There have been numerous “step-by-step” guides written on how to get along with your stepchildren which include advice such as: spend one-on-one time with your stepchildren, don't force the relationship, never try to replace the parent, etc. While these are all useful suggestions, there are of course no literal guidelines that will guarantee success in a complex familial relationship; therefore, all the crevices between the obvious prerequisite efforts should be considered.
Though the most direct route to positive interaction with your stepchildren may be most obviously found in the direct interactions you have with them, a hidden key to getting along with your stepchildren may be found in the way you treat or get along with your stepchild's parent—the one to which you're not married.
Jennifer Walker, from Fort Wayne, Indiana. recounts the positive relationship she has with her stepson, underscored by an uncharacteristically genial relationship she has with his mom, which undoubtedly encourages a better relationship with her stepson by virtue of an environment of general agreeability, a model of positive relationships, and the reassurance of consonance—the ease that comes from the awareness that the team of those who care for her stepson are united. Of course this relationship— the relationship between a child's stepparent and biological parent—is not always an easy one to navigate, cannot always be determined by one person, but if it is possible, the reprieve that results from a positive one can be considerable.
Walker explains, “Kody's mom...has always treated me like a person. She congratulated us when we decided to get married. She bought baby gifts for both [my own] girls. She lets [my children] run around her house and play with their dogs. We can always sit together at baseball games and basketball games. It is extremely helpful for the adults in a child's life to remember to behave like adults. [My husband and Kody's mom] have always remembered that they will always have a relationship together because they have Kody. I have always appreciated that coming from a divorced family. I treat Kody like he is one of my own, and at the same time, I don't expect him to call me mom. He has a mom. ...I know how my relationship was with my siblings and various parents growing up. I never wanted to be around that kind of negativity once I left it. ...I earned [Kody's] trust and respect as a parent and a friend. Kody [likewise] has our trust and respect.”
Even when you aren't amicably chatting with your stepchild's parent at the soccer game a la Julia Roberts and Susan Sarandon in Stepmom, it's still possible to maintain a relationship that remains positive in regard to the stepchild's parent, demonstrating respect and civility. Sarah Beth Whetzel, from Wichita Falls, Texas, who has a diff erent relationship with the mother of her stepchildren than Walker does—one that is mainly limited to the required relationship of shared responsibility of the children—also emphasizes demonstrating a positive attitude toward her stepchildren's mother.
“I never pushed or rushed [my two stepsons] into being okay or showing love to me. Th ey both have come around at their own pace in the last fi ve years and have told me that I'm their super stepmom...We include them in all of our family events, even with extended family on my side. Th at way they get an overwhelming sense of who loves them.We have rules and certain requirements/structure that they don't have at home; so we fi nd that they always want to be with us. Kids, unknowingly, crave structure. When we teach them how to do small household chores, we ask them to continue doing this at home to help their mom out. That way they know that we care how they treat their mom, too...we never want to make them feel like they have to defend or protect their mom from us.”
Beyond the direct relationship you have with your stepchild—maintaining a positive disposition in regards to your stepchild's parent(s) and if possible cultivating a sense of unity in your own relationship with their parent(s)—may be instrumental in fostering or furthering a healthy relationship with your stepchild.
ANGIE MAZAKIS has been featured in numerous publications and recently received a 2010 Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Prize and second prize in the 2011 New Ohio Review Poetry Contest. She has an MA in English from Ohio University.