Being a step parent is one of the most challenging and confusing titles one can hold – as there are many gray areas that go along with raising someone else’s child as if they were your own.  Knowing when to step back and when to step in, or when to speak up and when to remain quiet – can take a while to sort out.  Parenting your own child is confusing as it is, with a stepchild there are usually a few other disciplinarians in the picture that you have to consider when establishing rules.

I have had my struggles in the past-misguided resentments, frustration and control issues-just to name a few.  Over time I realized it was up to me to create that bond with her.  I was the adult, and she wasn’t just going to wake up one day and feel close to me based on the fact I happened to love her dad.  I chose to put the effort into our relationship and in return-she blossomed.  I have decided to share some things that worked for me, in case you need a new perspective while you are in the process of working on a personal relationship of your own with a stepchild.

1. Spend one-on-one time with them.

There is nothing kids love more than attention ( Okay, maybe ice cream), either way-children love it when someone shows interest in things they enjoy. (If I had a dollar for every I heard “Momma Look! Watch mom! I’d be rich.”  Find out what their hobbies are and plan a time when just the two of you can explore them.  Not only will it make them happy that you are showing excitement for things they are passionate about, it will be a good opportunity for you to converse with them and get to know them better.

2. Get excited when you see them.

This kind of goes back to the giving them attention thing.  Whenever my bonus daughter walks through the door I usually yell something like “Heyyyyy pretty girllll!” and give her an embarrassing dancey hug while giving her about 10 too many kisses all over her head. Obviously avoid this advice if they are over the age of 12- otherwise you will just creep them out. But if they are younger than that-act ridiculous. She giggles uncontrollably as soon as she walks in the door, and that sets the tone for the rest of our time together.

3. Insist on being the one to tuck them in and tell them a bedtime story.

My kiddo and I have a routine every night.  I tuck her in (literally) then I sit on the edge of the bed and make up a crazy story. I use her as the main character, and add a scary moment, and then a happy ending.  I usually leave it with a cliffhanger, so that she is excitedly anticipating the next installment of “Bedtime Stories with Tiff” the following night. I give her a kiss and a hug and tell her that I’m so happy she is in my life. She goes to bed with a smile on her face every night….(as we all should)

4. Create something together.

Here’s what you do- hop on Google (or Pinterest, for all you fancy pants out there) and search for fun crafts for kids. Make a quick supply list and shoot on over to the Dollar Tree. Grab said supplies and head home to lay it all out on the table.  When they get there, the two of you make an awesome masterpiece and hang it somewhere in the house.  Every time either of you passes it by, you will remember the wonderful bonding time you spent creating it together.

5. Be consistent when disciplining.

Believe it or not, children thrive in a routine environment. They crave consistency. If you tell them they are not allowed to have chocolate before bed, and they defiantly inform you that “Grandma lets them eat ice cream in bed as they are falling asleep”-stick to your guns. Establish rules and boundaries for your home so that they always know what to expect. And hey, if you want to reward them with an ice cream sundae in their pajamas one night for getting good grades-do it….Do it because you want to, not because Grandma said it was okay.

6. Speaking of rewards, reward them for awesome behavior.

This is a fun one, because I do this regularly and I love watching her as she smiles with pride upon completing a task. We have a big chart on the wall with different categories: brushing your teeth without being asked, being kind to your brother, using manners, etc. We put a sticker each time she does something on the list, and after 10 stickers she gets a prize. After a while it became a habit for her to do these things and waalah!

7. Put the phone down and watch “Dora The Explorer” with them.

I know. This is probably the last thing you want to do, because the best time to scroll through Facebook uninterrupted is when the kid is preoccupied with television. However, if you are wanting to work on your relationship with the child, you can’t do it by liking a status, you have to get down on the floor with them – fists under your chin – learning Spanish from a small cartoon with a backpack.

8. Never, ever, EVER speak negatively about their birth mother/father.

Listen, your job is not to be “Captain Super Parent”, swooping in to be the perfect mother/father they always needed. Your job is to help guide them on their journey through life. Don’t make it a competition with your spouses ex.  Regardless of how hard you try, you will never be able to sway that childs opinion of their parent. I know this one can be hard sometimes, especially if you know what a deadbeat or crappy parent that person can be.  Children are unaware of conditional love, so they will adore them regardless of whether or not they have missed their birthday for 3 years in a row and never show up to their school performances. Always speak positively when speaking about their parent, it helps them in the long run, more than you realize.

9. Surprise them.

There is no greater blessing than seeing joy on childrens faces..(okay, maybe an hour alone in a bubble bath with candles-but smiles are a close second). On a Friday or Saturday, wait until they put their pajamas on and start winding down. Then tell them to “hurry up and get in the car!” and take them on a surprise trip to the ice cream shop. Tell them you’re going to (insert most boring store ever) then pull into the movie theater instead. Fill up water balloons and put them in a laundry basket, tell them to do you a favor and grab the mail- when they exit the house-sneak attack water bomb ’em. Aubrey and I had a surprise water balloon fight once and she still talks about it to this day..

10. Get Weird.

Blast “let it go” from the speakers as you drive around town yelling the lyrics at the top of your lungs.  Pull them out the front door with you once it starts raining and do a rain dance in the yard.  Hide behind doors and pop out as they walk by. Play charades, do an animal impression contest, play dress up. Life is too short to be boring.  Make their childhood as fun as humanly possible, and they will fondly reflect back on it for years to come.

There is no perfect way to be a step parent, all you need is a desire to be close with them, and the willingness to do whatever it takes to contribute positively to their life.  You are there to guide them, gently nudging them in the right direction along the way.  You are an extra person to love them, and children need as much love as they can get, there is no such thing as too much.  If you show them you care, show them you support them and show them you will always be there for them forever, then chances are when they grow up – you will be one of the people they hold closest to their heart.  Because you didn’t love them because you “had” to, you loved them because you chose to, and that makes you pretty special.