It can be tough getting stuck in the role of observer, where you feel like an outsider in your family. Do you struggle to build a rapport with your stepkids? Or feel left out of traditions that were established before you were part of the family?
The ‘stuck outsider’ role for a stepparent
In a biological family, children go through phases of preferring one parent over the other. This can be tricky to navigate, but generally, both biological parents experience being the insider (the preferred parent) and the outsider. In stepfamilies, stepparents often get stuck in the outsider role, with the biological parent being stuck in the insider role. You and your partner may both struggle with this dynamic.
Try not to let this feeling of being an outsider overwhelm you or affect your relationships. It will take time to develop trust and intimacy with your partner’s children. If the kids are more comfortable cuddling with their biological parents, it does not necessarily mean they do not like you. Put yourself in their shoes: would you be comfortable in such close proximity to someone new? Most likely not.
How to feel less like an outsider with your step-family
Luckily, there are some simple steps that will help you to feel more at home with your new family.
1. Make time for your marriage
Remind yourself how much your partner loves and accepts you, even if their children don’t yet. You married this person, accepted their family, and it is not wrong for you to celebrate your lives together.
Make a big deal about your anniversary, schedule date nights or a romantic vacation, or anything else that makes you feel more loved and at home. If anyone makes you feel as if you are throwing your happiness in their face, stop and reflect on why they would feel that way. You deserve to celebrate your love, regardless of what others think.
By making time for your marriage, you are creating a deeper connection with your spouse. This can help you feel more at home and shows your partner’s kids that their parent has faith in you, which means they are more likely to trust you as well.
2. Change things around the house
When you enter the house your spouse shares with their kids, you are entering a home you played no part in making. You’ll feel more at home if you play a part in decorating the house but proceed with caution. You may want to start with the master bedroom (a space that doesn’t impact the children) or something small like a new rug.
Here are some small changes to consider:
- Changing cushion covers
- Putting up artwork
- Rearranging some furniture
Avoid touching the children’s personal spaces (such as their bedrooms) or making any big changes without discussing it with the family first. The kids may have attachments to things that you are unaware of. If they’re interested, involving them in the process of redecorating could be a good bonding activity and help create some neutral spaces in the home.
Doing some chores around the house can also make you feel more at home. Try putting together a shopping list or doing the grocery run with the kids. This will allow you to get a sense of their likes and dislikes as well, which can benefit you in the long run.
3. If you feel like an outsider, enlist your partner’s help
If you don’t have any kids of your own, there is one thing you must keep reminding yourself: you are living in a stepfamily, but your partner is not. They may not realize how you are feeling or what difficulties you are facing.
This is not due to ignorance or a lack of wanting to understand. Your spouse does not know what it’s like to feel like a third wheel at family events. They haven’t had to make their own space in an existing family dynamic.
The best thing you can do is to communicate how you are feeling. It’s important to address your concerns instead of bottling them up; if you let them fester you may start to resent your partner for not recognizing how you’re feeling. Your partner may respond by facilitating activities to help you feel more included in family events. If your partner makes a point of initiating the events, it will help take the pressure and focus of you.
4. Don’t try to be a biological parent
When you marry someone who already has a family, you do not replace anyone. Your stepchildren already have a mother or father, and if you try to take over completely, they will start resenting you. Additionally, if the biological parent is still in the picture, they may be uncomfortable with your actions.
Instead, make sure your stepchildren understand that you are a new addition, not a replacement. You want to establish your own place in their lives, not take anyone else’s place.
5. Develop new traditions
All families have traditions. You may have had some with your family growing up, and chances are, your partner and stepchildren probably have some too, which you may or may not be privy to. You should never ask them to stop their traditions. Rather, you should create your own new traditions with them.
Here are a few fun traditions to consider
- Making gingerbread houses for Christmas
- Weekly movie nights
- Weekly game nights
- Baking together on the weekends
- Daily bedtime stories
- Friday night pizza parties
Encourage your partner to take part in these traditions too, so that you and your stepchildren can start to feel more like a family. You can ask if your stepchildren want to do one of the activities listed above so they feel more in control.
6. Connect with your own friends and family
If you’re finding family life tough, it’s a good idea to immerse yourself in your own support system. Spend time with close friends or your own family members. This will give you some space, and help remind you that you are your own person, and also give the kids some space from you.
It is a good idea to introduce your loved ones to your stepchildren as soon as possible. It shows them that they are important to you, and also that you are here for the long haul and are going to be a part of their lives.
You can avoid feeling like an outsider in your own home
There is a lot that you can do to feel less like an outsider in your own home. Remind yourself constantly that this is not about things being anyone’s ‘fault’. Transitions of any kind come with some challenges and a need to think differently for a while; be kind and consider everyone’s feelings, including your own.