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Five Ways to Connect with Your Stepchildren

Five Ways to Connect with Your Stepchildren

Connecting with your stepchildren is one of the greatest gifts you will ever receive. I say this from experience. I have three amazing stepkids and they have brought more joy into my life than I had ever deemed possible. If you are not connecting with your stepchildren, then you are missing out on one of the utmost sources of joy in your life right now.

There is something to be said for choosing to love a person as a parent loves their children. You do it, not because you have to, but because you want to and because they are beautiful people that you are happy to have in your life.

Being a stepparent has certain complications that regular parents do not have and that many people are unaware of. For a stepparent it is necessary to stride into a parenting role and even then realize that being a stepparent and being a Mother or Father are totally different. You should never try to take over the role of Mother or Father, EVER. Your job (and in time you will find it to be a blessing) is to find your own relationship with them, not to steal someone else’s relationship. Remember that you are an addition to their lives; you did not give them life/are not their primary caregiver. Once you can accept this fact, then you will find that in this place of acceptance you will be much happier. There will be less power struggles, less misery, and more energy focused on the positive aspects of your relationship.

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Except for their safety, getting to know them is the single most important job you will ever have. How can you be a parent to a person you don’t know? Moreover, how can you expect them to connect with you if they don’t know you? If you do not connect with them, how can you assist their parents in giving them better lives and in making them better people? See, a real parent cares about giving their children better lives and it should be no different for you. I want my stepchildren to look back on their childhood and think I made a positive impact on their lives. It is not my fault that their parents decided to split, but that maybe—just maybe—I can be a small joy that came after it. Here are five ways that allowed me to connect with my stepchildren. I have no doubt that they will work for you too.

Show them lots of love and affection

All kids need love and affection, not just from their Mom and Dad, but from everyone in their lives that is important to them. Make them feel loved. Laugh with them, compliment them, cuddle up with them while you watch movies. Even if you have other children in the picture that demand your attention, make the time to be affectionate with them. If you don’t show them that you love and respect them, you can’t expect them to show it back.

Spend time together doing activities you both love

My stepson loves video games. My stepdaughter loves art. Some of the best times I have with them are sharing in these activities. Sunday morning Mario Kart, Saturday evening roller skating, pulling out the paints and paper and painting together are all times I treasure with my stepchildren. Are you spending quality time with your stepchildren? Are you talking to them, loving them? If not, then that may be why you are not connecting easily with them.

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Make sure they know they’re family

This goes especially for stepmothers. I say this because we are the ones who typically decorate the house, cook dinner, and go grocery shopping. This is not meant to be stereotypical and it’s not always the case; however, in my household my husband and I don’t show love in the same way. I hang up pictures of my stepchildren throughout the household so when they come home they know this is just as much their house as it is ours. I try to buy them food that they like (OK, well, maybe not as much junk food as they would like…), and go out of my way to do things they specifically request the weekend before. If my stepson asks for pizza, for example, I make sure the next weekend he comes over we make pizza. They should know how important they are to you and your life. They are family, you love them, and they should never question that.

Connect and show respect for BOTH parents

I know what you’re thinking, but STOP it! It does not matter what conflicts your current spouse has had, if any, with their ex husband or wife. It does not involve you. Don’t be judgmental. You know as well as I do that there are two sides to every story and it takes two to make or break a marriage.

Now you are a stepparent and it’s your responsibility to put your stepchildren first just as it would be to put your own children first. Because you love you stepchildren it is your duty to go out of your way to respect BOTH their parents. Trust me, you will never regret this. You might even find yourself liking and working well with their other parent. It is the responsibility of all of you now to make sure your stepchildren have the best possible lives. If you put out vibes of conflict then how can you achieve that?

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Make yourself an active part of their life, but realize and accept the fact that they had a life before you

If there is one piece of advice you take away from this article, I hope it’s this. As mentioned earlier, it is important to spend time with your stepchildren doing activities that you both like. Just as important, though, is to acknowledge the fact that they had a life before you. They once had another family that was with their Mom and Dad and that did not include you. This is a time that is important to them and that they love to reminisce about. I’m not going to lie; it can be tough sometimes. You may feel like an outsider. You may feel like what they had before is better than what you have to offer them now. Stop. Turn it off. This is not about you; this is about them and their parent(s).

You should be thankful that they love you enough that they want to share these stories with you. Try enjoying in their enjoyment. Be happy that they have happy experiences with both their parents, encourage their happy memories, and ask lots of questions. Basically, take an interest in the memories that are a part of who they are. It is a blessing to them and it should be to you too.

I have come to know my stepchildren quite well. I love them, they know that I love them, and I know they love me. They go out of their way to do amazing things for me. They show me respect, kindness, and they even remember my birthday and get me Mother’s Day gifts. Their Mother likes me and respects me. Their Father loves and respects me. I have a life full of love, joy, and respect. I am blessed to have them all in my life and I know with work you can find the same gift from your relationships that I have. Trust me when I tell you, you will treasure your relationship with them forever. You will never regret it. Good luck to you and your family.

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Featured photo credit: by Visit St. Pete/Clearwater via imcreator.com

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Published on January 30, 2019

How to Support a Working Mother as a Working Father

How to Support a Working Mother as a Working Father

In roughly 60 percent of two-parent households with children under the age of 18, both parents work full time. But who takes time off work when the kids are sick in your house? And if you are a manager, how do you react when a man says he needs time to take his baby to the pediatrician?

