Thursday, October 10, 2013

Home Sweet (Second) Home

From the very beginning I've been very adamant about my step daughter not being a guest in our home. When I was growing up, I went through periods of time where I felt really comfortable at my Dad's house and then times where I was extremely uncomfortable. If I referred to "home" it was always my Mom's house. I wanted my step daughter to have a different experience with having two homes than the one I had. So from the beginning I did everything I knew how to, to give my step daughter a second place to call home. The first few times she was at our house she would refer to her Mom's as her "real house" but that quickly went away and now when she says she wants to go home or says "our house" and not "your house" I feel like we are doing a pretty good job of accomplishing what I originally set out to.

So as someone who struggled with feeling at home in two places here are some of my suggestions for helping your step kids feel at home in your house. I know everyone's situation is unique but so far with my step daughter these have been successful for us.

1. Make sure they have their own space in your house. My step daughter has her own room and bathroom at our house. If she had siblings it might be different but for right now she is our only child making this situation possible. If you don't have the room in your house to give them their own room (or you want them to share with a sibling) make sure they have some place in the house that is theirs. I also recommend that they have their own bedding. Nothing makes you feel more like a guest than sleeping on someone else's sheets or under someone else's comforter.

2. No overnight bags. Keep basic toiletries and clothes for them at your house. I know it can be expensive and seem unnecessary for one child to have two sets of clothing. However who packs a bag to go home? If you have an amicable relationship with their other set of parents maybe you can split their wardrobe between the two houses. Or if you only have them on the weekends maybe the other parent will allow you some of their older clothes. Personally I buy on clearance and am lucky to have family members that also like to buy clothing for my step daughter to wear at my house. Also you can find awesome deals on gently worn clothing for kids if you look! One other thing to note on toiletries is to make certain you have items specific to your child's needs. My step daughter uses a special cream for her eczema which we didn't know about until recently. Having it at our house now makes her feel more secure in knowing we are attending to her overall comfort and needs.

3. Don't wait on them hand and foot. This is one that I admittedly still struggle with. I'm naturally a caretaker so it's second nature for me to want to wait on everyone that comes into my home. Including my husband and step daughter. Little by little, I've made sure she gets her own drink of water and that she cleans up after herself. By allowing her to get her own drinks and snacks from the kitchen not only is she being independent and self sufficient but she is also making herself at home. Win win.

4. Involve them in major purchases. Buying a car? A new TV? If you can, take them with you. If time (and lets be honest- patience) doesn't allow you to bring them with you for the purchase, then still make sure they feel included. When I bought a car this past summer we told my step daughter we had a surprise for her then picked her up from school in it. By including her she knows its the family's car.

5. Frame pictures. Do you have baby pictures framed of your biological children? Then frame baby pictures of your step child as well. I remember at my Dad's house there was baby pictures and school pictures of my sister but not my brother and I. At our house we have current pictures framed as well as a baby picture. In my step daughter's  room I also have a bulletin board with pictures on it. There is one of her Mom and her, her Dad and her, a family picture of the three of us, pictures of her friends, cousins, grandparents. I even have a picture of her with Mom and Dad from when they were still together on the board.

6. Create a family calendar. Include their activities. My husband and I have a board that we list appointments and special occasions on. My step daughter has her own column where her activities are listed. Not only does it make sure we remember when her activities are but it shows her that we are planning for them as well. Even activities that fall on her Mom's days go up there. If its not something we will be attending we have it up there as a reminder to ourselves to ask her how it went.

7. Decorating? Planting flowers? Let them help. When they get the chance to voice opinions and help with the work it gives them ownership. All of the sudden its "our garden" and "our Christmas lights". Not "yours" or "my Dad's".

8. Respect their belongings and make sure others do as well. I remember going to my Dad's house and finding my sister had taken over my boom box. And that she had a sleepover and the girls slept in my room instead of hers. Now I know siblings need to know how to share. But if its not something you would allow if your step child was in your care full time then you shouldn't allow it while they are at their Mom's.

9. Let them see your house in its natural state. I use to kill myself making the house "perfect" for my step daughter. But my house isn't always "perfect". So now when she comes over on Fridays the house is "as-is" (I do the majority of my deep cleaning over the weekend). I'm not preparing for a guest- my step daughter is coming home. That being said I still like to make sure the house is warm and welcoming for her.

10. Start family traditions. This is a subject I could and probably will do its own post on later. But giving the kids new traditions that happen in your family and in your home is so important. It makes them feel connected and it will create memories that will remind them of their home.

What do you do to ensure your step kids feel at home? Are there any on this list that you don't agree with? I welcome your opinions and advice.

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