One of the things they teach you in Stepmom School is how to bond with your stepkids.
Wait, there’s a school for this? No, I’m kidding – there is absolutely not a school for stepparents. Which I found out the hard way when I was looking for resources as a new stepmom.
Although I’m not going to lie. I felt fairly confident that I would be a darn good stepmom. And that I would get along swimmingly with my new family. After all, I’ve always been pretty good with kids. What could go wrong?
Um hmmm, you’re probably thinking….it turns out it isn’t so easy!
Why Is It Important To Bond With Your Stepchild?
I love my stepkids. They are all amazing and individual. But it has not been the perfect road. There have been tantrums, therapists, tears, cursing, and lots of thinking to myself, “OMG, how long is life going to be like this?”
Creating Memory Banks
A while back, I was having a problem with one of my stepsons. I’ve had a pretty great relationship with him from day one, and I know he likes me. But about once a year he blows up on me. I’m the cause of all his problems, he hates me, I’ve ruined his relationship with his dad, rot in h*ll – you name it, he’s said it. Or should I say, screamed it?
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After one of the first particularly ugly incidents, my husband and I were talking to his therapist and she asked what kinds of things I had done to bond with him.
I paused. Bond with him?
I had bonded with all the kids. We were a family unit. We ate family dinners, went to church, went on vacation. They all liked me. I had been doing all the right things. I was all good. Or so I thought.
It hadn’t occurred to me that I needed to put in some effort with each child by themselves to build that individual relationship. As his therapist pointed out, the more shared experiences with just the two of us we could build, the more positive memories he’ll have that include me.
And the stronger our relationship will become – the more solidly built to withstand attacks.
She was totally right. From that moment on, I started putting time and thought into things I could do with each child.
Whether it was going to an Avenger’s opening night screening with one, or going to New York to celebrate another’s birthday, seeking out these chances for one on one time with the kids has benefitted each of our relationships greatly.
It’s harder to say “I hate you” to someone you have a “bank” of good memories with. And more difficult to discount them as people. With a strong bond, the next time your stepson or daughter gets mad at you, they’re perhaps less likely to go to the mat on whatever the issue is. Or more likely to give you the benefit of the doubt.
Spending time together will not mean you won’t fight. Or that they won’t say ugly things. It’s not a cure-all. Sadly there is no silver bullet that can make step-relationships seamless. BUT putting in the time to establish individual bonds with your stepchildren will help cement your relationship for the long term.
Think about it. Your spouse has had years to build up good relationships with the kids. So when kids scream at them, they come back around because there is already a base level of love and trust. A bond.
The simple fact is, you haven’t been around as long. They don’t have that same base with you. You’ll never have the same bank as your spouse. And you shouldn’t, after all.
But – you can build up a solid store of shared experiences that will, even if slowly in some cases, help you establish a strong bond with your stepchild.
When You Take Time To Bond With One Stepchild, Other Kids Get Alone Time With Their Biological Parent
When I’m gone having time with one stepchild, it gives the other kids a chance to have dad to themselves. Which is also important.
Often times when a stepparent comes into the picture, kids can feel like they’re losing their parent. It’s not always a feeling they can articulate, but it’s there.
And the biological parent often goes to great lengths to try to make sure the stepparent feels included. Like setting up family outings, or reminding kids that they can come to their stepparent with asks.
But despite all the best intentions, this can backfire. Sometimes it can make kids feel like stepmom is getting shoved down their throat. They can feel like they don’t get the one-on-one time with dad that they did before stepmom was around.
When I was growing up, I always cherished the times alone with my dad. And while he regularly reminded me that my stepmother was part of the picture, over the years we’ve made some amazing and cherished memories with just us.
Because I remember that feeling, I have regularly encouraged Craig to spend one on one time with each of his kids. He loves the time with them, too. He’s taken them each on “dad” weekend trips, and he’s found hobbies or things to do with each of them that’s just between the two of them.
He often invites me along, but I politely decline. Just as it’s important for us stepparents to build the bank of memories, we can help our spouses make sure complicated family dynamics don’t erase their bank. Taking a step back is not always a bad thing!
How To Find Ways To Bond With Your Stepchild
Apple picking is a fun annual tradition to start with your stepkids.
So. How can you escape the daily grind and carve out some time to spend with your stepkids?
Here are some ideas to get you started. And if you want some more ideas, we’ve compiled a list of 41 ideas for bonding with your stepchild. You can check it out here!
Start A Tradition
Each Christmas, my stepdaughter and I go to a performance of The Nutcracker ballet. When my mom is in town for the holidays, she goes with us. We get dressed up, have a nice lunch beforehand, and we look forward to it each year.
It doesn’t have to be a fancy tradition. It could be walking down the street together to see the spring flowers at the park. Or baking cookies during the holidays. Or apple picking in the fall. Craig swears by pizza outings.
Whatever it is, having something you do yearly that you can both look forward to doing together will definitely help you establish a bond with your stepkids.
Find An Adventure
Does your stepson or daughter like to try new things? Find an adventure to go on together. Something a little out of the daily routine that you’ll both remember as having done together.
Go on a long hike. Learn how to rock climb. Go fishing. Plan a day trip somewhere. Pizza surprise! Again, it doesn’t have to involve spending money. As long as it’s something new that you’re doing together.
Take Up A Hobby
Has your stepson or daughter been talking about something they’re passionate about? Listen to them and encourage the hobby. Make it something fun you can do together.
You could start a book club for just the two of you. Last summer, I read the book “Just Mercy” with my stepdaughter. It started some great conversations and when the movie came out, she and I took Craig and her brother to see it. And we really enjoyed sharing with them the book that we had both loved.
My stepson is crazy over movies from the Marvel comics universe. I like them, too. So when a new movie comes out, we’ll often go check them out together. Craig isn’t the biggest fan of superhero movies, so it’s become a fun tradition between me and my stepson.
And I love hearing him enthusiastically break down the movie afterward. Which villain did what, and discussing the special effects and plot points. I keep telling him he might have a future as a film critic!
There are lots of hobbies or activities you can try out with your stepchild. You could sign up for a pottery class. Learn how to assemble model airplanes. Learn how to knit or sew and work on projects together. Let them teach you his favorite video game.
Having something you can work on and talk about together on the regular will give you a great connection to each other.
Having your stepson teach you his favorite video game is a fun way to spend some one-on-one time with him.
Attend A Sporting Event
What is your stepchild’s favorite sport? If your city has a local pro team, why not make a night of it and take your stepchild to a game? Professional games are a blast, and can be such a special experience together.
My stepson is a diehard Houston Astros fan. And living in the DC area, our whole family roots for the Washington Nationals.
So when both teams made it to the World Series in 2019, we were all excited. And one of the home games happened to be on my stepson’s birthday weekend.
So we decided to splurge and get him to a game. After all, we figured, how often would the World Series be in town, much less featuring his two favorite teams! Because tickets were super expensive, it ended up just being the two of us.
Needless to say, we had a blast. And it was a night that neither of us will ever forget.
Find Fun Local Activities
Every town and city offers fun events locally. Whether it’s a hayride in the fall, the fair, Disney on Ice, or a street festival, check your local posts for events coming through town that would be fun outings for you and your stepson or daughter.
Need some more specific ideas for things to do to bond with your stepkids? Sign up here and we’ll send you our checklist with 41 great ideas – and give you access to all our other stepmom tools!
I hope this has given you some great ideas. For more, please check out my free list of ideas.
P.S. Are you listening to The Stepmom Diaries yet? It’s a weekly dose of great advice on all the stepmom things. You can get it wherever you access podcasts, or HERE.