Your turn:  What topic areas or skills give you an anchor in your
stepfamily?  Leave a comment at the end of this post.

In the early years of developing a relationship with my stepdaughter
Brittany, a youngster named Shayla played an important role.  Shayla
was an intelligent, curious, and playful individual on my side of the
family.  She enjoyed playing games and going for walks, not to
mention chewing on bones.

Shayla was my Australian Cattledog.

Brittany, then eight, had only owned a cat.  She was fascinated by my
stocky, black-and-tan canine who provided many hours of
entertainment both inside and outside the house.  I can see why they
enjoyed each other – both were as sharp as the Vermont white
cheddar they munched for snacks and reward treats.

I found it such a gift that Brit and I both enjoyed animals because that
gave us something in common to break the relationship ice. 

In a stepfamily, finding common ground can be a puzzle. 

First of all, the ages of your children can affect productive
communication (too young or too “cool”).  Also, if the kids are
traveling between two homes, you miss the time and exposure
advantage that occurs when they live with you full time.  Or, maybe
you just haven’t been a stepfamily long enough to feel comfortable
trying a one-on-one relationship.

The bottom line is that finding common ground with your stepchildren
is a crucial step to having some kind of one-on-one relationship; one
that stands without a third party or spouse as an intermediary.  And
whatever time it takes to build that relationship is really okay, as long
as you’re consciously putting in the effort.

Start with the status quo.  Let your stepchildren become accustomed
to the rhythms and routines of their new lives.  Look to them for cues
about when and how to contribute what you know, as opposed to
forcing your hand.  Is your stepdaughter coming to you with
questions?  What are the questions about?  What can you offer that’s
helpful yet not intrusive?

Possible topic areas include:

  • School: How would she feel if you volunteer?  If it’s not cool or
    even possible to be in the classroom, you can still help with
    general school needs, such as newsletter mailings or media
    center/library volunteer.
  • Sports and hobbies:  Do you have a specialty, especially one
    neither of her parents could claim; one that lines up with her
    interests?  For example, a sport, a fine art, a craft, a foreign
    language, a scientific mind, or a domestic interest like cooking?
  • Spiritual beliefs:  Do you share the same faith?  Can you attend
    any faith-based programs together?
  • Recreation:  Notice what she does when she hangs out – does
    she read? Play games?  Listen to music?  Spend time on the
    computer?  Do you have anything in common?

Looking back, Shayla’s care and obedience training was one topic with
which I felt completely secure; something I knew well and could
contribute to the new family.  Luckily, Brittany was interested.  If you
don’t have anything in common with your new family members, let life
simmer along.  Eventually you’ll cook up something to share.

What topics or skills give you anchor in your stepfamily?  Leave a
comment below.

Mama J (Diane Fromme) is a writer, parent, and stepparent located in
Northern Colorado.  For more information on her stepparenting book,
go to

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