By Guest Blogger, Jessica Mathis.

I was 19 when my parents divorced. The fact that I was older, though, didn’t make it any easier. I harbored resentment and anger when both of my parents remarried within a year. Not only did I have to contend with the new stepparents, I suddenly had inherited two more families, full of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. I felt obligated to like them, even love them. Despite my fears that it would be difficult to integrate myself into their lives, my new extended families, on both my stepmom and stepdad’s side, felt otherwise. They welcomed me in with open arms; I wasn’t treated differently. To them, I was already their family by blood.

I realized that this was the same pattern that my whole family had followed when two of my uncles divorced and re-married, resulting in blended families for both of them. Their stepchildren were eagerly accepted into our homes. My parents and grandparents would excitedly hug them and tell them they were glad to see them. My aunts and uncles would ask them questions about their life, just like they did with me and my brothers. Everyone had a good time together, laughing and eating as a family. It seemed as though we never skipped a beat with the stepchildren.

Here are some things to remember about children and extended family:

  • Kids thrive on love and security, no matter what the situation or environment is.
  • Children don’t need special treatment as the stepchild; they need the same treatment as the other children in order to feel welcome.
  • The extended family needs to be the one to break the ice, not the child (regardless of age).
  • Inclusion, not forced participation, works best with kids.
  • If children seem disinterested or uncomfortable, cutting them off completely will likely isolate them. Continue to have the extended family talk to them and offer to include them; the child may just need time to warm up.

If your family or your partner’s family is not the warmest group of people, and you feel it may be hard to get them involved, here are some things you can try:

  • Explain calmly and non-defensively that you love your step-children and want them to be a part of the whole family.
  • Arrange activities together, like going to the park or seeing a movie. Once everyone is more comfortable, you can engage in more intimate or personal get-togethers.
  • Facilitate a game, sport, or other team-building activity that encourages interaction and will make everyone feel more comfortable.
  • Set an example in front of the family by showing affection and love to your step-children.

There is nothing special to remember or do when it comes to stepchildren and their role with extended family. Everyone needs to feel loved and accepted; this goes especially for children as their self-esteem and character is developing. Your own parents, siblings, nieces, and nephews don’t have to do anything out of the ordinary to give the stepchildren that emotional care. You and everyone else should simply treat them with love and kindness, exactly as you treat your own child, and they will feel much more comfortable with their new family.

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