Just For: Kids ages 7-10Q: “Can I get rid of my bossy stepsister?”
Q: “I was the oldest in my house when I was growing up. Now I have a bossy big sister. I can’t stand her and I don’t want her here anymore. Can I get rid of her?” (Michael, age 8) A: No longer being the oldest is going to be a tough change for you Michael. You aren’t used to having to answer to anyone older other than your parents, so having an older sibling is no fun! Depending on how much older your sister is, maybe the two of you can sit down together and come up with some rules for the house and your younger siblings. Try talking with her about what is bothering you or write her a letter asking for help in making things better between you. If you need help, ask your parents to step in and help sort some of this out.
Q: “I don’t want to share my room with Benjamin. He’s 5 years old. He’s messy and I’m always supposed to watch him. Do I have to?” (Krista, age 7) A: Sharing a home with a new brother or sister can be really annoying, especially if you became an instant “big” sister and now you have to watch him. I can tell you don’t want to have to do that all of the time. Krista, maybe you can talk to your Dad about this and he and your Stepmom can make some changes, so you don’t feel you have to watch him all of the time. Maybe they can help you come up with fair rules so you can get time alone in your room and time when you don’t have to watch him. Sometimes parents set new rules and they think everyone will be OK with them, but you might want to tell them that you aren’t happy with these. Then maybe you and Dad and Stepmom together can come up with some rules that could more fair.
Q: “I miss my Daddy. He doesn’t live here anymore and I want him to come back. Mommy wants me to love my new Stepdaddy. I don’t want to. Do I have to love him? If I love him, maybe my real Daddy will never come back because he will think I don’t love him anymore.” (Shari, age 7) A: Sheari, it sounds like you really miss your Daddy. But just because your Mommy is going to marry someone new, it does not mean that you need to feel like your real Daddy is being replaced. Having a Stepdad is going to be strange at first. You both need time to get used to each other! Just see if you can think of him as another grown-up in your life who will care about you and your Mom. There is room in all of our hearts to love more than one person, and if you learn to love your Stepdad over time, it won’t mean at all that you don’t love your real Dad. But for now, tell your Mom that you don’t feel comfortable calling him Daddy and that maybe all of you can decide on another name for him, or even use his first name. Let her read this. Maybe she can see that it is really all right not to call him Daddy, if you feel that strongly about it.
Q: “I miss my Daddy. He doesn’t live here anymore and I want him to come back. Mommy wants me to love my new Stepdaddy. I don’t want to. Do I have to love him? If I love him, maybe my real Daddy will never come back because he will think I don’t love him anymore.” (Shari, age 7) A: Wow, Annie. First you were the baby and now you get to be a middle sister, with younger ones. So, in one house you and your older sister live with your Mom and in the other house, your Dad and his new wife have a family. That’s a lot going on! I can understand that sometimes you want to be part of your Dad’s family. I think leaving Mom would make her sad and it would also make you sad. See, you get to have both choices in your life! Not many kids get to have two choices. They’re often stuck in just one family. In the family with Mom, you don’t have to “watch” the younger kids all the time, so you get a break, don’t you? Maybe you’re more worried that Dad doesn’t love you and your older sister as much because he doesn’t see you all the time like he does your little sisters. I bet if you were to ask him though, he would tell you the truth—that just because you and your older sister aren’t there all of the time, that he loves you all the same! Think you can ask him?
Just For: Teens ages 13+Q: “Is it wrong to want my parents to get back together again?”
Q: “My parents have been divorced for many years and now my Mom is getting remarried. I already had to get used to a new Stepmom when Dad got married, and now I have to deal with a new Stepdad too. Things get so confusing. When are all these changes going to stop? Is it wrong to want my parents to get back together again?” (Rachel, age 14) A: Hey Rachel, it’s very hard to have so many changes going on in your life. Just when you have gotten used to one thing, another change is happening. Well, no one says you have to like everybody. I’m sure you dream of your parents getting back together because then everything would be as it was and you wouldn’t have to get used to all of these new people. It sounds though like you did get used to your new Stepmom, so give your new Stepdad a chance; maybe you’ll get used to him and he can turn out to be OK to be with.
