5 Ways to Help Bond with Your Stepchild
By Heidi Vegh, Crosswalk.com
Stepparenting is not something that is on anyone's bucket list. When we envision our future as children, we don't see remarriage, blended family, or stepparenting on the agenda. However, it is quite common to live in a non-traditional family today.
In Ron L. Deal's book Smart Stepfamilies, he states that "42% of adults (102 million) have a step relationship (either a stepparent, a step or half sibling, or a stepchild). When you add the 11.6 million stepchildren in the US (16% of all kids), the total is an estimated 113.6 million Americans that have a step relationship."
This is a staggering statistic that leaves anyone who is living in a blended family home less alone. It is common, normal, and more accepted in this generation of families. Your place in a blended family is not a surprise to God. He has you in this position for a reason. You and your stepchild are in the same family for a divine purpose, and how you take on the role of stepparenting can be a light to others in your same position. However, it is not easy. Creating a family coming from two different places, backgrounds and experiences can be quite difficult and complex.
Being the ones who leap into a stepparenting role, we need all the help we can get. We all want to bond with our stepchildren. This may mean family therapy or reading a few good books to help us along the way, which is okay. Ultimately, we can lean on the leading of the Lord to help guide us down these narrow roads.
The connection we desire with our stepchildren may not happen overnight. It can take time, consistency, and hard work. But the effort will be well worth it when you can share a loving relationship with our stepchildren that will last and endure all their stages of maturing well into adulthood. I am sure many of us long to dance with our stepsons at their wedding. The hard work begins now to make that happen.
So how do we parent a child that we are not biologically connected to? How do we love them like our own? How do we connect with them on the deepest level possible?
Here are 5 Ideas for bonding with your stepchild:
1. Cultivate a harmonious relationship with their other parent (even be friends with them)
This is highly important. If you want to create a peaceful relationship with your stepchild, you must set aside any negative interactions, hurtful words, or resentment with the other biological parent. These complex relationships can be challenging; after all, you are now parenting a child with someone you didn't necessarily choose to be parenting with. This person has most likely had a conflict with your spouse as they are no longer together. There must be grace and forgiveness if you desire a cohesive and peaceful relationship with your stepchild. They will never trust or confide in you if you are spewing negativity about their other parent. They long to know you can be trusted and relied upon without any hidden agenda or resentment clouding your judgment.
2. Be their friend (but also their parent)
This can be tricky, but it is possible with good intentions and a large dose of the Lord's help. The dynamic of a blended family can be all over the map. In some instances, the stepparent takes on a strong parent/disciplinary role. In others, the stepparent may leave the discipline and enforcement to their biological parents. In either instance, it is important we cultivate a loving relationship with the stepchild. They need to know they are loved, accepted, and cared for in your home. Be silly with them, talk to them about their time at the other home, and be authentically interested in their lives.
3. Find an activity to do together (be enthusiastic about their interests)
Each child is unique with their own set of interests. If you are looking for a way to bond with your stepchild, set your own agenda aside and take time to do an activity of their choosing. My stepson loves to cook, so I often bake with him, and we have our favorite things that we make. I set aside special activities just for him and think of him when planning meals. Show your stepchild how important they are to you by how you spend your time together. Set aside a special time to do something just the two of you. It is beneficial to have alone time to get to know each other. Take them on a date and bless them with their favorite treat or restaurant.
4. Give them a place in the home (Make a space they are excited to return to)
Children that live in two homes have a unique perspective on life. They essentially have two places of comfort and pretty much two of everything else. Give your stepchild their own space in your home, if possible. If sharing a room is a must, still give them a space in the room for their personal things where they know they will be safe when they are away. A child needs to feel as though their space will be respected. They don't want to feel like a guest in their own home. Welcome them home with open arms when they return and be enthusiastic about what took place in their life when they were gone. Treat your stepchild like any other child in the home, giving them chores and responsibilities just like everyone else. I leave my stepson's room just as it was, even if it is a huge mess. I don't try to make it perfect before he returns. He may sometimes come home to a mess he is responsible for. This makes him feel like life in your home will take off just as he left it.
5. Treat them like your own children (Make them feel like part of the family and pray with them)
This one can be tricky. There is something about parenting your biological children: we tend to give them more grace and compassion when it comes to disobedience, and we tend to be harder on our stepchildren. This is how I have seen it play out in my home. This can happen right underneath our noses without us realizing it. Take time to reflect on your actions and words in dealing with your stepchild and adjust when necessary. Apologize for inappropriate behavior by showing your humanness and humility. No one is perfect, least of all us. Treat them like your own even when it is hard; this will create a bonding relationship in which they feel unconditionally loved.
Don't get overwhelmed with the ins and outs of stepparenting. There are endless books, resources, and websites with loads of wisdom. It may be beneficial to slow down and get to the basics. Love them, pray for them, connect with them, and spend time together. This can be easier said than done and if you do feel overwhelmed, remember that you do not need to do this in your own power. Lean on the Lord and His mighty strength to help you to be the best stepparent you can be.
"But Jesus looked at them and said to them, 'With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.'" Matthew 19:26
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/fizkes
Heidi Vegh is a writer, speaker, and ministry leader living in Gig Harbor, WA. She is a remarried mother of four, navigating the blended family life after the loss of her first husband to cancer in 2013. She longs to use her writing as a way to encourage others who have experienced loss and guide them on the road to healing. She contributes to her blog found at thebreathingmama.com, sharing stories and devotionals of faith stemming from her loss and healing, mothering, and her blended and complex family. She graduated from Southern New Hampshire University with a degree in Creative Writing and English and is working on her first book. Heidi is the Women’s Ministry Director at Gig Harbor Foursquare and has a deep heart for sharing Jesus with women and encouraging them in their faith walk. When she is not writing she loves to travel, read, craft, and experiment in the kitchen. Visit her Facebook and Instagram (@mrsheidivegh) to learn more.