How can I support my partner’s children?
If your partner has children from a previous relationship, it can be difficult to know how to approach your own relationship with them, particularly if you all live together.
Whether or not you consider yourself an official stepparent, you might wonder what your role is in providing a supportive, loving home for the child.
Whatever your situation, it’s important to know that:
- It takes time for everyone to adjust and build a level of trust, respect and love.
- Parenting is a journey where needs change over time. There will be smooth parts and bumpy parts.
- Talking openly with your partner about your role and everyone’s expectations makes the journey smoother.
- The needs of a child should be at the forefront, but you also need to nurture the relationship you have as a couple.
Talk to your partner
Problems often happen when everyone has a different idea of each other’s role in the family set up. Having an open conversation with your partner about this means everyone has clear expectations.
When things are going well, notice and celebrate them. When things are difficult, discuss them calmly. Everyone should be able to say how they feel without blaming anyone and listen to others without feeling defensive or hurt.
The idea is to find a way forward to make things better for everyone.
If there are problems with your relationship, children will often sense these. This can feed into their feelings of insecurity, distrust and distress. Keeping your relationship healthy means a stronger family for everyone.
Building a relationship with your stepchildren
It will take time to build a strong relationship with your stepchild. Be patient and take things at the child’s pace. They need to take their time building trust and getting to know you.
Some children might have already struggled with change from their parents separating. This new change may add to their fears and worries.
Others might be excited about their parent meeting a new partner and throw themselves into the relationship.
Someone they can turn to
It is often best to leave the more serious discipline, everyday childcare and parenting arrangements to the child’s parents.
It can be a wonderful thing for a child to have an adult who is not their parent who they can turn to, and who cares about them.
Fair, firm and consistent boundaries, house rules and consequences help your family to respect each other and know where you all stand. This helps everyone to feel safe, emotionally and physically.
Talk to your partner about how these might be addressed, agreed and implemented.
Children will test these boundaries sometimes. They want to see if you’re resilient enough to keep them emotionally safe.
Children thrive on normal routines, doing everyday things. Try to create a normal family environment. Whether they live with you part of the time or all the time, your home is their home too. They are not a visitor.
Try to create a bedroom or space that they can call their own. Involve them in family decisions and plans, where appropriate.
When things go wrong
The best thing you can provide for any child is loving care, interest, and acceptance.
Allow your stepchildren’s parents to make important decisions about their lives. Be sensitive and follow their lead. If you want to raise something about their upbringing, make sure it is coming from a place of genuine care for the children’s best interests. Respect that the parents might not have the same ideas as you and that is ok to have different views.
Try to understand the children’s behaviour and support your partner in working with challenging behaviour.
If you feel yourself being critical, either openly or to yourself, think about why.
What are your feelings behind this?
Are you focusing on the negative aspects of their behaviour rather than the positives?
Are you feeling left out or overwhelmed?
You might find it helpful to explore these feelings with your partner, a close friend or family member, or a counsellor.
Looking after yourself
Take the time to look after yourself and your own mental health. Being a stepparent can be hard, and challenging behaviour can have an effect on you.
Try not to get involved in online forums for stepparents, unless they are resolution-based. These forums often have a blame mentality and can make things feel worse.
Your relationship with your partner’s co parent
If the child’s other parent is co-parenting with your partner, everyone involved will need to navigate their way in this blended family.
Many parents welcome the presence of another adult in their children’s lives, though this might take some time. Some can find it difficult and feel threatened or worried about their children having another parent.
The co-parent’s feelings about you will depend on:
- How long ago they separated from your partner
- The details of the separation
- Their own experiences of stepparents.
It will take time to adjust and for everyone to feel settled and secure.
Always speak positively about the child’s other parent. Let the child talk about them if they want to but try not to ask questions or pry into life at their other home.
If the child talks to you about feeling unhappy in their other home, try to just listen. Respect their thoughts and feelings without adding your own negative thoughts.
Encourage good, respectful communication between everyone. Always be polite to the co-parent, regardless of how they treat you.
How can I help my child adjust to a blended family?
Every family has its own joys and frustrations. This is true of blended families, when one or both partners have children from other relationships. Adjusting to a new family set-up is a time of change for everyone.
Don’t worry if it takes longer than you think to build your routines and relationships with each other. If you need some outside support, you could consider family counselling.
Give your children some time
It’s important to give children time to adjust to changes. Don’t rush things. They might not like your new partner or their children right away, and that’s OK.
If you have your own child or children, make time for them. Have regular one-to-one contact so they can talk things through with you and enjoy time with you on their own. Make sure they know that you’re there to listen when they’re ready to talk.
It can help to:
- Reassure them. They may worry about change, especially if other children will be coming into the home.
- Recognise their feelings of sadness, confusion or anger. Keep telling them that you love them and will be there for them.
- Two households means a different sets of rules and expectations. Talk about rules, routines and values you want in your shared household before moving in.
Help your children see you as a team
Set ground rules with your partner about disciplining each other’s children. This can be one of the trickiest things to manage. Talk about the rules with your children so they understand what’s expected of them.
Try to keep positive relationships with any ex partners. Keeping things peaceful can help with setting routines and pick–ups and drop offs.
Remember to make time for your relationship, too. Spending time together and having fun will make it easier to cope with any challenges when they arise. If you’re able to work together on issues, your children will see this.