Step-parenting can be a challenge.


Ok, maybe not for everyone, but for the vast majority of step-parents out there, it's maybe not what they imagined. Expectations are often high, and disillusionment sets in when we realize it might take years, not months, to truly bond with our partner's children. 

I coach step-parents by first helping them understand WHY their step-child might be struggling with the relationship, and what changes might be helpful. I highly encourage stepparents' partners (the biological parent) to be part of this process! Below, some common reasons it's hard to bond with our stepkids:

A remarriage is often a joyous time for the couple, but not always so for the children involved.

Some children of divorce view remarriage as the last nail in the coffin - there is no chance now that their parents will reconcile and they grieve the loss of family and life as they knew it. They also may be grieving the loss of time and attention from their parent that is now given to a new spouse. Consequently, even the most well meaning step-parent can become the object of the child's contempt.

Your stepchild might really like you, but acting on those feelings may feel disloyal to their other parent...

Especially if there is major conflict between your partner and his ex, and/or your partner's ex is openly critical of you. This is called a "loyalty bind" for your stepchild. If your stepchild frequently rejects your invitations to spend time together, he/she is probably caught in this difficult predicament. Often children can't express what they are experiencing, they just know something about caring for a step-parent feels bad. Both biological parents should have an age appropriate conversation with their child about loyalty binds and explicitly give the child permission to care for their step-parent should they desire to do so. 

Your stepchild might be yearning for one-on-one time with their parent...

But your spouse might be trying to include you in everything so as to "blend" more quickly. Unable to ask their parent directly for this one-on-one time,  the child may begin to resent you. This need is compounded when your new spouse was single for a while before you came together, and the child became accustomed to lots of time with their parent. Kids typically need quality time alone with just their parent, especially in the beginning of a new relationship. 

You may be trying to act as a disciplinarian too soon.

It's important that you have input, but, at least in the beginning, the final say must come from your stepchild's parent. When you try to discipline your stepchild before mutual respect and trust has formed, you run the risk of hearing the dreaded "You're not my dad/mom and I don't have to listen to you!" Going slow here is key. 

Step-parenting is a team sport. Behind every successful stepparent is a supportive partner.