Blended families take time to build lasting connections

Q: I recently married a relatively young widower with two children. Boom: instant stepparent. I’m doing my best to learn how to be “Mom” for my stepchildren, but it’s a lot harder to connect than I expected. Help!

Jim: Becoming a stepparent can be rewarding. But it can also have its challenges. In your case, there’s the added factor of grief over the loss of their birth mother.

Very few stepfamilies begin to jell immediately after marriage. It takes time for parents and kids alike to feel comfortable with their new living arrangement. So the best advice I can give you is don’t hurry or try to force relationships to grow.

That’s something author Ron Deal calls the “blender strategy.” Blenders are what chefs use to force ingredients together. It works well with food, but not so much with relationships. If you push a child to connect with you, it’ll backfire.

A more effective approach is what Deal calls the “Crock-Pot strategy.” The idea is to allow family members to slowly find their place with one another. That means giving your stepchildren time and space to build a relationship with you. How? By being present in their life, but not pushing them to connect.

For example, your stepdaughter may be OK with you attending her soccer games, but she won’t share her feelings with you. That’s still an open door. It’s a chance to engage her in a way she’s comfortable with. So show up and cheer her on, but don’t get impatient if she doesn’t warm up to you right away. Let her ease into a relationship with you at her own pace. Over time, she’ll likely soften.

We have plenty of resources for blended households — including information about how to contact our staff counselors, if that would be of interest — at FocusOnTheFamily.com.

Jim Daly is president of Focus on the Family.