to.

Here is a suggestion that has worked well for me, and has been one of the best pieces of advice I have read.  Jann Blackstone-Ford is the author of the book “Ex-Etiquette for Parents” never talks about stepchildren or blended families.  She uses the term Bonus, as in Bonus children, Bonus family, etc.  I found that it put a much more positive spin on everything and many of my clients have found the same.  Its amazing just the use of one word can make such a difference.

So why not try this with your family?  Once I started thinking of my new family as my BONUS family it made a world of difference.  I now have four bonus children and twelve BONUS grandchildren who bring joy to my life every day in so many ways.  If I hadn’t gone into this second marriage I wouldn’t have had them had I given up on it all ten years ago!   Incidentally, five of the grandchildren are additional bonuses as they are the stepchildren from two of my step children!!!  I am certain that my bonus daughter has learned a lot of lessons from having a step mother, these insights she can now apply to her own situation.

So hang in there, and love them with all you’ve got, the rewards will come back ten fold if you can apply the insights I have given you.  Even five years ago I would never have dreamed I would be honoured so lovingly by receiving flowers on Mother’s Day with such a loving message attached from my stepchildren

So I want to say THANK YOU to the four of them (plus of course my own two).  It has been, and will continue to be, an honor to be your Stepmom and you have all been my greatest teachers.

Oh and Happy Mother’s Day to all of you, both this week and as a BONUS next week too!.

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