Wednesday, February 23, 2011

How to Develop Good Relationships Between Stepparents and Kids

Last night I came home after a long day of meetings and work. My daughter waited up past her bedtime for me – just so that she could greet me and have a brief chat before bedtime. How precious is that? Anyway, she said to me, “Daddy, I have an idea for the blog; write about how important it is for kids and their stepparents to have a good relationship.” I replied, “Hhhmmm. You make a good point. You know what? I’ll write that post tomorrow.” Well today is tomorrow so, here it is.
My daughter is 12 years old but she has the insight of a child much older. Her mother and I divorced just over 9 years ago. I remarried 2 years – actually this past Monday, February 21 was our wedding anniversary (see Feeling “Upbeat” About My 2nd Wedding Anniversary). We have a 6 month old son so now we’re a happy family of 4. I wrote about the process of our family coming together in The Story of My Blended Family by The Upbeat Dad.
I’m so fortunate that my wife and I came together in a virtually smooth way. And I’m even more fortunate that she and my daughter have a close bond – to the extent that unless we say otherwise, people who we meet think that they are biologically related. That didn’t happen overnight; that’s the purpose of this post.
In Dating 101 for the Divorced Dad, I share my philosophy on dating as a single parent. I lived that life for approximately 5 years before I started dating my wife. One thing that I wrote about in that post is that I didn’t allow my daughter to develop relationships with those who I dated during the 5 year period. I really didn’t want to confuse her because, goodness forbid, if any of those relationships ended, to her, it could be like another divorce. So I was careful about how I handled the process.
When my wife came into my life, things were very different. And in time we got married and started to write our own chapter in history. I won’t rewrite the post about how my wife and daughter got to develop the relationship that they have now. You can read the articles previously referenced in this post. What I want to address is why it is important for kids and stepparents to have a good relationship.

My colleague and friend, Christina McGhee, introduced me to the terms "bonus kids" and "bonus parents", instead of "step kids" and "step parents." I can appreciate the use of those terms because to my wife, she married me and my daughter was a bonus to her. Likewise, my daughter has two biological parents; my wife is a bonus mom to her. Whether we use the term "step"or "bonus", just know that these additional people should be there to enhance our lives. 
My daughter said to me last night as we spoke, “Daddy, you work a lot and you go to meetings. If we didn’t have a good relationship, what would happen when you’re not here? I’m glad we have a good relationship.” The fact of the matter is that many kids feel threatened by a new stepparent – thinking that they are there to take their parent away. And in other cases, they may feel that a new stepparent is replacing their mom or dad.
For instance, with my daughter, I have been very careful to ensure that her biological mother does not feel as if my wife is her replacement. She gave birth to our daughter and though the marriage didn’t work out, she will always be her mother. My wife understands that and has been absolutely wonderful in handing this issue.
And for my daughter, she has no issues in terms of who her biological mother is. At the same time, she doesn’t treat her stepmother as if she’s any less than a mother. She’s quite respectful and really very loving to her. Their relationship has made it so much easier for me to enjoy life.
There are so many horror stories about kids being at war with their stepparents. Not so in our household, thankfully. I don’t think that it happened that way accidentally. Each party has had a role to play. Initially my daughter feared that the new marriage was going to tear her and me apart; instead, we’re closer today than ever.
What’s the secret to our success? Honest, open communication is the key. Another thing is that I am no way differently involved in my daughter’s life today than I was as a single dad. I’m still at the teachers’ conferences. I’m still involved with her life. I walk her to the bus stop. And once a week, we go out for a meal or other fun activity – just the 2 of us.
What has changed is that now there’s a new parent in the house – but one who loves her just the same. My wife is also involved in the schooling and other aspects of her life. We really function as a team in raising her. There’s no cause of concern on my part as I leave the home to travel or go to meetings because I know that we have a loving home and everyone treats the other household members with respect.
For me, it’s such a thrill to see how my daughter has embraced her little brother. She helps in the daily tasks of raising a newborn – changing diapers, feeding, etc. It’s something that’s a blessing to see. They’re just under 12 years apart so, as I told her, she can really teach and mentor him in ways that I can’t as a parent; they’re from the same generation, afterall.
If you have stepchildren, I encourage you to do your best to develop positive relationships with them. It’s easier said than done in some cases, I know, but it makes life so much less stressful when that is the case. And if you’re in a relationship with an individual who already has children and you’re developing relationships with the kids, please do your best to assure them that you’re not there as a competitor with their other parent. That goes a long way, believe me. And feel free to add the term "bonus" to your language. It might give you a different view of this subject.
I hope that this post has been helpful. If it has, don’t thank me – thank my daughter. She’s the inspiration behind what I believe is a very timely message. I trust that it has touched hearts and has encouraged people to make the necessary changes that will build fruitful relationships.
Enjoy your day. And hug your kids when they come home!
The Upbeat Dad

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