Meeting my husband Matt’s son “D” for the first time was one of my most anxiety-ridden days. For any of you step-parents out there, you can totally understand why I was so anxious to meet the most important person in Matt’s life. This tiny little person could dictate whether or not my relationship with the person I wanted to be with forever would have legs.
It was the day before my birthday, and Matt’s sister was in town. We had decided to go out to dinner that night so that I could meet D for the first time, and then the next day for my birthday, the three of them would come to my house. I was excited and nervous about this prospect because I didn’t know Matt’s sister very well (we had only been dating three months at this point) and I had no idea how to entertain a 17-month-old.
We met at a Chinese restaurant, but I really can’t tell you how it went because my nerves were on such high alert that I don’t remember the food at all. I sat across from D and because he’s naturally shy, he didn’t want to have anything to do with me. He focused on his auntie and his food, and I didn’t really exist. I wanted this little cherub of a toddler to like me, but he wouldn’t even look at me! This was not going well.
The next day, everyone came to my house. Because I have a lot of stairs, I purchased a baby gate to keep D from getting hurt. Thankfully, Matt brought toys, so his son was occupied. D was incredibly shy and didn’t look at me or interact with me very much at all. But Matt told me not to get discouraged, that he’d come around eventually. Several hours later, he finally did, but only because his auntie had left and he thought I looked like a good alternative. He did follow me around and it was fun to finally interact with him. I needed the positive reinforcement.
Even though we had a positive first day, it took a really long time for D to feel comfortable with me. Because Matt shares 50-50 custody, he only had his son every other week. Many times, it felt like I was starting from square one all over again because at that age, they don’t have a very long memory and a week is a really long time in their world. Even though I knew this, it still saddened and frustrated me when he wouldn’t remember me or when he wouldn’t want to have anything to do with me.
Looking back on those first few months, here are some of the things that I learned:
- Children adapt more readily than adults.
- You’re new to their world, so expect them to be wary and untrusting in the beginning. It is not an affront to you.
- With enough exposure to someone, their comfort level increases as you become familiar.
- Bonds are not automatic and require work, so you need to be fully invested in putting that work in.
- Ask your partner for guidance. They know their child better than anyone and give you the information that you need to help you deal with the child’s personality traits
- Do not assume a parental role in the beginning. Trust and love must develop first.
- If you’re in it for the long-term and see yourself becoming a parent, you want the child’s respect. Do not try to buy it in the form of toys or gifts.
- It will happen, just give it time.
Do you have any tips to share from your experience?