How Do You Survive A Marriage With Stepchildren?
Posted by: Sue Atkins
In this episode:
How do you survive a marriage with your stepchildren?
Struggling to Blend? Here’s 5 Top Tips for Creating a STRONG Stepfamily
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Whether you are in the middle of potty training, have a child with additional needs, are handling a monosyllabic teen, or need the magic formula to co-parent with your ex, one thing is certain:
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It can be difficult for children to accept their parents starting new relationships, especially as they are coming into adolescence. However, with a bit of patience and support, and some firm rules, they can adjust to the new situation. I wouldn’t give up on your relationship as it is important to you; instead, try to help your daughter manage it and come to terms with it over time.
Communication and understanding
Parents often start new relationships without talking to or preparing their children and this can lead to problems and resentment. It sounds like it might have been a shock for your daughter to discover that you and your new partner are in a proper relationship – as she realised that the person she thought was a family friend was now confirmed as your new partner.
This might have been very awkward for her and brought up mixed emotions around the death of her Mum. While it is important to keep new relationships private for a period, it is important to tell children directly when they need to know; for example, before going on holiday, staying overnight or staying over at weekends. This gives them time to adjust and they begin to respect the fact that you have told them.
In helping your daughter, it is important to take time to appreciate how she might be feeling. Like yourself she went through a major bereavement when she was only 8 and of course, still misses her Mum and may feel guilty that she likes your new partner. She may also be worried that she’ll lose the deep & special bond that you have with her. The fact that you are starting a new relationship might remind her acutely of the loss of her mother and bring up again her feelings of grief.
Also, she might see the start of the new relationship as a sign of disloyalty to her Mum & she is not yet ready to move on and include someone new in her close family unit.
The start of the new relationship might also bring up fears that she will lose you to your new partner. Unconsciously she might be jealous and worry that your new partner will be more important in your life than she is.
At 12 years old, your daughter is starting into her teenage years and is becoming much more aware of sexuality and adult relationships. Young teens can find it awkward and embarrassing to think of their parents starting sexual relationships and these awkward feelings can be displayed by being critical, judgmental, or even hostile.
Help your daughter manage her feelings
Take time to talk sincerely, gently, and openly – age and stage appropriate – as you are your daughter’s Dad – not her friend. It is quite likely that your daughter is unaware of her feelings and will need help articulating them. The goal is to encourage her to put names to her feelings rather than acting them out in tantrums and rudeness.
Pick a good time to check in with her when you are alone, and ask her how she feels about you being in a new relationship. Listen carefully to what she might say and encourage her to express things without being defensive.
It can be a good idea to address directly some of the fears she might have: for example, “ Just because S is my girlfriend, it doesn’t change in any way how special you are to me”, or “It also doesn’t change in any way how we feel about Mum and how we remember her”.
You can also use the time to share your own feelings: “S is a special person in my life and I hope she will continue to be a good friend to you too.” Once their own feelings are acknowledged, many older children do accept their parent’s new partner, especially when they see that the relationship makes them happy.
Take your time, see it as a slow-burning casserole – taking time to nurture the new relationships – it’s not about throwing everything into a quick fix blender. Things will work out over time if you take it slowly. Never force the relationships – grow them slowly like watering a plant in the garden.
Do insist on respect all round though as that is the key ingredient to any healthy, long-term relationship.
Check out my resources on Blended Families
Stepfamilies – Are You Finding it Tough to Blend? WEBINAR
Creating a STRONG Step Family
Understanding The Stepfamily Cycle.
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