Stepparents and stepchildren alike need to make huge adjustments as they blend their families, and the process often proves stressful for all concerned. But stepparents who hang in there through the changes and set out to build strong relationships with their stepchildren can see that stress eventually turn to joy.  Their stepchildren can become not just new family members, but close friends as well.

Here are some ways you can build close relationships with your stepchildren:

  • Expect the unexpected.  Let go of your own preconceived expectations for your relationships with stepchildren, and realize that you're bound to encounter surprises - both good and bad - as you get to know each other.  Rather than trying to fulfill your own agenda, commit your relationships to God and trust Him to lead both you and your stepchildren.
  • Don't try to replace your stepchildren's natural mother or father.  Instead, seek to be a friend. Take the pressure off yourself and them by simply being yourself rather than trying to be someone you're not. Know that your role as a stepparent is important, and that you are in a unique position to lend perspective to a situation if a natural parent is too involved emotionally. Refrain from criticizing your stepchildren's parents - even if you disagree with their choices - remembering that your stepchildren love them and you need to respect them. Don't take sides in any family battles or try to make your stepchildren choose between you and their natural parents.
  • View your stepchildren as God sees them - people made in His image that He dearly loves. Realize that they are a gift to you, not a burden. Know that your relationships with them have great potential to bless all of you.
  • Pray! Ask God to give you His grace for your role as a stepparent. Pray for your stepchildren often, and let them know that you're praying for them.
  • Be patient. Acknowledge the pain your stepchildren have suffered due to the divorce or death of their natural parents, and know that it will take some time for them to adjust to their new situation. Forgive them for ways they hurt you, and ask them to forgive you for the ways you hurt them.
  • Get to know your stepchildren, and let them get to know you. Take the time to find out who your stepchildren are and what's important to them. Ask them about their friends, their school, their activities, and their walk with Christ. Ask their opinion about various issues. Talk to them about what's going on in your own life. Encourage them to share their thoughts and feelings with you, and share yours openly and regularly with them.
  • Be available.Whenever possible, make it a point to spend time with your stepchildren. Schedule one-on-one time with each stepchild regularly, and attend every special event (such as a birthday, sports game, or school concert) that you can. Volunteer at their school or participate in one of their hobbies. Tell your stepchildren that they are welcome to contact you at any time about anything they would like to talk about.
  • Record your memories for posterity. Use video tapes, audio tapes, photos, letters, scrapbooks, and other means to preserve special memories you have of your stepchildren. Plan to present these to them after they become adults.
  • Share your traditions with them. Tell them about your background, and teach them the traditions that are important to you. Then include them as you observe those traditions. For example, observing even a tradition as simple as going out for ice cream every Friday night can build a bond between you and your stepchildren.
  • Offer to teach them a special skill you have. You can discover and nurture common interests when you coach your stepchildren along in just about any pursuit, from sports to the arts.
  • If you live a long distance away from your stepchildren, be sure to call or e-mail them regularly. As often as you can, bless them with a personal, handwritten letter. Send them some stationary and some stamps for them to use to write you back.
  • Share spiritual pursuits with them. Read the Bible and discuss it together. Participate in church together. Pray together. If you pursue God together, He will you draw you closer to Him and each other.
  • Love your stepchildren unconditionally. Show - and tell - them frequently that you love them, no matter what. Remember that this is a model of how God loves you.

Adapted from In Step with Your Stepchildren: Building a Strong One-on-One Relationship, copyright © 2003 by Karen O'Connor.  Published by Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, www.beaconhillbooks.com.

Karen O'Connor is a popular speaker at women's retreats and conferences and an award-winning author of 40 books, including Squeeze the Moment and Basket of Blessings. She teaches writing for Long Ridge Writers Group and is a former writing instructor for the University of California. Karen and her husband, Charles Flowers, live in San Diego, California and have five grown children between them.