If you are just entering stepfamily life, you may notice that age and gender differences may affect the bond that you have with your stepchildren. The physical and emotional needs of a 3 year old are varied from that of a 13 year old. Realizing those differences is a first step in acknowledging the situation and making efforts to further the relationship with each of the children involved.
Researchers note that children under the age of 10 are the most willing to accept a new adult in their lives. Therefore, if that proves true, then those children would have an easier time adjusting to a new familial situation. One would immediately think that would make for the model time for a new adult to enter the picture. However, keep in mind that these younger children have definitive needs. They may need more help with day to day living at this age. These children may also feel competitive for their parents’ attention. Up to this point, often parents’ lives have greatly centered around young children and their needs. Adding a new adult to the equation may appear to throw a wrench in that plan. Take it slow. Arrange for time between the bio-parent and the child without stepparent intervention. Knowing they still have mom or dad in their corner will go a long way in paving the path for the new stepparent.
Children in the 10-14 age range may have the most difficult time adjusting to a stepfamily arrangement, according to researchers. They are beginning to form their own thoughts and opinions. They are growing physically and emotionally. And they are now dealing with hormones! As children of this age group adjust to these pressures, they are now also expected to adjust to a new adult. Giving that they are outgrowing their own parents, the inclusion of a new adult may present interference especially where discipline is concerned. For all involved, discipline in this age group is difficult at best, but for the new stepparent, tread lightly. Your loyalty will be rewarded. In time. Before broaching the disciplinarian role, bond with your stepchild. Make certain they understand that you love them and only want to establish a safe and secure environment for them.
The older children ages 15 and older may present another issue altogether. At this age, children are branching out on their own. Even in the family of origin, this age group may tend to be less involved. And so it may be with the new stepfamily as well. It’s not personal. These children are still adopting their own identity separate and apart from their parents. They may not be open to affection but rest assured they still need it. Find other ways to make them feel secure and loved. You may feel as though you have less time to bond with this age group by the simple fact that they spend less time in the home and will soon enough be adults on their own. Keep in mind that parenting does not stop at the age of 18 or whenever the child leaves home. You still have great opportunities to bond with these children as they age.
Gender also affects how the stepparent is accepted. Boys tend to accept stepfathers more easily than girls. Girls tend to resist physical affection from stepfathers. All in all, when expressing love, perhaps the more tangible way to express it for both genders is with praise and compliments. You don’t need hugs and kisses to show love!
Often the greatest difficult to overcome is not that of age or gender but those issues that come with insecurity. Divorce or death are the roots of the new stepfamily that springs forth. Any loss can cause insecurity but when that loss involves a parent, it can be far-reaching and not immediately evident. Remember that insecurities cannot be resolved overnight. But if you continue to work on the familial relationships, often the fear that another loss will occur can be relieved somewhat. Nonetheless, don’t rule out counseling for the family.
While the adventure into stepparenting is not always easy, it can be rewarding. Learning more about children and how their age and gender may affect their behaviors can be a great start for all of the knowledge you are about to incur.