How to Establish a Positive Relationship Between Stepmother and Stepchild
No matter how much the new wife loves her husband, loving his child is an additional responsibility.
The challenge for the new stepmom is to establish a workable and enjoyable relationship with the child. God forbid that the child has a meddling, overprotective, biological mother!
With adequate preparation the stepmom can:
- (1) lessen her own fears
- (2) tackle her new task with confidence
- (3) become a wise, not a wicked, stepmother.
Stepchild in the Wedding Party
Prior to Meeting the Child
A man who has younger children may be anxious for the girlfriend and child to meet, hoping that the little darlings will pull her closer. It is better for the adults to focus on each other at first. Introduce the children at the point where it appears that the relationship has a future.
Consider the following questions which may influence the decision to continue or not continue to meet.
- Do you love the man as he is, without wishing for any change in his situation?
- Was his interest in you as intense before, as it is has been after, you mentioned your love for kids?
- Have relationship boundaries between him and the child's mother been established? upon?
- Do you anticipate working with the child’s mother civilly as co-parents and not rivals?
Some women think it is out of place for the man to have a conversation with the child’s mother. That is not practical, unless she has been a criminal offender and legally barred from communication with the father and child. Otherwise, agree on decisions like no-secret meetings or calls, and solicit the assurance that you’ll be the only wife.
Time to Meet the Child
(In this article, the male gender is used to refer to the child, but we know that there are many fathers who produce beautiful daddies’ girls.)
The child may be respectful, cooperative and joyful at the first meeting; he may even like you. However, liking you does not mean that he wants you to marry his dad, and he may reject the idea of having you come around too often. Be cautious.
The following chart offers a general guide toward the child’s behavior, if he is still affected by the breakup of his parents. Cooperate with the father and don't try to solve problems by yourself.
The Child May Even Like You
Suggested Adult Response
Not very much affected. Most inclined to accept a new mother.
Count your blessings. Feed him all the affection he craves.
May regress into bedwetting and other infantile behavior. May not show anger until years later.
Be patient. Touch and cuddle as much as he would let you. Praise progress.
May feel abandoned and show symptoms of anxiety. Conduct at school may deteriorate.
Try to create a mood of safety. Ask non-threatening questions. Listen and learn his needs from his responses.
Self-esteem may be threatened. May blame new mother figure.
Affirm his worth to his dad. Encourage father-child adventures. Voice your suport.
May show delinquent tendencies. May be abusive toward new mother figure.
Be understanding. Laugh and agree when appropriate. Hope he realizes that accepting you makes dad happy.
After the Honeymoon
"Just the two of us," ends immediately after the honeymoon. You now have the responsibility of sharing your affection between husband and child, to keep them both happy.
Here are some pointers for your consideration:
- In the presence of the child, be discreet in your show of affection for the father, especially if the child is prone to emotional tug-of-wars. He may resent you for robbing his mother of that affection (even though you didn't).
- Expect that you and your husband may disagree on parenting styles and strategies. Do not tolerate disrespect, but let the father discipline his way. Do not give the child opportunity to fuel your disagreement.
- Let the father and child enjoy time together, just the two of them. Respect their time together, so that the child will respect your time with his father. The child will see that marrying you did not cause his father to abandon him.
- Speak kindly of the child's mother and wish her well. You do not have to become her bosom friend, but be approachable. Eventually, she may feel as comfortable talking with you as she does with the child's father.
If you become a stepmother, count it an honor to make positive contributions toward the lives of the children who come with the marriage. If you are the one bringing children from a former marriage with you, help your spouse apply the same principles. The more love you give, the more love you receive--if not immediately, after a while.
Five Big Benefits
- (1) Admiration from the Spouse
A major turn off in relationships with children from a previous marriage is the conflict which causes the man to choose between his wife and his child. A responsible man will choose his child. If you can assure him that the child means as much to you as he (the husband) does, he will appreciate you for making his life easier.
- (2) Trust from the Natural Parent
“When an ex-spouse's children become someone else's stepchildren and spend time in a stranger's home, he or she worries about the children's comfort, their role models--and their loyalty” (Psychology Today, 1994). Most parents who know that the child is loved by the new spouse will become supportive for the child’s sake.
- (3) Cooperation from the Child
Patience is a necessary virtue for the stepparent. There often comes a pivotal moment when the child needs a friend, a defender, or a parent and if the stepparent is ready to step up to filling the child’s need, the child will see an unmistakable proof of love.
- (4) Unity in the Family
How important is it to have unity in the family gathering around at the Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Birthday Celebration table? Wisdom dictates that no gathering be attempted without it. These occasions can create precious memories for the entire family.
- (5) Inner Peace
If the stepmother makes an effort to accept and love the stepchild and the child does not readily respond in kind, she will still have the satisfaction of knowing that she is not to blame for any animosity he may exhibit. She will experience inner peace, joy, and self respect and in time, those positive feelings may attract positive responses from the child.
© 2011 Dora Weithers