When I married Stephen, I knew there were children that I would need to care for as my own. I had fostered a small child before and so I knew it was possible to love another’s child as my own. What I was not prepared for was the possibility that this attachment may not happen in short order, or perhaps at all. I felt I was failing at blending a family when my stepchildren did not seem to bond with me. Often, I would observe blended families who seemed to have it all sorted out, and wondered what I was doing wrong.
As a couple who each brought two children into our marriage, we have come to understand that many families face this struggle. People may not be as comfortable admitting that loving another person’s child as much as your own is often not easy. It is natural to prefer a biological child. It is also normal for a child to prefer biological parents. We should not expect a child to love us as stepparents in the same way that they love their biological parents. With this in mind, how do we blend a family into a strong, enjoyable, happy unit where each can feel important?
If you are a stepparent who struggles with loving all your children equally, or your stepchildren have not bonded with you, do not feel alone. Here are five tips to help you work towards building a loving family.
First, Accept All Feelings Are Natural And Real. You and your stepchildren are humans with human emotions. Families were not intended to be torn apart and sewn together, but in today’s world, it is more common than not.
Second, Set All Expectations Aside. It is not about you or your feelings alone; it is about everyone’s feelings. The only expectation should be mutual respect. Anything you gain beyond this is a blessing and possibilities are endless when you are open to them.
Third, Fairness Matters. Feelings may lead one astray, but fairness will keep things level. In the words of Wess Fessler: “Fairness is man’s ability to rise above his prejudices.” We must acknowledge our true feelings and as parents, but always try to act in fairness.
When my stepchildren make a request I acknowledge my resistance if I am feeling it. I also take a moment to ask myself, if my biological child made the same request, how would I answer? If I am still struggling alone, I enlist the help of my partner.
Fourth, Communicate Openly With Your Mate. Keep Each Other In Check And In Balance. One of the hardest things may be speaking openly about the challenges with children in a second marriage. If you and your mate can master this, and feel comfortable speaking with one another without judgment or throwing up defenses, you will be able to help each other in acting in fairness and balance in all matters. Trust me, this will take practice, you will throw up defenses. Keep working on communication until you and your mate can openly admit your biases and accept these as natural in yourself and each other. Only then can you begin working as team US. Your bond will strengthen as a couple, and you will move towards strengthening your bond as a family.
Fifth, Encourage The Natural Bond Between A Child And Parent. No matter your personal feelings or knowledge of your partner’s Ex, always be supportive of the natural bond between a parent and child. Your job as a stepparent is not to replace the natural one. Your job is to parent the child when they are in your care. Promoting the natural bond between child and parent will in time earn you respect and a bond with your stepchild. When a child feels that you respect their parents, they will be more likely to respect you. Over time a bond will grow between you and your stepchild.
When you reject the natural parent, the child may fell rejected as well. Or your words can hurt the child, and cause them to build a defensive wall that will hinder your relationship with them. This is not always easy, and it may not always be a level playing field. Do not be the person trying to manipulate a child’s feelings and love for your own self interest. If children are being poisoned against you, often, as they grow and mature they will gain an understanding. Be patient.
Remember that all feelings are natural and if you work in the best interests of the children and your family, in time your bond with them may grow. Many factors affect whether or not you bond to a child, or that a child bonds with you. Keep honest and heartfelt communication open between yourself and your mate. Try to work together as a couple to strengthen your bond as husband and wife, and the children will benefit from your strong union. Treating all children with fairness creates a strong bond between you and your mate, especially when they see your attempts to love their children.
As children grow into adulthood, it is up to them to determine how much they will be a part of your family. Stephen and my goal is to have a warm place for our four children to visit and feel loved. Keep in mind, the bond between husband and wife is most important. Do not fall into the trap of putting your parental bond superior to your marital bond. As your children grow to create lives of their own, you will grow old with your mate. The bond you develop now as husband and wife will be the one you are left with when the children are gone. Adult children will always want to return to a secure, peaceful and loving home.