Stepfathers and Stepdaughters – Making it Work
Are you a stepfather, struggling to make your relationship with your stepdaughter work? Here are some principles of stepfamily dynamics that can help. The stepfather stepdaughter aspect of the stepfamily can be harmonious, with a little understanding and effort.
Much depends on the age of the stepdaughter when you become a stepdad, the relationship she has with her father, and your parenting style vis-a-vis your wife’s style. In this article, we’ll look at some of the most important considerations.
Prepare for Rejection
Don’t be taken aback if you stepdaughter says something to you that implies she doesn’t accept you, or if she declares (perhaps emotionally) that you’re not her father. This is a normal part of the process, and she feels the importance of keeping intact the primacy of her father in her life. It’s far better to agree that you’re not her father, and that you don’t have any intention to take over her father’s role in her life. Don’t take any rejection personally. In early stages of the stepfather stepdaughter relationship, the stepdaughter needs to test the boundaries and make sure that she’s not being disloyal to her father. In some developmental stages, it’s difficult for children to enlarge their circle of love (which is why little girls often feel they have to push aside one friend to make room for another). Your making it clear that you honor her relationship with her father takes the conflict out, so that she is relieved of feeling “caught in the middle”.
Take it Slow!
Focus first on getting to know your stepdaughter, and developing a positive relationship. At the same time, make sure that she gets some exclusive time with her mother, without your being in the picture. Here’s a good time to enjoy your own activities that the girls are not interested in… sports on TV, hobbies, time out with the guys! The stepfather stepdaughter relationship will be more harmonious if it’s allowed to develop naturally rather than in a forced way.
The Issue of Authority
You may feel it’s important to establish your authority in the home, and find it very disconcerting if your stepdaughter does not seem to respect your authority. This is an important point, and things can go into a negative spiral if it’s not handled well. You and your wife need to agree together on how you will set up the rules of the home. This will involve negotiation and compromise, but your unity on the general structure of the home is important. Then, your wife and you together should define these rules for your stepdaughter. Her mother should start by being the main one to enforce the “house rules”, but make clear that you have the authority also – start by being the backup until there is a strong enough stepfather stepdaughter relationship for you to take more control.
You and your wife may have different parenting styles, which is a potential source of conflict in the home. If you have not been a parent before, it might be very helpful for you to take the time to get a little training. There is some excellent material available (I recommend a book “Raising Responsible Children” by Dr. Dinkmeyer, or Toni Schutta’s classes, available by going to www.getparentinghelpnow.com. Understand that it takes time to learn to be a good parent, and that the stepfather stepdaughter relationship will benefit greatly by your willingness to invest that time. Many of us were raised with parenting styles that are not conducive to best all-around outcomes. You and your wife need to work together, to come to some agreement about a parenting style that you can both follow. The benefits will be great for your family, and for any children that you have together in the future. Too often, parents “wing it”, or parent in the same way that they were parented, without thinking about whether it was positive for them. This is such an important part of family life, and can really affect not only the success of the stepfather stepdaughter relationship, but the overall happiness and success of the children as well.
Learn about Developmental Stages
Especially without a good base of experience, girls can be confounding to understand! It can be bewildering to figure out a response to the emotional ups and downs that are part of a girl’s repertoire at several developmental stages. Without good knowledge, it can be difficult to know whether behavior that you’re dealing with falls into the normal range, and what the appropriate response is. In our course on successful stepfamilies, this important information is covered, and will help to ease some of the complexities of the stepfather stepdaughter relationship.
Create a Relationship That Works for the Two of You
As I mentioned in the beginning of this article, there are a number of factors that will have an impact on what the stepfather stepdaughter relationship will look like in your particular case:
What is the age of your stepdaughter when the stepfamily is formed?
How often is she part of your household – does your wife have full or joint custody?
How much is her father a part of her life? Is your relationship with him amicable?
What kind of chemistry do have with your her? Do you naturally like one another?
Do you share interests with your stepdaughter around which the two of you can bond?
How much interest do you have in fathering, and in being part of her life?
My point in listing these factors is that your stepfather stepdaughter relationship will be unique; it is dynamic, and it depends on what both of you want for a relationship. You’re more likely to have a bond that’s more like a parent if your stepdaughter was very young when you entered her life, and if she sees her dad less often. On the other hand, if your stepdaughter is already a teenager and is strongly connected to her father, it’s more likely that a successful stepfather role will be “resource” or “friend”. There’s no one type of stepfather stepdaughter relationship that’s “ideal”. If the two of you are happy and get along well, the stepfather stepdaughter relationship is successful – whether it is politely respectful but distant, or close and bonded with a great deal of affection. So, cut yourself some slack; be creative, relax and learn to enjoy your version of a stepfather stepdaughter relationship!