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What Not to Say to Your Stepkid

When I was in college, a palm reader told me I would be a writer and a movie star. He also told me I would have three children, but that I could marry into them or adopt them; I didn’t have to “pump them out.” At the time, having kids seemed like such a far-off concept, but being a movie star sounded pretty good.

Cut to 2008, when I met Steve, the man I would marry. He came with exactly three kids and a grandson. At the time, the two girls were teenagers, and his son was in his late 20s. I imagined that we’d all have a modern blended family dynamic—the girls would be in and out of the house with their friends when they came to visit us, and maybe they would borrow my makeup.

Unfortunately, while the adult son seemed fine with everything, the girls didn’t share that feeling.

They weren’t happy about their parents’ divorce—and what child is? They were wary of me, and avoided all conversation. I felt so cautious about any word I said in front of them, in case it would be taken the wrong way, or I’d come off too soft, too hard, too dorky, too serious. When we announced our engagement to Steve's son over the phone, I joked, “I’m your new mommy.” Crickets. OK, not funny.

RELATED: What Not to Say to a Stepmom

“Holding back is the best advice to give,” says Judy Osborne, a family therapist who specializes in stepparenting. She advises to not be too eager to please in an effort to look good with kids. “That’s where people get into trouble, because the women rush in too quickly to take over roles, or [force] an intimacy that children are frightened by or affronted by. The most useful way to enter is to make sure your partner knows what they’re doing and isn’t depending on you to be a substitute parent in the relationship.”

Having been a stepkid myself, and now a new mom, I know that every dynamic with stepkids is different. Some people might have that blissful blend of respect, friendship and love with their stepkids. And others still might be working on “Please pass the salt.”

Either way, here are some things to avoid saying to make the road a little smoother:

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