Approaching relationships with a healthy mind is vital for men’s health, particularly when they assume a stepfather role to children that come with the woman they are in a relationship with. We give you useful advice that will keep you mentally healthy as you adopt or assume a father’s role to the children of the one you love, especially when they are girls.
Now that you have settled to marry someone with a daughter from a previous marriage, there are a few home truths you should be aware of. There is no rule of thumb on how to form a good relationship with your stepdaughter. She might be three years old, fifteen or twenty. She might love you on sight, or hate you for years – each case is different, and takes its own time. If you don’t have a good base of experience, remember girls can at times be complex to understand.
At times it can be confusing to figure out a response to the emotional ups and downs of a girl. It can also be difficult to know whether the behaviour that you’re dealing with is normal and what the appropriate response is. In short, it can be challenging to develop a strong bond with the new stepdaughter but it is not impossible. Even when you get along, there are ways to make the bond even stronger. So don’t be surprised or baffled if your stepdaughter insinuates 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, she still feels for her biological father especially if they had lived together for some time.
You can only take rejection personally at your own peril. In the early stages of the relationship with your stepdaughter, she has to test the boundaries and make sure that she’s not being disloyal to her biological father. Psychologists say it’s normal for children at some developmental stages, to find it difficult to enlarge their circle of love – the reason little girls often feel they have to push aside one friend to make room for another. Thus making it clear that you honour her relationship with her father helps to dissolve the conflict and makes her feel relieved.
Regardless of how hostile she might be, hang in there and don’t give up. Just keep being civil and friendly, and make sure your partner fully supports your efforts to keep the peace. Having a new parental figure in her life can be very difficult, and it may take some time for her to accept it. Understand that a close, strong bond won’t grow overnight. You may also have to deal with hostility from the biological father of your stepdaughter in which case you need to remain as calm as possible. Don’t badmouth him in front of their child, no matter what he may have done to you. It will only distress your stepdaughter as she tries to choose between her parents, and is likely to damage your relationship with her in the long run.
Your initial focus should be getting to know your stepdaughter, and developing a positive relationship. So the first assurance you should give is that you’re not taking over the role of her biological father. Do not try to replace her biological dad, or she will resent you. Let her know that you are there for her when she needs you, but you will always respect the special relationship she has with her biological dad.
Having activities for the two of you is important though it needs caution so that you don’t overdo it. For instance, don’t plan long trips for just the two of you, instead try to connect with your stepdaughter on a personal level and begin by doing little activities together such as taking her for shopping, or even going to see her favourite movie in the theatres. She will learn that spending time together alone can be fun. Also ensure that she gets some exclusive time with her mother, without you hovering around them. Take the time to enjoy some of your own activities like hobbies, TV or time out for nyama choma with the boys.
Don’t rush to establish your authority over your stepdaughter, as she will resent it! Let your wife handle the issues early on, but be on the watch for opportunities where you can step in and allow the girl to build some trust in you. While it is right to discipline her when necessary so that she respects you, always consult with her mother first, especially in the beginning of the relationship.
A united front is essential to successful discipline. If you don’t agree with the way your partner disciplines, or what they discipline for, discuss it away from the child. It is tempting but dangerous to side with her against her mother. This might improve your relationship with the girl in the short term, but will damage your partner’s authority as a parent and make for ineffective discipline at other times.