So Your Stepkid Hates You — Now What?
A Mom is Furious Her Daughter Went to Her Step-Mom for First Period Help — & Reddit's Calling B.S.
Guarino also recommends considering the language you — and the rest of the family — use to talk about your unit. “It can be helpful to adopt the term ‘bonus’ rather than ‘step,’” she said. Using ‘bonus’ helps because it implies that the stepparent is being added to the unit, and not replacing anyone from the core family.
Stepkids often feel pressure to be loyal to their biological parents, explains Guarino, so being careful with your use of language can help them open up to the possibility of allowing their stepparent into their inner circle.
Author and journalist Rebecca Eckler agrees that it’s definitely a learning process. Her number-one tip, as a mom who’s been there — she first met and blended with her boyfriend and his kids when they were 9 and 11 and her own biological child was 7 — is “you can’t force love.” She gave SheKnows more tips for all stepparents who may be on the receiving end of not-so-friendly behavior:
- You can’t “buy” bonus kids’ love — kids are smarter than that.
- Never say anything negative about their biological parents to them.
- Start slow — think baby steps. Make it clear that you aren’t trying to replace their parent and definitely don’t act like you’re trying too hard either.
- Encourage your spouse to continue to have one-on-one time with their kids.
- Remember that you have another relationship to preserve: the one with your spouse or partner. Explain to children that there are all kinds of “love” and that Mommy/Daddy also needs a life. Don’t always put your stepkids needs/wants ahead of your partner’s.
- Make your home welcoming; kids decorate their room in your home however they want.
Above all, don’t let your expectations get the better of you, says Eckler, author of Blissfully Blended Bullsh*t: The Uncomfortable Truth of Blending Families. “Try your best to see the situation from the child’s point of view, and don’t take things personally. Of course it stings when your partner’s kid doesn’t like you, but you can only try your best.”
Author and musician Adam Cole is also part of a bonus family; his stepdaughter came into his life when she was nine, and he raised her along with his four biological children who followed. He knows how difficult it can be to respond to negativity from a stepchild, as it can’t necessarily be the same as a biological parent’s response. “Biological parents have bonded in one way or another with the child since birth,” he told SheKnows. “They have a whole life of nurturance and relationships to access when they respond. On the other hand, stepparents have to build that bond in the middle of the child’s life. It has to be a more deliberate, more contrived thing. It also may have limits that must be respected.”
Cole makes a great point. We’ve all heard “I hate you” from our kids at some point. Most of the time, we can ignore it because we know they don’t actually mean it. But when a stepchild says, “I hate you,” it can sting even more — because there’s the fear that it might be true. And when the stepparent/stepchild relationship isn’t well established, it’s difficult to know how to respond. The child may be asking for attention, limits or comfort — but they want those from their biological parent, not from you.
“A stepparent has to do what they’d do in a good, nurturing relationship and accept that the response from the stepchild may be more complicated,” said Cole. “It’s hard not to take that complicated response personally, and to respond appropriately — it’s going to be complicated, so advance with compassion for the child and for yourself.”
A harmonious bonus family can be even more unattainable if a child has experienced considerable early trauma, such as abuse or neglect caused by a biological parent or by their separation from one. This can change the way the child’s brain develops and result in developmental trauma disorder (DTD), Institute for Attachment and Child Development executive director and therapist Forrest Lien tells SheKnows.
“Without effective intervention, the child’s brain remains hard-wired around survival and fear,” said Lien. A child with DTD struggles to develop healthy relationships, typically rejecting caregivers as a means of self-protection. “The most common call I get from stepfamilies is when stepmothers are worn out from attempting to parent her husband’s biological child,” revealed Lien. “The father typically also carries guilt due to his previous wife’s treatment of his child.” If you think your stepchild may be suffering from DTD, seek professional help from a therapist who specializes in developmental trauma.
Remember, help is out there, whatever your circumstances. If issues with your stepchild are affecting your mental health, have a chat with your doctor. If you feel isolated and frustrated, spend some time with a friend — a problem shared and all that. And keep telling yourself that if you’re doing your best, things will get better. It just won’t happen overnight.
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