This article originally appeared on 07.20.16
I'm somebody's stepchild.
My sons are my husband's stepsons. Needless to say, I've been around the block a couple of times when it comes to blended families.
To a stepchild, gaining a new parent can be curious, exciting, troublesome, or unsettling. A young child might reject the new stepparent or they might have high expectations that a new person would assume this role with ease. And combining two households into one can be challenging and stressful, but if it's done with care and consideration, it can also be beautiful.
I was curious though: What are the some things stepkids want their new family members to think about before the families merge? A few stepchildren, young and old, chimed in to answer my questions, and I've condensed their surprising and important answers below.
1. "Remember, I was here first."
Stepkids aren't saying you should bow to their every whim and make them first in every situation from now on, but before you were there, they were the center of their parent's attention. Now that you are around, so many things have changed for them. Let them have as much of the “same old" relationship they had with their parent as possible. Give them opportunities to still be in the spotlight when it comes to special routines and one-on-one time with their parent.
2. "Make me feel like you're glad that I'm around."
This might not always be an easy thing to do, and it might not be natural. As a stepparent, you might even have to pretend for awhile. Stepparents and stepkids have to get to know each other, and you might not know how to get to know your stepchild. Ask them (or their parent) about things they're interested in and try to find common ground. You might enjoy one another's company right away or it might take a very long time. But if you seem uncomfortable around them, they're going to be uncomfortable around you.
3. "Please do not speak harshly about the people I love."
If you have a lot of trouble with one of your stepchild's siblings, close friends, or relatives, please refrain from discussing this with or in front of your stepkid. If you have gripes about their parent, please understand that their loyalty to them will always be greater than their loyalty to you. And if you have bad things to say about their other parent, please realize that this will only cause more division between you.
4. "Please be patient with me."
Neither a stepparent or a stepchild knows how to do this “right." Stepkids might be uncertain, afraid, reluctant, or insecure about your presence for reasons that have nothing to do with you personally. Sometimes they won't respond or behave the way you think they should. Unless they're doing something highly inappropriate or dangerous, please give your stepkid space and time to adjust to your presence.
5. "Don't ask me to change too many things."
Your stepkid and their parent have been doing things a certain way for a long time before you came into their lives. You might see a lot of things that need improvement. Remember, though, things are about to change a lot for both you and them. Be careful not to pull the well worn, comfortable rug out from under them. You will both learn to live with each other if you are patient. Let the little things slide while you are still getting to know each other.
There will be bad days, good days, and in-between days for new families.
There will be many celebrations, many awkward moments, many victories, and many mistakes. Becoming a blended family isn't always easy — but it is a task worth taking on with empathy and compassion, and a little bit of humor too!