I thought it would be easy: I would be nice, and my stepkids would like me. I would make their favorite meals and agonize over their Christmas gifts.
I did nice.
It didn't work.
The problem? The harder I tried, the more I was ignored. Then I went to my stepson Jeremy's hockey game in my true stepmom-of-the-year form, and cheered him on. When I shouted, "Great game!" he completely ignored me.
I cried and sulked. Then I asked a friend for advice. She said, "Like comes later. First, earn their respect."
The next day, I spoke with Jeremy, "Hey, Jer, I love cheering for you at your games, but I don't like being ignored. So I'm not going to go to your games anymore until you tell me you'd like me to come."
Jer shrugged, "OK with me. I don't want anyone there who doesn't want to be there."
"That's the problem; I do want to be there. But I can't stand being disrespected, and I can't watch it happen to your dad."
That conversation changed our relationship — for the better.
For over a month, I didn't go to the rink — until one day I drove Jeremy to a game. "Are you going to watch?" Jeremy asked as he got his gear out of the minivan.
Afterward, I said, "Good game."
Jer simply said, "Thanks."
As much as I wanted my stepkids to like me, I needed — and they needed — to know that we respected each other. Once I established respect, I could finally develop a relationship with them. Not just as the woman who married their dad, but as someone who was on their side, who was supporting them.
Years later, I've gotten more than I hoped for — not only do they respect me, but they also love me. I just had to get over not being liked.
Kathi Lipp is the co-author of The Cure for the Perfect Life: 12 ways to stop trying harder and start living braver.