A significant number of women we interviewed for our book Love for Grown-Ups (a relationship guide we wrote for women who married over the age of 35) had major problems with their stepchildren. Sometimes, the difficulties seemed insurmountable.
Where does it start? Is it because we've been raised with the Wicked Stepmother syndrome? It doesn't matter what age the children are. Toddlers are pretty vocal when it comes to expressing their feelings, but may be easier to win over than resentful adult children. Some women who married widowers found the children felt their dead mother's place was being usurped. All children of divorce seem to have the fantasy that mom and dad will get back together again. And some would prefer to keep dad for themselves rather than see him remarried. We also found out that a lot of kids act as though daddy divorced them, not their mother!
Sound overwhelming? Here are a few ideas that may help you become a "blended family".
1. Don't lose your cool
If your husband has joint custody with his ex and the children will live with you part of the time, you and he should sit down and lay out some ground rules for them. Don't use this as a session to complain about his kids and what you think they do wrong. Just keep the discussion about setting up what you expect the kid's privileges and responsibilities will be while living in your home, i.e. television time, having friends over, computer use if it's a family computer, making their bed, doing dishes, etc. This should include the positives too -- it's OK to sleep late on weekends, raiding the refrigerator is fine, etc. This will be their home too and it will go easier for you if you try to creative an environment that's comfortable for all of you!
2. Give them space
Let the kids have plenty of alone time with their dad. They need to talk to him and no matter how long you've been in the picture, you are still not part of the child-father equation.
3. Give yourself some space
If your husband is going to be spending some activity time with his kids, go off and have a meal with a friend. Don't plan to use the time doing laundry! Girlfriends are great at listening and very often offer good advice on handling family situations. It you need to complain, complain to them, not your husband.
4. Dealing with incidents
Some of the women we interviewed experienced really hostile behavior from their stepchildren -- everything from being mean to their biological children, half-siblings and friends and taking the car without permission. When such things occur, talk to your husband first and decide on a course of action together. Divorced dads tend to feel guilty about the breakup of their previous marriage and can be reluctant to discipline their children. You should present what you consider a fair solution so the episode won't be repeated, and please don't back down!
5. Adult stephildren can also resent you
Fortunately, these children may not live with you. You're probably going to see them for holidays and family dinners. You'll learn fairly quickly how and where they'll "needle" you. The best response is no response! If the comment is "This year's turkey is better than last year's," your reply should be "Yes, it is." If you ignore the barbs, they'll eventually stop trying to get at you.
6. Remember, you're his wife -- and you're here for the long-term!
Sigmund Freud would probably have many answers as to why your stepkids don't like you, none of which has anything at all to do with you. Perhaps the thought that daddy might find you attractive, intelligent and interesting is just too much for the kids to consider. But don't you forget it -- because it's true!
7. You will eventually establish a relationship with your stepchildren.
Hopefully with time, you will come to care about them. You may eventually come to love his children, but know that you will never feel about them as their dad does. It may not be the "blended" family you had envisioned, but if you're not the "Brady Bunch" don't beat up on yourself, just keep calm and do the best you can.
Ann Blumenthal Jacobs and Tish Rabe are relationship guides and co-authors together with Pat Ryan Lampl of "LOVE FOR GROWN-UPS: The Garter Brides Guide to Marrying for Life when you Already Have a Life".
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