Stepchildren can be tricky to deal with, especially when they don’t like you and you don’t like them back.
So, we asked parenting experts and experienced stepparents to discuss valuable strategies that will help deal with the situation and hopefully make it easier for everyone involved.
Here are their insights.
Rosa Ruey, LMSW
Licensed Master Social Worker, Cobb Psychotherapy
Relationships aren’t always easy, and as they evolve and you take on new roles, sometimes there’s a harder grace period than expected. For many stepparents, the transition isn’t what we’ve seen on the brady bunch.
So, what do you do if you have a stepchild that doesn’t like you or, worse, you don’t like?
A good first step in navigating a stepchild is asking yourself why you don’t like them. Is it because they don’t like you? If so, this is an opportunity to think about why it is important for you to have your stepchild like you.
What meaning does it have for you in being liked by your stepchild? This may open up a path to understanding your goals for this relationship. There is no doubt that being a stepparent is hard. You’re caught in the middle of different lifestyles, expectations, habits, and lots of emotions.
Related: 19 Best Parenting Books
You’re toeing the line of building a relationship, trust, gaining acceptance, and defining your own capacity in the child’s life while often navigating the feelings of the other parents involved and walking on a mindfulness minefield when it comes to the toes you’re avoiding stepping on.
Even as an adult, coming into kids’ lives with a new role is difficult to navigate. Now imagine yourself as the child in that same precarious situation. Makes it a lot easier to see those spots of turbulence when you step into their shoes, huh?
Being a kid, growing through changes and milestones, and defining yourself is hard on its own. Being a kid with a broken or breaking home is a rough sea to sail; redefining relationships, struggling through feelings of change, abandonment, blame—add a new parental figure into the mix, the job just got harder.
Their everyday dynamic has now changed; life as they know it has come to an abrupt halt, and when not so abrupt, they’ve sometimes had to watch it thrash to its end, parents fighting through sticking it out or letting go.
Even in the best of breakups, things aren’t the same, and the simple pleasures of carefree childhood have been disrupted. It’s natural for a child to need somewhere to put the blame, someone for the receiving end of their frustrations.
If you’re looking to get through to the other side and have a lasting love with your new partner and the children involved, here are my tips:
Evaluate the situation you’ve stepped into from all sides
Take some time to understand where the difficulties in the relationship are coming from.
- Where are you feeling frustrated?
- Where is the child feeling frustrated?
- What are your needs?
- What are the child’s needs?
Examine your own role in the relationship
Taking an honest and curious approach to the emotions coming up for you as a stepparent, as a person, and as a partner can be the way to understand how you can better react to the challenging behavior.
Maybe you need to seek therapy on your own or with your partner to navigate these challenges, communicate frustrations and eventually learn to chart the waters of the new stepparent/child dynamic. Maybe just knowing where you stand and how you feel is a good enough place to start.
Remember who the adult is
Clue — it’s you — you’re the grown-up. Kids are kids, and we’ve had a lot longer to process change, loss, anger, and balance ourselves and the way the rest of the world mixes in.
Whatever your stepchild is serving up, don’t serve it back.
If they’re rude, they may be feeling things from the past or still processing the change. If they’re disengaged, they may have other parental figures that are letting their feelings on your new relationship, their previous relationship, trickle down to what the kids see, hear and feel.
Set healthy and clear boundaries, but if they’re not working from the start, don’t engage.
Let their parents continue to parent and speak privately to your partner about what you’re feeling, dealing with, and how you can both work together on solutions that can be beneficial to everyone.
This is no easy undertaking, and sometimes it can get ugly, and that’s where it’s great to have a professional step in, someone who can speak to the parents on both sides, the child and advocate for the kid(s) in the mix for what they can’t quite communicate and what the adults can do to problem solve and ease the tension.
Teamwork makes the dream work
You’re not alone in this. Circling back to speaking to your partner in private, blended families all navigate new relationships, but that doesn’t mean the primary parent—your partner—isn’t there to help you.
