Here Are The Rules, And They Have Nothing To Do With Curfew
When something scares me, I study it. As nerdy as that may sound, research is my coping mechanism. So when the time came for me to meet my future stepdaughter, I dove headfirst into the stepfamily industry and read as many books, articles and pamphlets I could on this monumental event and educated myself on how to ace the test on first impressions.
The first time I met Stepdaughter, she poked me with her Elmo fork. The second time I met her, she called me Mommy. Luckily, we found a happy medium between the two experiences and I’m proud of the relationship we have today. As I’ve researched more and more into stepfamily living, I’ve come across a few gems of advice for those just entering their role in this confusing journey. Here are the top three pieces of advice from grown stepchildren I’ve received.
1 – Please, make room for us.
“My Dad only introduced us to two women after him and my Mom split,” one stepchild told me. “The first one we hated. The second one is now our Stepmom, and we loved her from the start. The first lady, we’ll call her Mary, didn’t seem to respect the fact that we were our father’s children, and we missed him dearly. She was always around, always had to sit next to him, always had to be holding his hand, and generally monopolized the small amount of time we had with our Dad. She was friendly, but my brother and I grew to resent her presence. It was awhile before my Dad introduced us to his next girlfriend, and it was a completely different experience. The first couple outings we had together, she let us walk beside our Dad, while she happily strolled along on the outside, beside us kids. She let us sit next to him at the movies, and she let me hold his hand. She gave herself boundaries with my Dad when we were around. Her presence did not change much for us during our visits with our Dad whereas the first girlfriend altered everything. In the beginning, our future Stepmom was happy to hang out on the sidelines while we bonded with our Dad, and the respect she showed us in that sense made it a lot easier to welcome her into our life with our Dad. After all, we were there first.”
2 – Go Home.
“As cute as you think it might be to hang around in your new boyfriend’s boxers and t-shirt on Saturday morning, please don’t in front of his kids, at least not at first,” confessed another stepchild. “There I was trying to accept my parent’s divorce and be comfortable with my parents’ seeing other people, and over Fruit Loops one morning my Dad’s new girlfriend walked out of his bedroom in his oversized college alumni t-shirt…I hated it. It was awkward, and I felt my loyalty claws come out for my Mom. That night over dinner, I told my Dad I didn’t want his girlfriend sleeping over on the weekends I slept here. It was too soon, I was uncomfortable, and I needed time to get used to her being my Dad’s romantic partner. After all, I had only ever seen him kiss my Mom. My Dad thanked me for my honesty, and his girlfriend respected my wishes. In a situation where the child might feel nothing is in his control anymore, this was a great reminder to me that I mattered, and that my Dad cared about my feelings too. For the next year, they stuck to separate sleeping when I was around, and it gave me the time I so desperately needed to find my comfort zone. I think it’s a big reason why her and I get along so well today. He was my Dad before he was her boyfriend. And she heard me loud and clear.
3 – Follow my lead
If you’re not sure what to say or how to act, take a cue from the kids. If they are quiet and shy, tread lightly and respectfully. What does this mean? It means don’t force a bond on them right off the bat. Watching a movie together? Great! But that doesn’t mean it’s an opportunity to pull them into your lap and snuggle under a blanket for two hours. That type of interaction might come down the road, but in the beginning remember that you are a very new person in their family. Snuggling, hugging, kissing goodnight, even holding an in depth conversation…these are behaviors that develop in a relationship, they are not automatic. You may feel you are a parent to them, and want to adopt the “normal” parent/child behaviors, but wait for the kids to show you they are ready to show you affection. It might happen right away, and it might happen over years. Either way, they will appreciate your patience and understanding as they navigate accepting a new person on their family tree.
“In a nutshell,” explained the stepchild, “just follow our lead. We might not be moving as fast as you’d like, but forcing us to embrace you is a recipe for disaster. Give us time with our parent, and give us space around you, and in return we will give you a fair shot at joining our family circle.”