It’s not always easy getting on with your new partner’s children. Children may see a step-mother as a substitute mum, a good friend or a sworn enemy, depending on the situation. How do you develop a good relationship with them and find your place? Here’s our advice.
How do you find your place and make your step-children accept you?
Choosing to live with a partner who already has children means a risk of being rejected by them. Of course, cruel step-mothers of old have nothing to do with modern families, but whatever the situation, a step-mum disrupts the balance of the children’s lives to a certain extent and destroys all their hopes of their parents getting back together, so you have to tread carefully.
- Accept his children: You didn't decide to have or raise your partner’s children. They represent a reminder of their mother, his ex, so things need to be clear in your mind from the beginning; she is the past and you are the present, but you need to get used to the idea of living with her children (or sharing their lives).
- Don’t try and be a substitute mother: A step-mother should never try and play the role of a mother. Remind yourself that, in their eyes, you've replaced their mum in daddy's affections. Don’t try to be a second mum or their best friend, which is a little over the top. It may be fun in the beginning, but over time it will become less and less fun. Content yourself with your role as their dad's partner, someone who is understanding, tolerant and pleasant to talk to. You'd expect the same of your partner if you have children with someone else.
- Be open and tolerant: Your step-children aren't yours, and many dads may paint an idealised picture of their kids, in which case when you meet them you might not bond with them and even find them a bit annoying. Force yourself to make an effort with them and approach them. If a child shows distrust and even aggression, try to stay as calm as possible and remember that even if it was a long time ago, the separation of a child's parents will have affected them deeply.
- Earn their respect: You need to give your step-children attention, but you also need to be respected. Relationships with adolescents can sometimes be more conflictual. The solution is to force yourself to stay discreet and avoid making criticism and unkind remarks. However, stay firm if your step-child talks badly to you or shows disrespect. In case of conflict, ask dad to intervene.
- Learn to deal with his ex: Authority does not have to come from you but from the mother and father. Even though the mother may not be present in person, she will be very present in the mind of the child. And sometimes, she may subconsciously do everything she can to bring her child’s attention back to her. It’s best to show her that you respect her and make sure relations between her and your partner stay cordial. Also, try to have a good relationship with her for your own sake. If your step-child/ren sense you respect each other they'll appreciate you all the more for it.
- Keep time for your own children: If you have your own children, it’s important that you spend time with them so that they feel a part of the new family.
- Give them time: If things don't start off well, don’t panic and question your relationship with your partner. Remember that children need time to adapt to a step-mum. Time, patience and understanding will help you win them over.
Dad's crucial role
Your partner also has to adapt to the new family set up. He needs to talk to his children about you before you move in and introduce you to them as his new partner who he loves and wants to share his life with. He needs to stress that this doesn't change the love he has for them. He should be gentle but firm. His role is to make relationships between you and your step-children easier and mediate any conflicts. He should never stay out of things and tell you that a problem is between you and the child, or it's not for him to interfere: it is. If he supports you from the start you'll fit into the family much more easily.
Living with step-children doesn't mean the children's welfare is your only concern. If you want your relationship to work and last you also need to spend quality time together, forget about the family sometimes and show the children the strong links that unite you. This will make for a better atmosphere when the family is together.