What to Do When You Don’t Like Your Stepkids

Posted by on Mar 15, 2016 in Healthy Separation and/or Divorce Counseling | Comments Off on What to Do When You Don’t Like Your Stepkids

Tips for managing expectations, interactions, and boundaries

The reality is, not everyone likes their stepkids. Even biological parents sometimes find it difficult to like their own children. For stepparents in this position, it’s important to keep the following key points in mind:

Maintain realistic expectations: Many people enter a blended family situation feeling that, because they love their partner, it will be easy to seamlessly come together. Truthfully, that is a romantic notion. The reality is that it often takes quite a bit of time to build solid step-relationships. The research shows that it may take as long as 6-8 years for those loving bonds to form and adjustments to be made. Even in the best of blended family circumstances, members commonly experience a fair amount of conflict during the first two years.

Stepmothers, in particular, tend to feel guilty if they don’t like their stepchildren. Women are raised to value mothering, so when positive feelings are lacking, they often feel like they’ve done something wrong. That guilt and self-criticism can be pretty hard on the new marriage.

The idea then, is to give yourself permission to have realistic expectations. Accept that it’s normal for stepparents not to have loving feelings and put less pressure on yourself to feel a certain way.

Be respectful: Treat your stepchildren in loving and caring ways. This can be difficult if you don’t have a lot of warm feelings for your stepkids or if they are treating you in a disrespectful manner. However, you are the adult and it remains your responsibility to model appropriate behavior.

Try to find some common ground: This is important for connecting with a child as well as connecting the family as a whole successfully. Whether it’s music, movies, books, sports, etc., anything at all, use this as an entry point to begin to build a relationship with the child. Meeting them where they are often works much better than expecting your stepchild to develop your interests.

Set boundaries with your partner: Let your partner know that it is unacceptable to be treated with disrespect in your own home. It’s alright to insist on basic etiquette, manners, and courtesies as well. Ideally, you and your spouse will work together on house rules and back each other up. Family blending tends to go a lot better if couples see each other as a leadership team first and advocates for the children second.

Families who manage this well also tend to avoid typical family and relationship divisions, such as circumstances where the biological parent and children are lined up against the stepparent. It’s the job of both biological and stepparents to clearly communicate to children that they don’t have to like or love stepparents but that they do need to respect him or her.

Focus on your marriage: To be clear, like your stepchildren or not, you married your partner in spite of the children, not because of them. Spend your time and energy nurturing your relationship. This is one of the best things you can do to keep your new marriage on track.

Too often, a lot of energy is spent trying to change the dynamics between stepparents and children. This may be an exercise in futility. That energy may be better directed at prioritizing the relationship. By taking care of the marriage, you ensure that no one in your blended family has to endure a separation or divorce again.


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