Q: “What do I do about this? I hated the fact that Mom was going to marry Daniel. I mean. I like Daniel, but he has this daughter, and, well, she’s really cute. Now she’s going to be my Stepsister. Are we really supposed to be like brother and sister? I don’t know what to do. If only Daniel and Mom weren’t getting married, I would want to date her. I can’t talk to anyone about this. I have been so upset I can’t concentrate on school and my grades are showing it.” (Michael, age 17) A: Hey Michael, wow that is tough! First of all, it is completely normal to be attracted to another person, and the fact that you aren’t really brother and sister is going to be hard. Yet, becoming your Stepsister now puts her into the “undatable” category. You know how sometimes we think we are attracted to someone and then later we realize it wasn’t what we thought it was? Well, that is why you two need to just become Stepsiblings. If when you are both older and grown and out of the house you realize you have feelings for one another, then you can deal with that. But for now, it will make it so difficult for everyone and for both of you. If you continue to feel conflict about this, ask your Mom or Dad if you can find a professional to help you deal with the transitions going on in your life. It’s really OK if you are having trouble with this; it happens to many kids who end up living together.
Q: “Dad wants me to like his new girlfriend. I hate her. I want my Mom back. It’s his fault she left and now she has to live far away so she can work. I stayed here to finish high school. My Stepmom is bossy and is trying to be my new ‘Mom’ and I don’t want to have anything to do with her. I am so miserable I want to run away.” (Jennifer, age 16) A: Oh Jennifer. You have been through so much! Of course you want your Mom back. You probably never wanted this divorce to happen and the hard part is that you cannot change it back to the way you want it. It’s very painful to lose a parent you love and you may be very angry at your Dad that he didn’t work harder on their marriage. Very often though there is so much that parents don’t talk about with their kids (even their teenage kids) and it may be that your Dad had many reasons for leaving that he cannot explain to you. You can feel very sad about your Dad and Mom no longer sharing the same house; it means so many changes for you that you didn’t ask for. Do you think you and Mom or you and Dad can talk about how hard this is for you? Maybe one of them (or both of them separately) can talk to you about it. You get to be unhappy with these changes and cannot be expected to just like the way things are working out. Sometimes new Stepmoms try too hard to be the replacement mother. If you can talk openly with your Dad, he may be able to talk with her to help her not try so hard because of course, no one can take your Mom’s place.
Just For: StepmomsQ: “Am I wrong to have feelings of jealousy or envy?”
Q: “My husband and I are getting along great. I love his 5-year-old son, but I don’t want to be with him all of the time during visitation. So often, when it’s just the two of them, I feel like I don’t fit in. I get jealous and envious. How can I deal with all of these awful feelings? I should be better than this.” A: Perhaps I can ease some of your frustration. It’s OK that you don’t want to be with his son all of the time. You need to be able to get away and do the things that make you feel like yourself (get together with friends, go to the gym, etc.). It’s not your job to always be a part of the father/kid dynamic. It is very hard to feel like the outsider, but it is the feeling most Stepparents have. Your husband and his son have a history you don’t share, even if the child is only 5! Yet you don’t want to run every time they are together either, or you will always feel left out. Perhaps you and your husband can talk about ways to include you when you are feeling on the “outside.” Explain to your husband that this is a normal feeling. Over time, the more you two can communicate with one another about the Stepfamily, and the more history you produce together as a family, the less you will feel so much on the outside.
