As part of our Blended Family Friday series, each week we spotlight a different stepfamily to learn how they successfully blended their two families. Our hope is that by telling their stories, we'll bring you closer to blended family bliss in your own life! Want to share your own story? Email us at email@example.com.
If there's one thing Christine Nestrick knows about step-parenting, it's that you can't force a relationship with your stepkids.
"There is no instruction manual for being a stepparent, but you do have to take things slow," she told us. "Rather than forcing a relationship or being over the top with my stepdaughter, I forced myself to let our relationship evolve naturally. After all, this was new to everyone. "
Below, Christine shares more step-parenting advice and explains how the birth of a second daughter brought her blended family even closer together.
Hi Christine! Want to introduce us to your family?
There's four of us: me; my husband Chris; my 15-year-old stepdaughter Olivia; and our 9-month-old daughter Sabrina.
Chris and I met through happenstance at work. We became friends, and then as the days turned into weeks and eventually months, our friendship began to feel like something more. Six months or so later, we became engaged, on Christmas Eve 2012. We married in a small, but absolutely perfect wedding on July 6, 2013.
(Image courtesy of Christine Nestrice)
Tell us a little bit about your relationship with your stepdaughter Olivia.
I first met Olivia in the summer of 2012. I had already met and became close with Chris’s family, but we wanted to wait until the time was perfect for me to meet Olivia. I remember having a nervous, queasy feeling in my stomach. She was only 13, and yet she scared me on a profound level. I knew that my relationship with her father would never work if she and I didn’t get along, and that thought was terrifying. I remember trying not to be nervous, trying to make polite conversation, trying not to say anything stupid.
We saw each other a lot that summer, at family gatherings, going out to dinner, mini-golf, things like that. Was everything effortless? No. Did it feel natural, like a family? Of course not. But we kept at it. We continued to spend time together, even when it felt a little awkward because we knew that was OK. The makings of a blended family does not happen overnight. It can't be forced. I did not try to be maternal with Olivia. She has a mother, who obviously isn’t me, and I was not looking to fill that role for her. Instead, I just tried to show an interest in her life, in her friends, in her activities. I tried to give my thoughts and opinions on things -- not to butt in, but just to simply show that I cared. At 13, and now at 15, she has the right to think her own thoughts and have her own feelings, outside of mine and even her father's. I was raised to be independent, and I hope to foster that in Olivia as well!
What are some of the biggest challenges of blended family life?
Making sure that there is enough time and attention devoted to every member of the family can be hard. Our family is very active and busy. Olivia is sophomore class president, on the varsity swim team, a competitive dancer, a flute player, a member of the show choir, part of her high school musical, and I’m sure I’m forgetting something. Chris and I both work full-time. And Sabrina is a 9-month-old who is crawling, almost walking, and getting into everything she’s not supposed to within 10 seconds of you looking in another direction.
Some nights Chris barely has enough time to say goodnight to Sabrina before he has to take Olivia somewhere or pick her up from somewhere. Our weekends are spent running errands, taking care of the house and the yard, doing laundry, and trying to find time to spend together in between. It is a huge challenge, one that leaves us exhausted most days. We love every minute of it, but it is a huge challenge.
Given all that, how do you deal with stress at home?
We talk. Even if it’s an uncomfortable conversation, we talk. Sometimes it might just be Chris and Olivia having a heart to heart, or Chris and I might have to have an adult discussion on something that is going on, or sometimes it's all of us sitting at the dinner table, hashing things out while eating dinner. Sometimes we make a plan to deal with the stress, sometimes we know that all we can do is vent and move forward.
We just always try to be kind and patient with each other, even when we are stressed or tired. Some days we might fall a little short of our ideals, but we know that tomorrow will be a better day.
You mentioned that the birth of your daughter Sabrina has really helped bring the family together. Tell us more.
Once I became pregnant, and even more so after she was born, it went from being Olivia and her dad and me to just "us." We all had a common bond now, a daughter and a sister to connect the dots. With Sabrina, our familial relationship became more effortless. We spent more time together, playing with Sabrina, taking walks... Everything just started to click. She was the puzzle piece that we didn't know was missing.
What advice do you have for fellow stepparents who are struggling to make a connection with their stepkids?
My advice is twofold but related. Give it time, and hang in there. The best things in life take time, and this is so true of relationships with a stepparent or stepchild. Rather than being a parent or a child by blood, you are one out of circumstance, but that doesn’t mean that eventually your relationship won’t evolve into one that is just as strong as those by blood. It’s a totally different dynamic and it cannot and will not happen overnight, nor should it.
I think of it almost like a courtship. When dating, you take your time to get to know the other person, their likes and dislikes, what is important to them, who they really are. Things might start casually, but as time goes by, things likely get more serious, as more time is spent together. It is the same with building a relationship with your stepchild (or stepparent). And if you have a bad day, take a deep breath, and start over tomorrow. It doesn’t mean that the world is unraveling, it just means it was a bad day. We all have them. Hang in there.