Being a stepparent is a challenging job. As much as you love your new family, you can sometimes feel like the third wheel.
What can you do when you’re a stepparent feeling left out? Here are eight tips for how to cope.
1. Go in Small Doses
The first thing you need to do as a stepparent feeling left out is to look at the situation through your stepchild’s eyes. Please remember that they are going through many changes, and they don’t have a lot of control over what’s happening. Their sense of powerlessness can breed frustration, which sometimes shows itself through insensitive, even disrespectful behavior.
When getting to know your stepchildren, go in small doses. While you want to tell them that you’re there for them, you don’t want to smother them with your presence — which they may understandably resent. Show small courtesies, like asking if you can have a minute of their time before interrupting their homework to ask a question.
2. Talk About Your Stepchildren’s Interests
What does your stepchild adore? Maybe they can’t get enough of a particular video game, or they live for the soccer field.
Whatever their interest, express a desire to get to know more about them. This advice doesn’t mean feigning an enthusiasm you lack — there’s no need for you to join an intramural soccer league to learn the rules of the game. However, you can ask your stepchild to explain them to you.
3. Attend Extracurricular Activities
Think back to when you were growing up — you probably loved it when your parents showed up for games if you played sports. Who doesn’t want more adoring fans lining the stands?
If your new stepson or stepdaughter plays a sport, try to attend their games as often as possible. You don’t have to offer tips or guidance, merely applause from the sidelines.
You can also use their enthusiasm as an icebreaker. Many of the sports they enjoy can be played as a family — why not suggest a Saturday outing to the park where they show you the ropes?
4. Ask to Help With Homework
If you’re a mathematical whiz, it’s okay to offer your expertise to your stepchild who is struggling with calculus equations. Ask if they’d like the help — it can serve as an icebreaker to strengthen your bond.
As much as you want to help, avoid the temptation to do the work for your stepchild. Instead of giving them the right answer to a challenging reading comprehension question, have them highlight words and phrases that they don’t understand. Then, show them how to guess the meaning and confirm it through research. In doing so, you give them the skills to help themselves.
5. Respect Their Biological Parent
As a stepparent, the one golden rule is to never badmouth your stepchild’s biological parent — even if they come to you with tearful complaints. While trauma-bonding over a good gripe session might feel stress-relieving at the time, your stepchild will remember what you said and could hold it against you later. Even when they feel furious at their biological parents, they still have feelings for them regardless of the circumstances.
If you suspect abuse, please ensure you report it to the other biological parent. However, unless you have concerns about your stepchild’s welfare, don’t interfere.
6. Let Them Set the Affection Pace
If you are a “hugger,” please remember that not everyone enjoys physical contact as much as you do. Your stepchildren are no exception.
When it comes to physical displays of affection, let them set the pace. You might get away with a friendly hair-tousle, but please don’t insist that your stepchildren give you a hug or a kiss if they don’t feel inclined. Showing restraint can also put your partner at ease — they might have legitimate concerns about too much contact, too soon.
7. Start a New Tradition
One of the things that people miss the most when families separate are the traditions they once enjoyed around holidays and the like. Why not start a ritual unique to your new clan?
For example, if your partner’s co-parenting agreement has the kids alternating holidays, can you start a tradition where you open one gift the week before? Even something as seemingly mundane as always meal-prepping together after Sunday brunch can cement your bond.
8. Take Them on a Solo Outing
Once you establish sufficient trust, a solo outing can help you feel closer to your stepchild. Now’s the time to present those tickets to that concert they’ve been dying to see.
Before you propose your event, ensure you clear all plans with your stepchild’s biological parents. You don’t want your good intentions to end up in an argument if they disagree.
Try These 8 Tips If You’re a Step-Parent Feeling Left Out
If you’re a stepparent feeling left out, you can spend much of your time wondering if you’ll always be the proverbial third-wheel. Use these tips to cement your bond.