When meeting your significant other’s children for the first time, it’s important to realize that the chances of them falling in love with you right away are almost nonexistent. Age is a factor, but you can almost certainly expect to be scoffed at, shied away from, and even ignored. While there’s not much you can do to soften the blow for the child, there are some things you can do to arm yourself against getting your feelings hurt and experiencing disappointment.
You are not a replacement parent.
At least, not yet. This means, in most cases, attempts at discipline will be futile. Your limits will be tested along with your patience. It is best to sit back and observe for a while. Watch how your partner deals with his or her children. Do they discipline by yelling? Do they give the children time-outs? What does your partner find unacceptable or worthy of addressing? Taking the time to get some answers to those types of questions will put you in a position to not only communicate better with the children, but to avoid any unnecessary parenting battles with your significant other.
Don’t expect to get the “warm fuzzies.”
Unless you’re dealing with a baby, the child is going to have some reservation about you. Don’t expect them to hug you, kiss you, or snuggle up to you right away. Likewise, don’t expect yourself to be drawn to those kinds of actions, either. They aren’t your children, and it’s perfectly acceptable not to feel inclined to show them physical affection right away, if at all.
You might be the bad guy.
Younger children may feel as if any kind of relationship with you is a threat to their relationship with their mom/dad. Understand that the other parent may be badmouthing you and your relationship with their ex in front of the kids. This can leave children confused, feeling that if they like you, they’re betraying their other parent.
Be a pal.
Open the lines of communication early. Break down some walls by joking with the child about a habit of your partner’s. For instance, “Your dad snores SO loud, he wakes himself up sometimes!” or “Your mom changed her dress 10 times before we left to go to the movies last week.” Make the joke something light, something true that the child would be likely to observe on their own, and make the joke in front of your partner so that the child knows it’s in good fun.
Be a united front.
You and your partner aren’t always going to be in the same room at the same time, and you may observe some behavior that you feel needs correcting. Examples may include sneaking another soda after dinnertime, watching a TV show you think is a little too mature for them, running towards the fireplace on hardwood floors in socks. These are things you’re likely to react to. Make sure that your partner understands that these kinds of things will happen, and be prepared to deal with them together. Your partner may not always agree with your choice of discipline, but he or she should back you up, within reason. A simple, “Timmy, Jessica says no more soda before bed time, and she’s right. It’s getting late,” should do the trick. It’s a delicate situation because the scales are easily tipped, but try your best to gain support from your partner.
Don’t be overly affectionate with your partner in front of the kids. Depending on timing, the separation of the child’s parents could still be a little sensitive for them. Try to avoid too much kissing, hugging, and cuddling within eyeshot of the kids. This can be a little traumatizing for them at first. A peck here and there or hand holding on an outing is OK, but no makeout sessions on the couch after the kids go to bed.
Give it time.
It can take years for a potential step child to warm up to you. That doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong. Children handle divorce and separation in infinite ways. Some get depressed, some get angry, some are just so relieved their parents aren’t fighting anymore, they’ll be thrilled to have you around. What’s important is to be yourself, be someone they can talk to and have fun with, and let things take their natural course. Pushing yourself on a child will never work, so give them plenty of space. In time, you will see the walls come down.