How to Create More Connection with Your Step-Kids
Building connection in step-relationships requires patience and persistence. It also requires intentionality.
A step-parent learning about the history, personality and needs of a step-child doesn't just happen. It's a two person job. You and your spouse/partner each have a role to play and intentional communication is key between the two of you.
When my step-daughter, Annika was in her teen years she seemed like an alien to me. Her preferences, her decisions, her general attitude were all opposite of mine. These differences weren't just about me being an adult and her being a teenager. They were rooted deeper than that.
I used to complain to Kim, "Why can't she just…". Fill in the blank with anything from cleanliness to timeliness. It was mostly small stuff that didn't violate family values, but drove me nuts. In her wisdom, Kim would reply, "Mike…she's not you." It took forever for Kim's wisdom to sink in.
Your step-child probably has some habits or personality bents that drive you crazy too. The question is, will you try to ignore it and hope it all goes away? Or will you be intentional about discovering who your step-child is and use that to create a connected bond with them?
Here's 5 steps to being intentional:
1. Step-Parents — Take some notes
Commit to keeping a diary for one week. Write down what you notice about your step-child. It could be something you really enjoy about them. It may be something that drives you up a wall. Stay focused only on one child for that week and keep your writing fact focused (no criticism).
Here are some examples:
- When he leaves his shoes and backpack in the doorway, it makes me feel angry.
- When she asks how my day was, it makes me feel like she wants to connect with me.
2. Step-Parents — Discover who they are
Set aside time with your partner to pick their brain. Share your observations in a non-judgmental way.
You want to discover what they know about that specific child's past and habits. Your partner has a history with that child that started from birth which gives them insight you simply don't have.
Find out if their habits stem back to their early years or if they are just now emerging. Ask about what they were like in their infancy or toddler years. See if their positive traits have been there all along. Discovering more about who your step-child is will help you connect.
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3. Parents — Fill in the gaps
Parents, you are the "history book" of your child. Beyond the history of their habits and behaviors, you need to share what you believe is impacting connection in your home today — in your current season.
Trying to understand a step-child's history can be like putting a puzzle together without seeing the picture on the box. It can be done, but it takes forever and you can't tell what the picture is until it's almost complete.
Parents can make that easier on their partner by filling in the gaps. Help them understand the whole story. This will give them more empathy for your child and help create deeper connection.
4. Parent & Step-Parent — Work as a team
Work together to identify the "core wiring" of the child. Figure out how they tick. Discover their specific personality type or focus on learning their "love language". Knowing how your words and actions can communicate connection to the child will help you intentionally grow your bond.
To easily identify their personality type, check out Paul & Barbara Tieger's book, Nurture by Nature. Or to discover their love language, consider Gary Chapman's The 5 Love Languages of Children or The 5 Love Languages of Teenagers.
5. Decide on an action step — Together
Now get back to those notes you took during your week of observations.
Are there any habits that need to change? Do any violate your family values? Are they developing habits that could negatively impact their future success or relationships? Work together to decide on a strategy to implement change.
Then decide on one action step the step-parent can take to create more connection. For instance, in our example above when the step-daughter asked her step-parent about their day — it was a positive. So, next time the step-parent could intentionally pause, make eye contact, share something specific about their day and then inquire about the step-daughter's day too.
Connection doesn’t have to be complicated, but it's always better when you are intentional!
This 5 step process might be simple, but that doesn’t mean it's easy. Step-parents need to use wisdom as they communicate with their partner about the negative traits they see in their step-child. Parents will need to have the courage to listen without getting defensive.
Just like any other skill, communication takes practice. Start small and trust the process. You'll find that connection will build in step-relationships — and it will solidify your partnership too!
QUESTION: What's one thing you would like to know about your step-child? Leave a comment below...