Q: “I feel awful. I love my husband so much, I’ve never felt anything like this. But I know it hurts him that I don’t feel that way about his daughter. She’s a nice kid and I like her but I don’t love her. I feel that there is definitely something wrong with me. I can see how much she means to my husband and I want to feel the same way.” A: This is a problem that gets in the way so much of the time. Your expectation (and more importantly your husband’s expectation) is that because you love your husband you will automatically love his child. This is an unrealistic expectation of Stepfamily life! It’s as unrealistic as expecting that his daughter will automatically love you because your husband loves you so much. First of all, loving someone comes with time; it’s not a “given.” But even more importantly, some of the best Stepparent/Stepchild relationships are not about love at all. You cannot make someone love someone else, and it is not a reflection on either you or your husband. So, understand that you are not a terrible person if you don’t love your partner’s child, and your partner needs to understand that this pressure on you, on him and on the developing relationship will instead turn into anger and resentment over time. Both you and your husband need to let go of expecting love in this situation, as it is a set up for failure and hurt on both of your parts.
Q: “I thought we would all get along by now. It’s been one year and there is still so much arguing and conflict. When will it end?” A: Well, perhaps it will help you to know that the first two years of Stepfamily life is typically very turbulent. Everyone is adjusting to new roles and expectations. I don’t know how many kids you have but, if you are combining kids, there is so much adjusting going on in your new household. Your oldest may now be a younger sibling and may not like that position. The kids may have to share things; their rooms, their possessions, their time with you, and they don’t like it. With Stepfamily life, there is a long turbulent cycle that the family experiences and, of course, the more children that are being combined, the longer it may continue. But hang on, this eventually settles down. Work on building communication with each child separately, and continue to work on your relationship with your partner. Talk to the kids as a family about their experience in the new Stepfamily and give them a place to express any of their frustrations.
Q: “All my husband and I seem to do is take care of kids. Our kids come a rotating basis and it’s so frustrating; it’s soccer and piano lessons and homework, all of the time!. It’s nothing like it was when we were dating. Now all my husband and I seem to do is argue, usually about the kids! I am so sick of it.” A: My guess is that the arguing is not so much about the kids as about wanting the connection you felt when you decided that combining lives would be a good idea. You are both going to have to ask yourselves how you carved out time before you were married to spend time with one another. All couples have this problem, but Stepfamilies particularly need to remember to pay attention to and nurture the couple relationship. As your union is the newest relationship, it is the most fragile. It absolutely needs time and attention. Stepfamilies have a high failure rate for this very reason. Without attention to your coupleness, the relationship becomes about the details of life and the raising the kids, and the bond of the couple relationship weakens. Try to establish a “date night” and attempt to alter the visitations so that there is at least a one-day overlap so you and your husband can have time alone. And when you’re alone, talk about you two. It is essential.
Just For: StepdadsQ: “Isn’t it my job as the dad to discipline?”
Q: “When I married my wife, I felt so needed by her and Trish. I was so excited to have this wonderful family. Karen is so loving and nurturing, but she lets Trish get away with murder. When I want to impose a consequence, Karen thinks I’m too harsh and we get into so many arguments. She tells me to mind my own business, but isn’t it my job to discipline?” A: You don’t indicate here how old Trish is and how long you have been the Stepdad. You may want to be the one in authority and dish out the discipline but, as difficult as it may seem, it is never a good idea for the Stepparent to discipline the Stepchild, no matter how much you may believe they need it. If Trish is young, it may take months for her to accept your being able to discipline her. If she’s a teenager, it may never be accepted. Your disciplining will just result in more anger from both your Stepdaughter and your wife. Early in the new Stepfamily, it’s the parent who needs to impose the rules and the discipline; it’s the Stepparent’s job to support the parent. You might find that your wife is more receptive to your supporting her, particularly because she might be fearful of losing the love of her daughter while the new Stepfamily is being formed.
Q: “How do I get to know my Stepchildren? They are so busy with visitation to their Dad and their own activities I feel like a constant stranger in the house.” A: It is certainly difficult when the children aren’t around very much and you don’t have much time with them. If possible, see if you can ask them about their day, or offer to drive them to some of their activities. Perhaps you can help with a school project. Of course, if the children are little, you can help by reading a bedtime story or playing a game. It’s the little efforts that will make the biggest difference. And you have to give it time. Older kids aren’t so sure they want yet another adult “nosing” into their business, so take it slow, but continue to remain receptive and interested in them. Find moments when you can talk to them, even briefly. Over time, they will get that you are interested in them.
