Navigating the stepfather-stepdaughter relationship can present challenges. Stepparents, often do not “fit” neatly into parental categories. Further, stepdaughters can be resistant to building a relationship with their stepfathers. As a result, creating a strong bond and strengthening it requires time and effort to learn to communicate effectively and to build trust and understanding.
Know your role. Before and after becoming a stepfather, take time to define your role within the family. Your stepdaughter may not want to call you “Dad,” and you shouldn't suggest that she should. In fact, your stepdaughter may not see you as a father figure, especially if she has an active father in her life. Ron L. Deal, creator of the Smart Stepfamilies website and author of “More Precious than Rubies: More Stepfather Wisdom,” suggests avoiding trying to be another “father” and settle on being a parental figure. Let your daughter's biological parents discipline, while you focus on strengthening your friendship with your stepdaughter. Discuss your role as a stepparent with your spouse so you are both on the same page.
Get to know each other. If you stepdaughter is busy with school, has an active social, or resides with her biological parent, you might have limited time together. Do your best to connect with her by learning her likes and dislikes as well as the kinds of things that interest her. Suggest doing things together like cooking a meal or a favorite dessert. Be sure to attend her school and extracurricular functions whenever possible. If one of her biological parents cannot attend an event or is unable to carry out a parenting duty like driving your stepdaughter to school, offer your services. If your stepdaughter is not particularly comfortable with this, do not push it. Let her decide your level of involvement and how quickly your relationship develops. Keep in mind that you can bond through simple activities such as watching a movie together or going grocery shopping.
Be sensitive. Parenting a daughter differs parenting a son in that there is typically a wide range of emotions involved. As a stepfather, you might find it difficult to know how to proceed with your stepdaughter when she is going through a rough time. Ken Canfield, speaker and author of "Seven Secrets of Effective Fathers and The Heart of a Father," suggests proceeding with caution when your stepdaughter goes through ups and downs. Be ready to cheer her on during the good and bad times if she needs it. Let her know that you're there if she needs to talk and offer your support however you can. For example, if she's having trouble with some of her classes, offer homework help if you're familiar with the subject. If not, offer to find her a tutor.
Ask for help. If you feel as though you're not strengthening your bond with your stepdaughter, ask for help. You can even come right out and ask your stepdaughter what you can do to best support her. Your spouse can also be a good source for advice as she likely knows her daughter and was once a young daughter herself, so she understands what a girl needs from male family members. Asking both your wife and stepdaughter for help also lets them know that your respect and appreciate them, which can enhance the bond you have with both of them.
- If your new blended family is struggling and you are unable to connect with your stepdaughter on any level, you might want to seek professional help.
Ashlea Campbell writes about families, relationships and health-related issues. In addition to writing professionally, she teaches writing courses at Collin College in Plano, Texas. She holds a Masters degree in English education from the University of Kansas.
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