One thing I have quickly learned about being a stepmom is that nothing can replace the value of time. While I am not the bio mom, and in some ways do not have that close “from birth” connection, I have been able to build a strong, close, meaningful bond through the one on one time I spend with my boys. The advantage for me is that their bio mom doesn’t invest this time with them. While this may not seem like an advantage to some, I see this as an opportunity to step in where someone else won’t – thus to me, advantage!
As a stepparent you can easily build a strong relationship with your step children by taking the time to talk to them, get to know them, or have fun with them. Carlos and I double team on this as well which helps strengthen our family dynamic. But on my own I like to do things with the boys that helps them feel safe and comfortable with me. Vince and I have gone to see movies together or wandered the book store while sipping on vanilla bean frappuccinos. We make pizzas together, build things with toothpicks and marshmallows, and read books together.
Many times in coparenting situations, it’s perceived that it’s all about where the kids have the most fun. Maybe at dad’s the kids are spoiled and get expensive gifts and lots of freedom or at mom’s they can eat whatever they want and have the run of the house. This is a lie. Children want and need structure and consistency in their lives. Structure builds trust, it’s where they feel the safest. With that comes the opportunity to build a meaningful relationship that will carry well into their teenage years. Carlos struggled with this in the beginnings of the custody order. Every time we had the kids it felt like they weren’t allowed to be upset or disciplined because Carlos always wanted them to have a positive experience when they were with us. But this grew old, very quickly, and we’ve learned quite the opposite is true.
I can’t speak for every situation, Vince and Dex are toddlers, I know it’s more difficult when you’re dealing with older children. As a woman who is part of a divorced, co-parenting family myself (my parents divorced when I was 19), you have to give the older ones time and space. They will come around eventually but if you force it then you will push them away. Thankfully I have been blessed (no seriously, God knows what He’s doing here) to have come into these kids’ lives when they were very young (2 and 5 months) so my job isn’t as difficult as it could have been.
There are many things you can do with your stepchildren that don’t take a lot of creativity or effort. Playing a game with them, my kids love CandyLand and Hungry Hungry Hippos. We read books together, current favorites are Creepy Pair of Underwear and Creepy Carrots both by Aaron Reynolds. We cook together, we run around and sing together, and we talk. Talking is so important for building relationships. We talk about our feelings, things we don’t understand, and reasons why things happen.
If you are looking for a way to connect, don’t overthink it. It’s in the everyday subtle things that have the most meaning. Simply sitting through a movie, reading a book, or doing their hair can build trust and closeness. Stepparents confront an everyday battle when it comes to inserting yourself as part of the family. This doesn’t have to be constantly uphill. Be yourself. Take the time. You will see the fruits of your labor over time.
Happy step-parenting; your’e doing great!