What's the best way for a stepparent to form strong bonds with his or her stepchildren? I recently got re-married to a wonderful man who is planning to adopt my three children. Unfortunately, my middle child, a preschool-age boy, has had a hard time warming up to him. What can we do to encourage their relationship?
When a parent re-marries, it's not unusual for children to go through a period of re-adjustment. Sometimes this can be a rather painful and difficult experience for everyone concerned. You can understand why when you look at the situation from your preschooler's point of view. A new man has suddenly moved into the house and begun taking a lot of his mother's time and attention. Up to this point he and his siblings have had mommy all to themselves, but now they have to share her with this "intruder." To make things worse, she has actually been seen kissing and hugging the newcomer – yuk! And to top it all off, this man is now telling him what to do and punishing him when he misbehaves. He's probably thinking to himself, "I wish this guy would just leave!"
The problem can be even more difficult if you haven't been consistent in setting limits with your kids. It's common for single moms to be somewhat lenient and lax about establishing standards and enforcing consequences for inappropriate behavior. If your new husband is a firm disciplinarian, we can guarantee you that your child isn't going to like it.
What's the solution? As we see it, your husband is going to have to work extra-hard to develop a bond with your resistant preschooler. It won't be easy, but it's part of the challenge of building a successful blended family. It will mean taking a sincere interest in the child and spending lots of special one-on-one time together. In particular, your husband will want to go out of his way to praise your son when he behaves well instead of simply punishing him when he acts up. In other words, he needs to make an intentional effort to "catch the boy being good."
At the same time, you may need to supplement what he's doing by firming up your own disciplinary techniques. Don't put your husband in the position of having to play the "bad cop" all the time. Do what you can to take up some of the slack and give him a chance to appear in a more positive light. If you don't, you'll be headed for significant problems in the future, especially when your kids reach the teen years.
If you have additional questions or would like to discuss this situation in greater depth, call our Counseling department.
Remarriage & Blended Families (resource list)