Starting a relationship with someone who has children can be quite a challenge. This might even be worse if the children’s other biological parent doesn’t like you. By Bulelwa Dayimani Pictures XX
A guide to step parenting
When Nomsa Celiwe* started a relationship with her then boyfriend Themba, she thought that everything would run smoothly. Even when she found out that he was soon to be a father, she wasn’t worried. Themba Celiwe* had revealed that his ex-girlfriend was pregnant. But, she quickly learnt that having a stepchild was not going to be easy. A few months after the baby was born, Themba introduced Nomsa to the mother of the child. “I had mixed emotions because I had my own misconceptions about her,” she says. And when they met, Nomsa did feel that the mother was not welcoming, and cold towards her. Life coach and prophetess Cindy Mabaso says transitioning into a step-parent role is not easy, but it is important that your relationship is built on love. “The transition is easy when there’s love for the spouse. Love is unconditional and through its selfless power, you are able to extend your being to the children.” Relationship expert Paula Quinsee says while being a step-parent is not easy, it is important to understand your role in the child’s life. “While you may not be their biological parent, you do still have some authority as the adult in the household, and they need to respect this just as you need to respect them. Both partners must discuss upfront the role the step-parent will play in the house and children’s lives. This way, everyone knows where they stand and what is expected of them. Also, you are blending two different households into one, so there is going to be a phase for everyone to find their feet and settle into sharing each other’s space, ideas, opinions, likes and dislikes.”
When the mother hates you
While it is challenging to build a relationship with your step-child, when the other parent doesn’t like you, Cindy advises that you understand your role. “You will always remain a step-parent. So, it is important not to get muddled in energies that would zap the life out of you,” she says. Paula adds that it is natural for there to be some resistance in the initial phase of a blended family. “Try to understand that this can often be due to underlying insecurities or parents feeling threatened that they are going to lose their child to you or that they are going to like their step-parent more than them.” In the beginning stages, openly discuss routines, schedules, etc. “Make sure that the child’s best interests are at the centre of everything. If you’ve tried different ways to make it work and there is still no middle ground, stick to what has been agreed up on. Have firm boundaries in place and ensure that aggravating situations are kept to a minimum. Where possible, reduce communication to email or messages and keep it short and factual to avoid emotions getting in the way,” advises Paula.
When the child doesn’t like you
Building a relationship with a step-child might even be more difficult if they don’t like you or get along with your own children. Cindy, who has also had her own struggles with step-parenting, believes that children will struggle to accept each other when they are aware that the step-parent struggles to accept them. She adds that children can sense when parents don’t get along, and will act out based on how they treat each other. “No matter how much I wished my children to be accepted by my now husband, at
If the kids don’t get along
Building a relationship with your step-children can become even more difficult when they don’t get along with your kids. Paula says there might be a number of reasons for this. Things such as a difference in the age gap, different interests, insecurities and jealousy can have a negative effect on how the kids relate to each other. So, find ways to diffuse the tension. “If you’ve tried several ways but nothing works, you may just need to accept this. If all else fails, be consistent in your interaction and engagement so that there is no perception that they are being treated differently or one made to feel more special than the other. At the end of the day, you can’t force the kids to like each other. But, they can still be respectful towards each other, ensuring that they understand what this means and that disrespectful behaviour won’t be tolerated,” she explains.
How to create unity
Although Nomsa had a strained relationship with her step-child’s mother, she understood how important it was for her to be part of their life. This became even more important when she and her now-husband Themba had their own children. “I grew up not knowing my biological father’s children until later in life, and I didn’t want the same thing for mine,” she says. She had to put her feelings aside and put the children first; she reached out to the mother, although they had a bumpy start. This is because the first time she reached out, she was ignored. But, she kept trying and it took a few of years before she eventually agreed to meet up. They then started talking and finding ways to make things work for the sake of the children. “We now get along, and allow the kids to spend time together.” She advises other step-moms who might be in a similar situation to put their feelings aside. Cindy agrees that as a step-parent, you should focus on building the family, adding that it is important to never focus on the reasons the father broke up with your stepchild’s mother. Instead, understand that both are the biological parents, so you must encourage the children to have a relationship with their mother. “Deal with the children in the full understanding that you are not there to replace their mother. This helps so that they aren’t caught up in your unspoken insecurities if any, or proving that you are better than their mother.”
Build a healthy relationship with your stepchild
Paula advises that you be fair. When blending a family, create a blended environment (us, we and ours) where there is one set of rules that everyone lives by. This gives a sense of fairness and everyone being treated equally. Discuss behaviour that won’t be tolerated, household chores, age-appropriate decisions and choices. Make an effort to create family time to build the collective bond. For example, make dinner family time where you all share your day and build relationships. Find activities that cater to everyone’s needs and interests. It’s equally important to have individual time with each child to build individual relationships. Also, both partners must support each other, and present a united front to the collective kids.
When Thabisa Mberane (39)*met her husband, her husband, he had a son who was already in his teens. “Having come into their lives at a later stage of my step-son’s, changing how they did things, proved to be difficult,” says Thabisa. She explains that it was so challenging that at times, she wanted to give up.”One of the challenges was a lack of respect from my step-son. And also I wasn’t old enough to be his mother, which made the situation even more difficult,” she says.But she had to make the father understand that, even though she came into their loves later in his life, the step-son still needed to see her as a mother figure in the household. “His father also spoiled him and when I would raise it, this caused tension,” she says. While she sometimes felt like giving up, she had to remember that she loved her husband and therefore his son was part of the package. “I think with any relationship, if its not built on love, respect and communication, it will not workout,” she says. While her relationship with her step-son is not perfect, it has become better.