At the core, they know their child (and their ex) best and are pivotal in helping to foster candor, at the least, within this new dynamic.
They’ll have inside intel to what went on in their previous relationship that might have affected the kids and their perception of you, where their own relationship with the kids lies, and what they might be going through overall and will know when to navigate addressing issues on their own, with the other parent or bringing you into the conversation.
Keep in mind that having conversations with your partner on where you are seeing challenging behavior is pretty important. You want to be honest and open and understanding, but in being truthful, be mindful that what you’re saying is about their child. Stick to attacking the facts, not the feelings.
It isn’t personal; you’re dealing with kids.
This will keep the conversation productive and lay the issues out on the table without any feelings of character assassination or their need to protect the kid’s behavior, and dismiss your problems with them.
If you can work these tips in, keep putting the work in and just remember to take deep breaths and come from a place of empathy, you may be on the road to becoming a successful stepparent and building a great relationship with your stepchild.
Stepdad | Web Designer | Reef Aquarium Enthusiast, Reef Tank Resource
As a stepdad of two for the last ten years, I have struggled.
Whether you like it or not, this is a person that you will be living with closely for some time to come and will likely have a relationship with for the rest of your life. The actions you take now will have severe repercussions for years to come in many ways.
Here is a list of things that have helped me.
- Establish ground rules – Make sure the ground rules for dealing with your stepkids are clear between you and your spouse and stick to them. You might not be completely comfortable with all of them, but there’s more than one relationship on the line here. Push back if you feel you need to do so.
- Remember, they are not 100% bad – Focus on the positives. It’s easy to dwell on the things that annoy or bother you. If you have a complete view of them as a person, it will help with your acceptance.
- Keep your expectations low – If they have problematic behaviors, don’t act like you’re surprised when they keep happening. They’re going to repeat them. I’ve read that my serenity level is inversely proportional to my expectations.
- Remember, you’re helping shape this person into what they will become – It’s easy to get caught up in the moment and forget the bigger picture. You’re the role model. They’re just a kid, and their poor behavior is expected to some degree. Yours isn’t.
- Apologize if you step out of line – It happens. It will help your stepchild understand you better and respect you more if you can demonstrate when you’re wrong.
- Always try to be fair – Kids will be irrational. Even if they never step down from being irrational. They’ll know when you’re right, and it will build trust and ease the relationship between you. They probably won’t acknowledge when you’re right, but they’re smarter than you give them credit.
- Kids have a very hard time admitting when they’re wrong – I still struggle to admit when I’m wrong. Keep that in mind. Kids will go down with the ship to prove a ridiculous point they are obviously wrong about. They’re kids. They will be stupid sometimes.
- Share your concerns with your spouse and ask for help – A lot of tact will be required here, but you’ll intuitively know what lines not to cross. The relationship with your stepchild isn’t the only one in danger here.
Coach | Speaker | Author, “Being the Strong Man a Woman Wants: Timeless Wisdom on Being a Man“
When you marry someone, you marry the whole family. Before you married your spouse, you knew they had children. If you didn’t like your future step-children, you should have considered that before deciding to get married.
Single parents who are dating should not wait too long before introducing their children to a new potential spouse. It’s important, before you invest a lot of time, energy, and emotion into a relationship, to see how your potential new partner feels about your children.
If you wait and there are problems, you may feel you have invested a lot into the relationship and say, “They’ll learn to accept each other.” Unfortunately, I’ve seen situations where a person gets married even though they don’t like their step-children.
They may see the children as a threat taking their spouse’s attention away from them and try to remove the step-children from their spouse’s life. In one situation, a woman’s mother had passed away. Her father remarried, and his new wife wouldn’t let him see his daughter and her children—his grandchildren. The woman felt she lost both of her parents.
How to start liking your step-children:
Be giving to them
As I discuss in my book, when you give to someone, it increases your feelings of love for them. We often think it’s the opposite, that we give to someone we love. But giving to someone you don’t like will increase your positive feelings for them.
