Visiting stepkids often have the most resistance to the stepfamily. They want to spend time with the bioparent they rarely get to see, but because they don't know you, they don't feel particularly close to you. Visiting stepkids often feel excluded from the family identity. Be sympathetic. Many shared experiences have occurred without them, so they have reasons for feeling left out.
You can help make a child feel more a part of the family by following these pointers:
- Creating a place for each child, even if it is a shelf (don't touch it—don't even peek!), a closet, a bed, a bureau drawer, or a corner.
- Give the child some public acknowledgment (but keep it subtle so as not to embarrass her). Try a small Welcome Home sign posted in the living room, or add the child's name to the mailbox: John, Jane, and Joshua Smith.
- Introduce your stepchildren to what you do in your daily life, whether it's a reading group, a bowling club, or a “take-your-daughter-to-work day.”
- Try to spend time with each child alone.
Reassuring Your Own Kids
With stepsiblings visiting, your own children's reactions and ups and downs will certainly affect the whole family. If they're relatively happy and secure, it will make things easier for you. It may also make it easier on the visiting kids—they won't face hostility from your kids. The same rules apply whether your kids live with you all the time, part-time, or just visit. Here are some suggestions:
Your job is to make your stepchild feel welcome. It's his job to test the boundaries you provide.
- Keep some space special and private no matter how crowded conditions get when the entire family is assembled.
- Help your child anticipate what the visit will be like by talking about it with her ahead of time.
- Let your kid know that nothing has changed emotionally between you—the new kids are not crowding your affections.
- Sit down with your child and brainstorm ways to make the visiting kids welcome. By including your child in these kinds of welcoming activities, she'll feel a part of the events.
- Allow for grumpiness and plan to give her some space and time to be alone—and to be alone with you.
“May I Bring a Friend?”
Letting kids bring a friend along for an occasional visit can be a good idea, especially if you're having problems getting along.
- A friend can serve as an ice breaker, someone who might actually see you as a human being instead of a monster!
- You will get to see another side of the child—the side that giggles, hangs out, and plays.
- A friend is a bridge to the rest of the child's life.
When a Child Refuses to Visit
Sometimes a child might refuse to visit your home. Your partner, the bioparent, will feel wretched, but you, too, will probably feel rejected and hurt. (If things have been rough between you, you may also feel a little relieved.)
When a child refuses to visit, try to determine why. Here are some possibilities:
- You might have hurt the kid's feelings, or she may be hanging onto an old conflict.
- She might feel intimidated or teased by other kids in the house.
- She might feel that you cramp her lifestyle, that she isn't allowed to have friends over, listen to her kind of music, or dress as she prefers.
- She may be feeling pressure from her custodial parent to shun you.
- She may be frightened to leave her custodial parent alone because she or he is sick, or in bad shape emotionally.
- She might feel that she can't leave the custodial parent because she needs to be a protector in a violent household.
Even if your partner has visitation rights, you may not want to force a child to come visit. Encourage your partner to try to find out what's going on, offer an ear, and tell her you're ready to talk about it whenever she is. At the same time, both you and the bioparent should continue to encourage her to come visit. When she does show up, don't say a word, and don't hold it against her.
When the visit is over, you and your partner may keep the postmortem going for days. You may have no idea of how successful the visit was. Your perceptions may be totally different from those of your Sweetie on this matter, too. I'll bet you feel utterly drained. Visits are exhausting.
When a Child Comes Back from Visitations
If you are the custodial family or you share custody, you may find that the kid comes back from visits to the other home in a terrible mood. It's very common for a returning stepchild to pick a fight with a stepparent, as if to prove to himself that you are not his real parent. Don't rise to the bait. Remember that transitions are brutal. Give the kid space.