The learnings in this article series are based on our research and years of experience supporting fathers and father-figures. But the fact is, everyone’s situation is different, so feel free to be creative, and adapt our wisdom to suit your circumstances.
It is important to remember that the stepdad journey should not be rushed, it needs time to develop and flourish.
- Communicating your role as their stepdad
- Importance of communicating clearly and calmly
- The magic of listening
- How to express your care
- Being calm and consistent
- Children may find clarity in hearing from you that you understand their situation, especially if they are worried you are trying to ‘take the place’ of their biological father or other key father-figures.
- Tell your stepchildren that you are looking forward to your growing relationship and that you know that it will be a new (and perhaps sometimes awkward) challenge for both of you.
- Let your step-kids know that they can speak to you if they are feeling stuck or uncomfortable with settling into the new family situation.
- Let them know that they can discuss these feelings with you and that it won’t hurting your feelings.
- Let your stepchild know that you are available to talk whenever needed.
- Be open-minded and accepting of any differences or issues they want to discuss.
- Understand that they may have emotional reactions when trying to communicate how they feel.
- When they open up and communicate, make sure you give them a response that shows you have heard them and understand.
- Always try to focus on the positive of the situation and how you can help to make things better going forward.
- Try not to just talk about what you want, focus on what is best for the whole family.
- Listen to their messages, both obvious and subtle.
- Ask follow-up questions, keep your responses short and try not to ‘dominate’ the conversation by lecturing about your own thoughts.
- Always explain your actions and preferences with the real reasons, this helps your stepchildren to understand your thoughts and accept your words, behaviours and decisions.
- Take opportunities to openly express how much you care and are grateful for your partner (your stepchild’s parent).
- Showing you genuinely care for your partner will help to reassure your stepchildren that you have joined the family for the right reasons, and the relationship is healthy for their parent.
- Be aware that some children will hold out hope of their parents reconciling after separation or divorce. This may make the transition to your new family structure difficult. Try speaking with your partner and thinking of ways you can reassure your stepchild. Perhaps their parent, or both of you together, will need to provide some extra reassurance that this new relationship and family structure is what will allow them to feel happiest.
- When interacting with your stepchildren, be consistent. Watch your mood and tone of voice. You want to build trust that you can be relied upon.
- Show them you always respect their input by asking for and listening to their thoughts when making family decisions, even small things like which movie to watch, or what to do on the weekend.
- Let them know what you are doing each week, and give them notice if your routine is going to change.