Moving into the world of step-parenting is never an easy thing to do. Some of us have it relatively easy because we came into the child's life when they were young and they have very few memories from before you were in their lives. Others only have to deal with a step-child for a short amount of time before they move out into their own lives. Still others are stuck in the middle ground, that place where the kids have many memories of mom and dad in happier years. It is those kids that often seem to find a way to blame the divorce on the new spouse, usually wrongly. These are the step-parents, especially if they have no prior children of their own, that struggle the most with some big "D" words: the fallout of the Divorce, Doubt of themselves as a spouse and new parent, and Disrespect from the step-children. Here we will discuss the last "D" word.
Don't Play the Game
The blame game, that is. This will only get you, and your spouse, into a ton of trouble. It is so easy to blame a step-child's behavior, especially that of disrespect, on the ex. You might feel that the disrespect is coming from the fact that it is a learned behavior based on what your spouse is telling you about their ex ("She was always calling me names and now little Billy has learned to do that too"). Another popular belief is that the ex is saying all sorts of negative things about you and little Billy is picking up on that and just repeating to you. Either or both of those scenarios might be true, but in the end, it just doesn't matter. They have to see YOU modeling good behavior and that will have a positive influence.
Be the Bigger Person
Even though your tween-age step-child appears to be full-swing into the "I HATE YOU!" mode, as parents we must understand that most children are trying to learn how to behave and they are looking to us to figure out the right way to act. The bottom-line with a step-child is that you have very little specific parental control in their lives and whether you agree that this is good or not is irrelevant. What you can do is to act with self-control and model self-respect. Don't pretend that you will control the child's behavior but neither should you take their abuse. Disrespect is only a useful tool in their arsenal if it tolerated. Tell your step-child that you won't listen to that sort of talk and walk away from it.
The Feeling is Mutual
How easy is it to disrespect someone you know well? Generally, it is not easy to do. Making an effort to get to know you step-child or step-children can go a long way toward establishing mutual respect for one another. This sort of effort shows that you care about them as a person, that you would like to get to know what makes them tick, what they like to do, as well as what they don't like. Learning their favorite food and preparing it or learning their least favorite foods and avoiding them can be very meaningful for a child that has been through a divorce. It is amazing when you find out you have something in common with your step-child, a shared interest like photography or cooking. When you start to connect on a real level, person to person, they start to view you as someone who deserves their respect and you don't have to force disrespect out of them. The whole family will be rewarded by this sort of behavior modification.
Sources: personal experience
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