1. Start Slow–There isn’t an article out there on this subject that doesn’t begin with this cautionary admonition. When you first come on the scene with your new stepchild, your first role is to be another caring adult in his or her life. Every child can benefit from that, but it takes time for relationships to grow. Be patient. The children are probably mourning the loss of either their deceased parent or the separation or divorce of their parents. They will need time to heal before they can accept you as a new family member.
2. Younger children may adjust more readily to welcoming you into their lives. Be mindful that teenagers will probably have a harder time accepting you into their lives. Remember tip number one–go slow and respect their cues and timetable.
3. Usually the longer you have known the child before you are their stepparent, the better. Of course this doesn’t apply if your were a friend who could possibly be blamed for the breakup of their parents, but typically you shouldn’t rush into your relationship with the adult. Given more time to accept that you aren’t going away should help smooth your path to stepparenthood.
4. If the natural parent’s relationship with the other birth parent is amicable, your job entering their world will be much easier. There should be no negative remarks made about the other parent in the presence of the child. (Divorce mediation helps smooth the way for a more amicable relationship post divorce.) Which leads to tip #5…
5. Respect all parents–Deceased or divorced. Again no negative comments about the other parent should be spoken in front of a child. The only person who will be resented is the adult who did the criticizing even if the child is complaining about the other parent. Taking the high road always wins out in the end.
6. Keep your ego out of the picture. Respecting your stepchild’s perspective is important, but if the child doesn’t have much time with their birth parent (as in the case of an every other weekend visitation schedule), let them have the time they need with their natural parent. Step back and allow them the time they need. They’re children and if they need that time and attention, you making yourself scarce should help smooth your way into a better stepparent relationship in the long run.
7. Treat all your children similarly. The rules should be consistent for all the children and stepchildren in your household. While you cannot control what goes on in an ex-spouse’s home, ideally the adults should make every effort to set consistent rules between households. In all cases, however, while age appropriate, the rules must be consistent for all the children from every relationship under the same roof.
8. Never put the children in the middle or any disagreement or use them as messengers. Never use the children as informants about what is happening in the ex-spouse’s household. Communicate adult arrangements and/or issues with the other adults only.
9. Communicate, communicate, communicate–with the natural parent…or parents if possible. Try to work out consensus, but if that’s not possible, follow the lead of the parent(s) who has/have already been taking care of the child for their entire lives. Ask the parent for guidance about what should work to get to know the child. Ask the child if you feel you can, and listen…