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How to Build Positive Relationships with your Step children


One of the biggest mistakes I know is to view your step children as part of a package, something that has to be endured in order to land the top prize, their parent!

There is nothing worse than for children to feel that they aren’t really wanted, that their opinion doesn’t count and that for the remainder of their childhood there are to be merely tolerated in their own home.

Even if that isn’t the case many children struggle with loosing the extra attention they often receive after families split up or firmly believe that their parents will get back together at some point and totally resent any ‘new love’ that their parents bring into their lives.

Taking on a new family is never easy, no matter how committed you might be. It takes time, effort, understanding, patience and mutual respect. It can never be said that children should be expected to just readily accept a new relationship without question. Like their parents, they have to move on, understand and accept the new living situation, but they need to be helped, not forced.

Children suffer when relationships die and their feelings can’t just be pushed to one side to build and spiral out of control. Children often suffer more than their parents, they don’t necessarily see or feel the ill effects of the dying relationship or choose to ignore it.

When children love both of their parents equally they end up living with that awful feeling of guilt. ‘Will Mum be OK when we go and see Dad or visa versa’. These feelings won’t just go away and often get taken out on the person they consider to be their greatest enemy – the step parent.

Divorce isn’t just about ending a marriage it’s about drawing a close to family life, often the only life that the children have ever known!!

Children need to be prepared for a new relationship. They need to understand that the new partner isn’t going to take the place of their natural parent but that they will take an active role in their life and be treated as their own child.

A new relationship shouldn’t be the end of family life it should be the beginning of a new one, a different one. The situation might have changed in that one parent is no longer their and the children need to find quality time to spend with the ‘missing’ parent. Time is spent differently, the environment has changed but as the old family life ends a new one should begin.

So what is important at the start of a new relationship:
1. Never hide a relationship that is becoming serious from your kids. Just as you need to get used to a new partner your children need time to accept and understand the changes that are likely to follow. Give your children plenty of time to get used to a new person in your life.
2. Be totally open and honest.
3. Never try and turn your children against their other parent. Your marriage / relationship might have failed and divorce might have bought closure into your life but never force your feelings on your children.
4. Spend time with your kids, make sure that they know that despite the fact that you have found new love in your life they are equally as important to you and that your feelings for them will never change.
5. Enjoy quality time with your new love and your children. Let them get to know each other, in a relaxed environment, well ahead of any indication that they might be moving in.
6. Your new partner might not get on with your children straight away after all they are your choice and not your children’s. As they say you can’t choose your family….. but you can choose your friends. Don’t panic, all’s you need to be sure about is that your new love is as committed to your family as they are to you.  Mutual respect takes time to grow it generally doesn’t happen over night.
7. Don’t give up on new relationships when the going gets tough. Don’t allow yourself to be manipulated, your children need to respect your need for a relationship the same as you need to respect theirs when the time comes.

Every child is different. They all have their own personalities, feelings and ways of coping. Some children will move on straight away, no problem, while others will struggle to come to terms with the new way of life. The feeling of resentment to someone who is seen as trying to replace a parent may run very deep and it will take a lot of time and patience to win their trust and respect. The feeling of disloyalty to a much loved parent can often prove a major barrier when trying to forge a new family life.

Having said that most things in life don’t come easy, you just need to work at it and stick to a few golden rules:

1. The natural parent must not take sides. Any discussions in regarding to parenting must take place behind closed doors. If you allow a child to see regular positive results from running to their natural parent every time they are asked to do something they don’t want to do you will significantly reduce the chances of making it work. Make sure you are in agreement in how to raise the children before you even start.
2. Only get into a permanent relationship with a partner you trust and respect and who trusts and respects you. If they feel the need to be constantly looking over their shoulder when you are with their children then you a destined to fail. Lack of trust is one of the main reasons for marriage breakups!
3. Generally it is easier to forge a loving relationship with younger children who invariably still need constant care and attention. The older the child the greater their independence and the more likely they are to try and push the boundaries or force a step parent out of the house. No matter how hard you try sometimes it’s just not enough. You must be ready for this and never let the children get the upper hand. There must be boundaries beyond which even the most troubled child must never cross. If you allow yourself to be seriously manipulated and pushed around in a desperate attempt to be accepted you could find yourself being pushed and pushed until you can’t take it any more.
4. If you are struggling, admit it. Don’t suffer in silence until you feel you have no option but just to walk out. It is critical that you communicate with your partner, discuss the best possible way to handle a difficult situation, let them know you aren’t coping and, if the situation allows, let them help.
5. If you feel you can’t talk to your partner, for whatever reason, seek professional help. Just a slight change to your approach could make all the difference between failure and success.
6. Don’t take things personally. The likelihood is that if you are on the receiving end of a youngster wraith it’s not because they hate you but because they would see anyone in your position as the enemy.
7. Don’t assume that your step children will hate you. If you get it right the odds are that you can make it work. Go in with an open mind, get expert advice so you are well prepared, don’t expect miracles over night and just be yourself.
8. As with any relationship don’t allow a discussion to turn into an argument (this applies to both your new partner and the children). If you are tired and angry and feel you just can’t cope with a calm discussion walk away and approach the problem from a different angle when you are feeling more relaxed.
9. Take time out without the children. Time for just the two of you is so important in all relationships whether there are step children involved or not.
10. Make sure you work as a team don’t allow any difficulties with the children push you apart. Learn to respect and understand each other as well as the children.
11. Talk to the children with respect. Listen and learn. If you make a mistake make sure you admit to it and apologise.
12. Don’t try and artificially force a relationship. Allow a bond to develop over time.
13. Don’t expect to take the place of their natural parent.
14. Do not treat step children any differently than your own child. Remember, positive or negative discrimination will destroy family harmony.
15. Actively encourage former partners and their families to be involved in all special events.
16. Show respect for previous partners.



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