By Gerardo Campbell
When you have a child who just can’t seem to get along with a new stepparent, the first thing you should do is to take a step back and look objectively at the entire situation. There are a few questions you should ask yourself in order to address this issue.
The first question is, “Why?” Is it just normal adjustment problems, or is there a deeper issue? A majority of blended families have a difficult time adjusting to a stepparent and their children joining the family. Most of the time you can just try to be respectful of each other and give it time and eventually everything will fall into place. Sometimes it’s not that simple. This is when you start to dig a little deeper into the cause of the problem. There are many things that can factor into this, and also several things you can do to help the situation.
First of all, talk to your kids. Ask them what their side of the story is and then listen. You may not get the exact truth but you should be able to get an idea of it. One thing you need to emphasize to them is that you are not trying to replace their other biological parent, and they do not have to dislike their new stepparent to prove their loyalty to the biological parent. Explain to your children how a stepparent is just one more person who is there for them rather than someone competing with them. Assure them you have enough love to give both them and your new spouse at the same time.
Kids are likely to blame the stepparent for the conflict, but don’t immediately assume they’re wrong. Remember this is just as new to your partner as it is to your kids, so they may not know exactly how to make it work either. A big mistake many new stepparents make is trying to be a buddy to the kids. Although it is helpful when the children like them, it is much more important that they respect them. Your partner is an adult and your kids need to view your partner as an authority figure rather than a friend.
Additionally, you need to make sure your partner sets good boundaries with the stepchildren and sticks to them. Otherwise, the kids are going to walk all over them.
On the other hand, your new partner has to realize they are not their replacement parent and can’t walk into their lives commanding respect and giving orders. It is your (the biological parent’s) job to discipline your children, not the new stepparent.
Here are a few things to avoid doing that will also help. One major thing is to not involve your kids in your marital problems. No matter how angry or hurt you are, never ever say anything bad about your partner to your child. This applies to both the parent and the new stepparent. Also, the new stepparent should never ask the kids to keep a secret from the other parent. This is just asking for trouble. The new parents also should avoid arguing with the kids. It is okay to disagree, but after you present your side of the issue, drop it. Kids often like to argue because they of course think they’re always right. If you can just let them know you disagree and walk away, you could be saving yourself a lot of stress.
If none of these suggestions seem to help, then maybe you have to start asking yourself some very tough questions. Is there any possibility the new stepparent may be sexually abusing your child? You’re saying: “Not a chance. I wouldn’t be with someone like that.” But a lot of times people “like that” hide that part of themselves extremely well. This may not be something your kids will just tell you about. Look for signs. One classic sign is bedwetting. Other signs include things like falling grades, becoming withdrawn, rapid weight loss or gain, and severe mood swings or violence. If you notice any of these things, immediately get some professional help to find out exactly what is going on. Do not sit back and tell yourself this isn’t really what’s wrong with your child.
Regardless of whether your child is being abused, you may need some extra help with your family. A good reputable counselor who specializes in blended families could be the answer. Even if it is only adjustment problems you may not be able to fix them on your own. Asking for help is nothing to be ashamed of. However, sitting back and hoping your problems will go away on their own is.
An additional consideration is to address these issues before you and your partner say, “I do.” Having conversations with your children regarding their future stepparent can go a long ways in easing the transition after the wedding. The more issues and concerns are addressed, the greater of amount of ease. Despite this advanced work you should still expect problems.
Boundaries, respect, and honesty are what it all boils down to. If you can create a mutual respect between your kids and your spouse, then eventually they will get along. They may never really like each other, but they don’t have to. As long as they treat each other with respect you will have a happy home. Or at least a home where there isn’t constant fighting.