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Ask Yourself

* Is living in a Blended Family or a Stepfamily “more than you bargained for?”

* Does step parenting feel like the most challenging and thankless job of all?

* Is the tension and conflict taking its toll on your relationships

* Are you becoming worried about your children and their well-being?

* Are you constantly arguing with your partner about the kids, discipline and parenting in general?

• Is your ex or your partner's ex causing real problems in your blended family and in your relationship

• Are you at the end of your rope and need some answers NOW

* Are you considering entering into a Blended Family or Stepfamily and want to be prepared?

Respect or Relationship - Chicken or Egg


Step Institute

Respect or Relationship - Chicken or Egg? Which does come first in stepfamilies or blended families? If you ask an adult the answer will probably be... respect is the foundation of any good relationship - you can't have a relationship without respect. If you ask a child, although you probably wouldn't, their answer would depend on where they are at developmentally and their level of understanding of what respect means. Children aren't born knowing what respect means and look to adults to provide some role modeling. They do know however, how important people and relationships are to them; they are always on the look out for someone who sincerely wants to have a relationship with them. They have also been hurt and disappointed in the past, so their radar is also up where all adults are concerned and this can go a long way to explaining many of the behaviors that we interpret as disrespect or rejection.

Most stepparents have expectations of how their stepchildren should behave and show respect, particularly towards them, and these expectations are almost always met with a profoundly different reality than what they are prepared for. On one hand you have a stepparent who is willingly entering into the monumental task of helping to raise their partner's children, and feel that they should be given the respect and appreciation they deserve for their efforts. On the other hand, you have a child who has not played a part in making any of the decisions that led to this new person having an instantaneous parental role in their life. Having been through any number of losses, death, separation or divorce of their parents, the child is often on guard with new people and afraid of being hurt again. Their behaviors may include complete dismissal of the would-be stepparent, with drawl, refusal to comply, or varying degrees of testing of this new person in the role, almost all of which come across to the stepparent as disrespectful, undermining or even malicious.

Many times the children feel that they haven't been consulted on decisions that profoundly affect their lives. At the mercy of the adult decisions in their lives, children feel powerless in the situation and respond with behavious and language, which make the adults feel equally bad. If they could articulate their feelings it might go something like this: " You (meaning the adults) haven't asked me what I wanted therefore haven't respected what I need and want - why should I respect you and your decisions?"

So what do we as the adults do with all of this? First of all, see it for what it is. Although we are conditioned to want and to expect respect from others as a precondition to forming a relationship, when preparing for a relationship with your stepchildren, keep in mind that they are conditioned in the opposite way. Although their initial behaviors towards us may appear disrespectful - consider the reasons for that. Don't personalize their behaviors which are more about how they are feeling in the situation, and not really about you. They need to see that you are interested in having a relationship with them, before they can trust you. Then slowly they can begin to ease up on the defensive behavious, and eventually start showing you more of the respect that you were hoping to see from the beginning. And to the extent that they feel important and respected in your eyes, to that extent they will give the same back. Throughout all of this, and as the relationships develop, it is the job of both parents, to teach the children the importance of respect and how to show that to others. And not surprisingly, they will learn more of this by watching how you interact with others and with them, than from anything you have to tell them.

Relationships and Respect - both are critical elements in building a healthy stepfamily and both will come in time. As adults, and as stepparents, we will get more of what we need, and give our partners and our stepchildren more of what they want, if we put our emphasis on building the relationships that can last a lifetime. Children want and need sincere, committed adults in their lives. Even if they mistrust or rebel at the beginning, the moment they know that this is what we're offering, and when they begin to feel safe and cared for, they will begin to respond with a love and respect that will take us by surprise.

Action Step:

Make the time and create the opportunities to have a relationship with your stepchild. It won't just happen on its own and may require some special planning. Pick an activity you both enjoy or if you have a hobby or a skill he/she might be interested in, then offer to show them how to do something and involve them in it. This achieves so many things: 1.) It demonstrates your interest in them, 2.) It allows time to build and nurture a relationship, and 3.) You can teach them a skill or interest them in a hobby at the same time. Remember time alone doesn't build relationships, its what we do with that time that matters most.

Recognize that our expectations about our stepchildren may be unrealistic at first. Their behavior is not a reflection on you, and it usually isn't directed at you. Don't overreact to what you perceive as disrespect. When dealing with what looks like "disrespectful behavior" talk with them in a calm yet direct way, clarifying what is acceptable and unacceptable to you and your partner. Always remember that treating them with respect, is demonstrating to them exactly the way in which you expect them to someday respect others. It is also necessary to be absolutely clear about our expectations and to take the time to teach them the things that we want them to know. Just expecting them to "know" what to do or how to be in the presence of other people, without showing them or teaching them, is unfair and sets everyone up for failure.

Remember also to respect and take care of yourself and your own needs, so that you can be up to the challenge of being a stepparent, which by the way is one of the biggest challenges of our lives. You can only give to others, if you are also giving to yourself.

Focus on the relationship and being the best person you can be to this young person and they will learn from your example.





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