Reach out to your step-children and do things for them
Give them small gifts. If they don’t live with you and your spouse, invite them over for dinner. Get to know them and what is going on in their lives. You may begin to see them as good people who enrich your life.
Remember they are your spouse’s children, and your spouse loves them
If you show your dislike for them, your spouse may not respond the way you’d like. In the movie Parent Trap, Meredith gives her fiancé Nick Parker an ultimatum to choose between her or his two daughters. She says, “It’s me or them.”
Meredith was shocked was Nick replied, “Them. T-H-E-M.” I know a spouse who said something similar to their spouse, “If I have to choose, I’ll choose my children.”
Step-parenting can be a difficult task, especially when you don’t like your stepchildren. Here are some tips for how to deal with stepchildren that you don’t like.
- Stay calm and composed – You should always try to stay calm and composed, even in the face of adversity. This will help set an example for your stepchild and make them more likely to respect you as a parent figure.
- Do not ignore – You should never ignore your stepchild, even if you don’t like them. This will only make them feel more unwanted and lead to other problems in the future.
- Encourage them – You should always encourage your stepchild, no matter what they are doing. This will make it more likely that the two of you can find something to bond over together and break down some barriers.
- Listen – If you don’t like your stepchild, make sure to listen to them. This will show that you care and want the best for them even if you do not share their love or interest in something.
- Chore time – If you have a stepchild who is unwilling to help around the house, it may be wise for them to do chores. This will show them the benefits of being part of a family and give them some responsibilities.
- Find common ground – If you cannot find anything that your stepchild is willing to talk about with you, try finding something. It doesn’t have to be a complex activity or conversation; it is just something for the two of you to do and bond over.
- Take your time – This is hard to do with stepchildren, but if you take your time and give them some space, they may come around.
- Empathize – If you have stepchildren that seem always to complain, try empathizing with them. It may be hard for someone who is not a parent and has no idea what it’s like to raise children but hear their side of the story.
In conclusion, stepchildren are challenging to deal with. You may not like them, or they may not like you, but everyone in the family must get along and communicate; everyone deserves a place they belong.
Show nothing but positivity and respect even when they won’t show it towards you
I am now eight years into my marriage and have three wonderful children with my husband. The oldest, though has not always been on my good side.
My husband and I were married in the summer of 2013, and in addition to gaining a husband, I also gained a step-daughter. She was seven at the time. I was so happy to have an instant family at this moment, but I didn’t expect myself to dislike his daughter so much.
She was extremely spoiled, she lied all the time, and she didn’t treat her father or me with respect. I was not able to love her as quickly as I had hoped to. I had a strong dislike towards her and her lack of morals.
Perhaps it was because she was raised by a single dad and didn’t have the proper upbringing, or that she had no one to teach her positive values, respect, and to be a good person. We spent the first two years in our otherwise happy marriage, with a consistent sense of despise between his daughter and I.
It wasn’t hidden either, he saw the way she acted towards me and the way I felt about her, and our feelings were mutual and transparent.
This was when I decided that it was not going to be too late to make some changes. To teach her and to show her the value a mother could have in her life, even if I was only a stepmother.
I began showing her nothing but positivity and respect, even when she didn’t show it towards me.
The biggest thing that I did that had started the transition in our relationship was to sit her down as a mother would and have serious conversations with her. I had to learn about her life, as young as she was, and make her feel I was there to be a loved one in her life and not an enemy.
It didn’t take long as she was still young and still learning from the people around her. I decided that I had to be a major influence in her life and genuinely befriend her. This, over time, really helped her understand me, and in turn, I understand and begin to build feelings towards her.
I am more protective of her now than I am of my own husband, and that says a lot.
I love her equally now as I do her new brother and sister. In fact, I think disliking her so much, to begin with, has helped us to build an even stronger bond than if I were to just toss her the love card from the get-go.
Relationships take time to build, even if it’s between a mother and her stepchild. There are no shortcuts, and the best ones are made with sincerity and effort.
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