Jennifer DuBose, M.S.,
C.A.S., is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private
practice in Batavia and writes a monthly column for Chicago
Why your family should make a 'bucket list'
Help for the anxious child
We're parents, not friends
Bonding with stepchildren can be challenging, but
recognize that you've entered a family where grief is likely. Your
new spouse's children may be mourning the death of a parent or
their parents' marriage.
Bear in mind that children sometimes blame themselves for
their parents' divorce and often hope against hope that they will
In any case, your presence in their lives serves as a
constant reminder of their loss, so you'll need to exercise an
abundance of patience until they come around and accept-or at least
tolerate-your new union.
What's a stepparent to do?
Take an interest in the children and their activities. Go
to their games, pick up books at the library you think they might
enjoy or talk with them about their hobbies. Expect them to resist
your gestures at first and remember: It's not about you. Many
children feel guilty that they're betraying their other parent, or
an older sibling whose angst over this transition is particularly
entrenched, if they develop good rapport with a new stepparent-even
if their absent parent is deceased. So make sure you communicate
that you're not trying to replace their parent.
Try to see this experience from the kids' perspective. How
would you feel if you were in their shoes? What changes are they
being asked to endure? Any chance you get to give them control over
some aspect of these changes-whether it's letting them select paint
colors for their new bedrooms or the board game your new blended
family will play on your next pizza night-take it. Those are
opportunities to build a bond, and you've got to start somewhere.
Over time, a shared history of new memories will be the glue that
enables your new family to hang together.
In the meantime, you might consider making an overture to
your stepchildren's other parent, if she's available. However you
choose to reach out, express that you want to do what you can to
help her children adjust to this huge change in their lives. Ask if
she can share something about them-or offer a tip-that will help
you bond with them. You may encounter resistance at first,
regardless of who initiated the divorce. But if your shared goal is
to support the children in adjusting to their new circumstances,
perhaps you and she can build an alliance, or at least an
understanding, that helps to pave the way to a brighter future for
Jennifer DuBose, M.S., C.A.S., is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Batavia.
See more of Jennifer's stories here.
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