An essential component to forging a solid relationship with our stepchildren is to spend quality time with them.  There as many theories of how and when and what to do as there are researchers, therapists, and dictionaries.   For this post, though, I’m focusing on evidence-based techniques in studies that I have found recently.

One study of several thousand families found only two variables that coincided with positive relationships: (1) being in a married stepfamily rather than cohabiting, and (2) having an involved stepfather.  The “involvement” that the study measured included such things as doing chores, watching television, playing sports, and simply hanging out.  A slightly more recent study measured preteens’ view of such characteristics as how much they thought their father cared about or understood them.  It found that teens who felt closer to their fathers were more likely to avoid substance abuse.

A final more in-depth study described quality time as events such as one-on-one time, working on projects (such as learning how to drive), and “relationship talks not focused on problems.”  Even family vacations ranked high on the list of relationship-building events.  This last study, however, found that these positive events “rarely occurred early in the relationship.”  Rather, the stepchildren described the events as cementing relationships that already were turning positive.

This research teaches us a few hopeful techniques that we can use to improve the quality of our time with our kids:

•   We can’t force the relationship.  We have to give our kids time to adjust to us before we start trying to have quality time with them.  Some ideas, such as family trips, simply won’t work if there is a lot of family conflict.  Give the family time to settle into a routine and get used to the new configuration.  Work on quality time as your children are ready for it.

•  Working together on common projects enriches relationships.  Even chores, if you can find a way to do them together without conflict, can be a positive activity.

•  Use your conversations to learn more about your kids’ interests, fears, hopes, and dreams.  They need to feel that you are at least trying to understand them.  If all they hear from you is lectures and rules, none of your time together will be positive.

•  Find opportunities for time together.  Not every conversation will be a “quality” milestone.  There will be times that you don’t have anything to talk about.  The more opportunities you find, however, the more comfortable your children will feel and the more open they will be to meaningful conversations.

•  Finally, don’t give up.  Quality time takes . . . time.  You can’t simply combine ingredients like a cake recipe.  Every child is different and every relationship is different.  You are building relationships for a lifetime, so don’t expect to accomplish everything in a short season


Debbie Ausburn

Helping foster parents and stepparents learn how to be the person who is not supposed to be there.