I work with a lot of stepfamilies in my practice and there is one thing that they all have in common, they all hold a lot of myths about what their relationships should look and feel like. One of the myths that many of the parents hold is that they feel as though they should love their stepchildren instantly and many feel as though their stepchildren should love them in return. The reality is that you will not always love a child just because you fell in love with their parent. This isn’t to say that you won’t grow to love them as you get to know them and build a relationship with them, but it takes time, sometimes a lot of time! This is especially true when the child is less than happy to have you in their life and may even be making life a bit more difficult for you and your new or soon to be spouse. Although not unique to stepfamilies, it is also more likely that there be jealous feelings within the stepfamily both on the part of the stepchild and stepparent about the amount of time and attention the other takes away from them, which makes it more difficult to create a bond. Although not always the case, many stepchildren may just act disinterested in the stepparent (and sometimes the other way around). They may neglect to talk to the stepparent and choose only to speak to their legal parent.
These relationship issues can leave all parties feeling uncomfortable and it can be emotionally draining. So what can you do to help foster positive relationships in your stepfamily? As a stepparent I suggest that on occassion you spend one-on-one time with your stepchild. Find something they are interested in such as a ball game or a car show and take them as a positive treat and bonding experience. Find opportunities to have real conversations with your stepchild, teach them more about a subject they have some interest in or about some skills they are lacking (in an uplifting way of course). You may want to come up with some sort of tradition for the two of you or even as a family as a whole, making sure that each person has their own part in the tradition and that all parties enjoy it. It may also be important to lay off some of the discipline for a time being as well. This is not to say that the child should not be disciplined at all, just that it should be the legal parents responsibility to do the disciplining. Look towards the other obstacles you feel are in the way of your relationship and begin removing some of those barriers as appropriate.
Make sure that you give them space as needed as well. Do not try to force a relationship as a child of any age will be more likely to rebel if they are feeling forced. Remember it will take time and allow the relationship to grow and flourish as time passes.