Your new wife is a gem. You couldn’t be happier about your recent remarriage. But her adult children are another matter. They’re chronically under-employed. They’re disrespectful to their mother. They frequently ask for money, which they never repay. You can barely tolerate their presence.
Your initial reaction is to protect her, to tell the kids, “No, she’s not going to pay for your car insurance. Try getting a job!” Yet any suggestions are met with resistance. Your efforts are seen as interfering , harsh and critical.
Stepchildren pose a serious challenge to remarried couples and are often the reason two-thirds of such marriages end in divorce, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Even when the offspring are grown and live out of the house, they still threaten the integrity of the marriage.
The primary culprit is skewed alliances. Parents will always have stronger emotional ties to their biological children than they have with a new spouse. Part of the explanation is common DNA. They also share a lifetime of experiences, jokes and expectations.
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Divorced parents may also feel guilty about the breakup and go to great lengths to make amends. Money and expensive gifts are lavished on often undeserving children. Any attempts to limit the behavior are uncomfortable for both givers and recipients.
Recently arrived partners are viewed as interlopers. No matter how sensitive or pleasant they are to the stepchildren, they are alien to the family unit. If they try to intercede, they’ll be met with hostility.
The matter is further complicated if the children’s biological parent is in their lives. That persona casts a huge shadow over the fledgling clan. Children tell themselves, “I already have a father, thank you. I certainly don’t need or want you in my life.”
The presence of stepchildren — even grown ones — complicates a new marriage. Yet they are an integral component of the union. They cannot be separated from the parent. For the relationship to succeed, it must navigate the stepchild maze. The outcome is worth the effort.
HOW TO GET ALONG WITH STEPCHILDREN
Understand that you aren’t the parent. You’re not in charge of the stepchildren. They already have a biological mom and dad.
Don’t interfere with the parent-child relationship. Allow spouses to have unadulterated time alone with their children. They are a unit that doesn’t include you.
Let biological parents discipline. Defer to spouses’ wishes. If you have a problem with a child, tell the parent so he or she can take appropriate action.
Spend time strengthening your new family. Build memories. Have fun. Share experiences.
Be positive. Find characteristics you admire about each stepchild. Go out of your way to give compliments.
Support biological parents’ efforts. They’re both doing the best they can. Let them know you’re on their side.
Build your relationship with your stepchildren. Decide how you can relate to each child. Spend time together one-onone.
Don’t force interactions between your own children and your stepchildren. Provide opportunities for interaction; then let their relationships grow in their own time.
Be patient. Relationships with stepchildren take years to develop. Don’t get discouraged. Time is your best ally.