How do you have a good relationship when dealing with step-children who come from a very different value system than yours?  Here are some tips for navigating this relationship space….

Expect Step-Children to Have Different Value Systems 

Initially, when you enter into a new family relationship, you will need to observe what expectations have already been put into place.  Being an observer of a different dynamic provides insight into how these values are shaping family relationships.  Rather than asserting your expectations over your partner and their children right out of the gate, take some time to observe them together without inserting yourself or your values too much up front.  It is actually better to be less involved at the beginning, just as you would be less involved with any other new person in your life. Being an observer gives you the space to find familiarity with each other first.

Discuss Behavioral Patterns and Observations with your Partner

When an interaction is bothering you, ask your partner to set aside time to talk. Once they are in a dedicated place to listen to you away from the situation, tell them about the behaviors you’re having a hard time understanding. Come from a place of wanting to understand the behaviors, rather than wanting to correct the behaviors. When you’re coming from a place of curiosity and openness, it becomes easier to discuss the challenges. This will provide you with time to discuss what bothers you, while also creating an opportunity to understand the challenges that created the behaviors in the first place. Once your partner understands the things that trouble you, talk about wanting to create a plan together for more positive interactions that will benefit everyone moving forward together. The strongest behavioral changes are ones that both partners agree upon and consistently work on together.

Let the Parent Take the Lead on Discipline

In the early stages of a relationship, step-children often prefer only listening to their parent.  They may say, “You aren’t my mother/father!” when referring to being disciplined by a step-parent.  It is common for children to initially hold their own parent’s words and actions in higher regard than the partner.  Which is why it’s helpful to discuss step-children issues with your partner and have them deal directly with their own children when possible.  There may still be times when you need to set appropriate boundaries by declaring, “In this house, we expect all people to respect these house rules.”  However, it will be best if you and your partner discuss which issues are best for the parent to deal with directly.  This gives the parent a chance to share what they know about a child’s behavior.  When they have room to demonstrate what they feel works with the child, it makes consistency easier to maintain.

Check Yourself When Feeling Envy

Envy is a common feeling that comes up in a step-parent relationship.  Envy that the child is now the most important person when they are in the room. The child may be treated with more generosity or care than your partner may have shown you. These feelings create a lot of tension between you and your partner if they are left unexpressed.  Rather than coming from a place of asking your partner why they don’t show the same care or generosity for you, come from a place of telling your partner how wonderfully they support their child, and how you would love to feel that support in the relationship you have with each other as well. When you discuss the behavior from a place of encouragement and desire, it comes across as a positive way to enhance all of the relationships in your life.

Honor Needs for Alone Time

It is important to recognize when a relationship with a step-child is reaching a difficult place. If you are losing your ability to be kind or peaceful, it’s time to take a break. Stay in touch with your feelings of stress and recognize when you require some distance and time off.  The more you preserve your inner peace, the more control you can bring back to a relationship that may need more time and patience to reach a harmonious place. This is also true for recognizing the need for the parent and child to have time alone together. They also need extra time together and alone to work through their new parenting arrangement.

Get Outside Help When You Feel Stuck

As relationship therapists, we’re here to help you navigate these difficulties. We work with you to find what strategies will work best for you and your relationship. Too often couples put added stress on their relationships by not seeking help early and often for difficult relationship issues.  Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you’d like some extra help in working through the challenges of step-parenting, that’s what we’re here for.

To find out more about our services click here: Blended Family Counseling.