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5 Tips for Bonding With Older Stepkids

To form a cohesive family, you need to bond with your stepkids.
To form a cohesive family, you need to bond with your stepkids.

Real life seldom imitates old episodes of "The Brady Bunch." Most middle-class families don't employ a full-time maid, and mercifully few people wear polyester with such reckless abandon. Even fewer blended broods come together with the ease, harmony and good-naturedness depicted by Carol and Mike's respective families.

The reality is that it's simply not that easy for the majority of blended families to adjust to a new family dynamic. It takes years for most biological families to learn to co-exist with each other, so it's unrealistic to expect kids of any age to blindly accept and adapt to a stepparent with nary a hiccup along the way. Tweens and teens in particular are at such a difficult and emotional stage in life that they can be extra challenging for a new parental figure to bond with.

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Fortunately, stepparents can take a number of measures to ease the transition and lay the foundation for a positive relationship with older stepkids. Keep reading for five ideas to help make this relationship work for the long term.

A bonding biggie? Listening to your stepkids.
A bonding biggie? Listening to your stepkids.
Ryan McVay/Thinkstock

Life is crazy, hectic and often more than a little bit overwhelming. Toss in a new marriage and a few unfamiliar kids, and your long-term goal of a happy, well-adjusted family can quickly seem about as attainable as low gas prices.

Before you work yourself into a stress-induced tizzy, take a deep breath and spend some time simply getting to know your new stepkids like you would do with any new friend. It doesn't have to be anything fancy -- a stroll through the local mall is often enough to loosen up a kid and get her talking. Take the opportunity to learn her likes, dislikes, the names of her friends and other basic information. You have to start somewhere, right?

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Jessica Lacy, stepmother to two teens in Atlanta, insists that the tried-and-true methods of family bonding have worked nicely with her new brood. "We do the same things that all families do -- cook together, go to movies, take the dog to the park, go to church, take family vacations," she said. "I do make an effort to participate in things that are important to the kids, and I make it clear to them that I love them and their father, that I am here for whatever they need, and that I have the best interest of our family at heart."

Making extra, yet natural efforts to bring the family closer together is one of the best ways to foster a comfortable, open relationship with even the most resistant stepkids. Be patient and realistic in your bonding goals, though. Miracles don't happen overnight.

Every family has traditions. There's no need to abandon them just because the family makeup has changed a bit. In fact, tossing comforting customs by the wayside during such an emotional transition is a first-rate way to ratchet up resentment toward the new stepparent. Whether the family's idea of tradition is opening a single present on Christmas Eve or enjoying a particular birthday dinner every year (fried chicken and mashed potatoes for this writer), it's a good idea to make every effort to leave the ritual intact. So, keep Saturday morning doughnuts on the menu (and be sure to invite me over).

While you're honoring all the old traditions, come up with a couple of new ones to share. After all, your new family is special, too, and should be made to feel that way.

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Get to know his friends, get to know him. It's bonding 101.
Get to know his friends, get to know him. It's bonding 101.
Michael Blann/Thinkstock

In all parent/child relationships, it pays to be observant and attentive. Put your own problems aside and notice when your stepkid is feeling down. Either talk it out, or find another way to make him feel better (ice cream or cookies work wonders). Make it obvious that you value and enjoy his afterschool pursuits, and show up early to every swim meet or band concert you can. Simply put forth an effort to be present in his life, both emotionally and physically on a consistent basis. Doing so without embarrassing him in front of his friends might even earn you some extra cool stepparent brownie points, so leave your banners and personalized T-shirts emblazoned with his picture at home, OK?

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Is anyone better at lying around on the couch than a teenager? Absolutely not. I should know -- I honed the craft with such skill that my brother once referred to me as "the great lioness of sloth."

If you're interested in a little extra quality time, simply tap into your stepkid's natural instinct for laziness. Join in on other around-the-house pastimes, like listening to music, thumbing through magazines or DIY pedicures. Stay in your pajamas all day and enjoy a "Beverly Hills, 90210" marathon, making sure to touch on the horrible fashion trends of yesteryear that have somehow made their way back into stores.

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Just take it easy in general and see what happens. Who knows? Maybe you'll get an invitation to join in the next time she decides to be -- gasp -- productive!

You can't forge a relationship out of thin air. Even the most natural of rapports take time to build. So, be patient and develop your own history with your stepkid at a pace that both of you are comfortable with. Your relationship might feel forced at first, but will evolve over time if you truly care about each other's happiness. As it turns out, Jessica Lacy's relationship with her own stepfather laid the groundwork for her future family's happiness.

"I think one of the best lessons that he taught was the power of a good stepparent," she insists. "He never tried to force a relationship on me. He never tried to replace my biological father. He was a partner with my mom and loved me like his own, and our relationship grew organically over the years. Now I can't imagine what my life would have been like without him in it."

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Now that's a goal for every stepparent to aim for!

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Sources

  • Clark, Janet A. "Foundations for a Successful Stepfamily." University of Missouri Extension. April, 2007. (Dec. 28, 2010).http://extension.missouri.edu/publications/DisplayPub.aspx?P=GH6700
  • Getzoff, Ann. "Raising Teenagers: A Reminiscence." National Stepfamily Resource Center. (Dec. 28, 2010). http://www.stepfamilies.info/articles/raising-teenagers-a-reminiscence.php
  • Lacy, Jessica. Personal interview conducted by Alia Hoyt via e-mail. Dec. 28, 2010.
  • Lofas, Jeannette. "The Dynamics of Step." Stepfamily Foundation. 2009. (Dec. 28, 2010). http://www.stepfamily.org/dynamics.html
  • Marano, Hara Estroff. "Making Peace at Home." Psychology Today. April 1, 2004. (Dec. 28, 2010). http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200404/making-peace-home
  • Purvis, Patty, Ph.D. "Stepparenting or Blended Families." Children's Physician Network. Nov. 10, 2008. (Dec. 28, 2010).http://www.cpnonline.org/CRS/CRS/pa_steparen_pep.htm
  • "Statistics." Stepfamily Foundation (Dec. 28, 2010).http://www.stepfamily.org/statistics.html

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