Ah, you’re doing a great job already by reaching out.
I wish there was magic formula I could give you, but here are some things to consider in your journey. Be respectful of:
- Time – not matter how much thought and time you have put into making this transition as easy as possible, remember that children will need time to adjust, especially if they’re shy or are teenagers. It may take a couple years or longer for some children to feel comfortable. Seeing a psychologist can help the process go more smoothly. Be patient.
- Ex & their family – Divorce and separation are one of the most devastating things a person will ever go through, and no one needs to hear from you how the ex is handling it, or how her kid is acting out in the aftermath, especially on social media or the tribal grapevine. Keep it clean.
- Communication – Let your stepchild know they can communicate honestly and openly with you without fear of judgement. This will help strengthen your relationship. This goes for your partner as well. Make time (schedule if you need to!) to talk openly about how things are going, without the T.V. or dinner/ bedtime distractions.
- Boundaries – Everyone needs boundaries, especially children. Don’t be tempted to be the cool adult in an attempt to win over your stepchild, this will only create more problems. Likewise, your partner may feel guilty about the divorce and might ease up on disciplining. You need to be firm, but kind. Ask your partner to be the primary disciplinarian, to avoid an already sensitive relationship. Your stepson needs to feel safe and secure and boundaries that are consistently enforced (with little exception) can help with this.
- Not being their mother – You can have a meaningful, loving, influential relationship with your stepchildren, but it will be different from that between a mother and child. That’s okay. Embrace it and make the most of it.
- Yourself – taking care of yourself is one of the hardest but most important things we can do for our families. Think about activities you can do to feed your soul and make plans to do them! Seriously. In this self-care plan, make sure you give yourself time to say positive things to yourself, especially if there are times when you feel like you can’t do anything right. Learn what you’re responsible for and what you’re not. You can’t fix what you didn’t break. Be gentl with yourself.
Talk to a therapist if you need to. Stepfamilies are complicated, and you shouldn’t blame yourself for any hardships brought on by this. Be proactive and check with your tribal clinic about preventative family therapy sessions, even if you don’t have many issues at first. This can prevent problems down the road.
I’m wishing you the best of luck!