The sad truth is, the default in many companies and families is to value the man’s work over the woman’s—even when there is no significant difference in their professional obligations or compensation. This translates into stereotypes in the workplace that women are the primary caregivers, which can negatively impact women’s success on the job and their upward mobility.

According to a Pew Research Center analysis of long-term time-use data (1965–2011), fathers in dual-income couples devote significantly less time than mothers do to child care.[1] Dads are doing more than twice as much housework as they used to (from an average of about four hours per week to about 10 hours), but there is still a significant imbalance.

This is not just an issue between spouses; it’s a workplace culture issue. In many offices, it is still taboo for dads to openly express that they have family obligations that need their attention. In contrast, the assumption that moms will be on the front lines of any family crisis is one that runs deep.

Consider an example from my company. A few years back, one of our team members joined us for an off-site meeting soon after returning from maternity leave. Not even two hours into her trip, her husband called to say that the baby had been crying nonstop. While there was little our colleague could practically do to help with the situation, this call was clearly unsettling, and the result was that her attention was divided for the rest of an important business dinner.

This was her first night away since the baby’s birth, and I know that her spouse had already been on several business trips before this event. Yet, I doubt she called him during his conferences to ask child-care questions. Like so many moms everywhere, she was expected to figure things out on her own.

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The numbers show that this story is far from the exception. In another Pew survey, 47 percent of dual-income parents agreed that the moms take on more of the work when a child gets sick.[2] In addition, 39 percent of working mothers said they had taken a significant amount of time off from work to care for their child compared to just 24 percent of working fathers. Mothers are also more likely than fathers (27 percent to 10 percent) to say they had quit their job at some point for family reasons.

Before any amazing stay-at-home-dads post an angry rebuttal comment, I want to be very clear that I am not judging how families choose to divide and conquer their personal and professional responsibilities; that’s 100 percent their prerogative. Rather, I am taking aim at the culture of inequity that persists even when spouses have similar or identical professional responsibilities. This is an important issue for all of us because we are leaving untapped business and human potential on the table.

What’s more, I think my fellow men can do a lot about this. For those out there who still privately think that being a good dad just means helping out mom, it’s time to man up. Stop expecting working partners—who have similar professional responsibilities—to bear the majority of the child-care responsibilities as well.

Consider these ways to support your working spouse:

1. Have higher expectations for yourself as a father; you are a parent, not a babysitter.

Know who your pediatrician is and how to reach him or her. Have a back-up plan for transportation and emergency coverage.

Don’t simply expect your partner to manage all these invisible tasks on her own. Parenting takes effort and preparation for the unexpected.

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As in other areas of life, the way to build confidence is to learn by doing. Moms aren’t born knowing how to do this stuff any more than dads are.

2. Treat your partner the way you’d want to be treated.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard a man on a business trip say to his wife on a call something to the effect of, “I am in the middle of a meeting. What do you want me to do about it?”

However, when the tables are turned, men often make that same call at the first sign of trouble.

Distractions like this make it difficult to focus and engage with work, which perpetuates the stereotype that working moms aren’t sufficiently committed.

When you’re in charge of the kids, do what she would do: Figure it out.

3. When you need to take care of your kids, don’t make an excuse that revolves around your partner’s availability.

This implies that the children are her first priority and your second.

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I admit I have been guilty in the past of telling clients, “I have the kids today because my wife had something she could not move.” What I should have said was, “I’m taking care of my kids today.”

Why is it so hard for men to admit they have personal responsibilities? Remember that you are setting an example for your sons and daughters, and do the right thing.

4. As a manager, be supportive of both your male and female colleagues when unexpected situations arise at home.

No one likes or wants disruptions, but life happens, and everyone will face a day when the troubling phone call comes from his sitter, her school nurse, or even elderly parents.

Accommodating personal needs is not a sign of weakness as a leader. Employees will be more likely to do great work if they know that you care about their personal obligations and family—and show them that you care about your own.

5. Don’t keep score or track time.

At home, it’s juvenile to get into debates about who last changed a diaper or did the dishes; everyone needs to contribute, but the big picture is what matters. Is everyone healthy and getting enough sleep? Are you enjoying each other’s company?

In business, too, avoid the trap of punching a clock. The focus should be on outcomes and performance rather than effort and inputs. That’s the way to maintain momentum toward overall goals.

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The Bottom Line

To be clear, I recognize that a great many working dads are doing a terrific job both on the home front and in their professional lives. My concern is that these standouts often aren’t visible to their colleagues; they intentionally or inadvertently let their work as parents fly under the radar. Dads need to be open and honest about family responsibilities to change perceptions in the workplace.

The question “How do you balance it all?” should not be something that’s just asked of women. Frankly, no one can answer that question. Juggling a career and parental responsibilities is tough. At times, really tough.

But it’s something that more parents should be doing together, as a team. This can be a real bonus for the couple relationship as well, because nothing gets in the way of good partnership faster than feelings of inequity.

On the plus side, I can tell you that parenting skills really do get better with practice—and that’s great for people of both sexes. I think our cultural expectations that women are the “nurturers” and men are the “providers” needs to evolve. Expanding these definitions will open the doors to richer contributions from everyone, because women can and should be both—and so should men.

Featured photo credit: NeONBRAND via unsplash.com

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