Q: “I married Irene. She has two daughters. I was so excited about my instant family, and later we had a son of our own. We’ve been a household for several years now. But more and more, I realize that my feelings for my Stepdaughters are different from my feelings for my son. I mean, I would literally give up my life for my son. I feel like a terrible and horrible person, these girls are adorable and I love them. Am I an evil Stepparent? “ A: This is one of the hardest things for Stepparents to acknowledge, as it taps into our feelings of not being loving enough, and that wicked Stepparent image rears its ugly head. The biological bond can often be so surprising and of course, it’s your first child. You’re the one and only with your son and that will bring up many powerful feelings. Not only that, but your Stepchildren have a father that they share a part of their lives with. Take heart, many Stepparents who care a great deal about their Stepchildren feel the same way. It’s normal.
Q: “Janet and her son seem to have this special language between them and I often feel like I don’t even have to be in the house, they wouldn’t miss me. Sometimes I’m sorry I took this step. Will I ever get used to being the outsider?” A: You were hoping that you would come into this family and be on equal footing, weren’t you? This is difficult to get used to. Janet and her son have a history that you don’t share, and they have their language and their mother/son bond, which you don’t share. It’s hard not feeling on the same page as they are but, of course, you can’t be. Share with Janet how hard it is and see if she can “let you in” a little more to the interaction or the special “code” language. Also, her son might be bonding more closely right now as he is not used to sharing his Mom time with someone else. While it’s hard, it is a normal cycle of the Stepfamily, and as time goes by, you can learn the language and your Stepson will become more used to you as part of the new family.
Just For: Biological ParentsQ: “Am I putting my daughter in the middle?”
Q: “I hate my ex. She was terrible to me and I cannot stand to hear her voice or to deal with her. I hate it when my daughter talks about her and I want to stop her from even mentioning her name. Then my daughter becomes upset with me. I am miserable! I don’t want to talk to either of them. I ask my daughter to ask her mother things so I don’t have to deal with her, but that is not working either. She tell me I’m putting her in the middle. Am I?” A: It is so difficult to go through the very painful feelings about your ex and not show them to your daughter, I know. Yet, this is really too much for your child to handle. If you, as an adult, are having trouble with it, imagine how difficult it is for her! She is being caught of you two. Look at her position if you can. She didn’t ask for this, and probably never wanted it. And now she has to worry that she is hurting your feelings and maybe her mother’s, too! It is so much pressure on her. She cannot be in the middle of your negative feelings toward your ex-spouse; it’s not fair for her and she will suffer in this role. As hard as it is, try to learn to deal with your ex as if it is a business arrangement. Therapy and support may be able to help you with setting limits and keeping it very business –like. You will have to deal with your ex for many years in one form or another, and the interactions will be less and less over time. You can help your daughter if you can learn to relate to your ex-wife, if only just about your daughter, and keep your daughter out of the power struggle by not making her a messenger between the two households.
Q: “What can I do to help my new wife love my son? I want her to love and care about him like I do. I know she likes him, but there must be something that I can do.” A: Actually, if your wife likes him, then be very glad. She can never feel about your son the way you do. You and your son are linked biologically. He is your flesh and blood. You will feel about your son the way you have never felt about another child. You probably don’t love your nieces and nephews or friend’s kids the same way you love your son. This biological link is so strong. When you and your new wife have a child, then she will have the experience of the biological link and you will share that experience together. But right now, let the relationship between your wife and your son develop. If she truly likes and cares about him and spends time with him, that is all that can be expected. Your fantasy of this becoming the family you wanted from your first marriage is an unfair expectation for both of you. This is a different family and your wife and son need to find their way to one another without the expectation that either of them will love one another. Since he’s little, he may “love” her, but he will always have the strongest link to his biological mother. So just stay out of the way, enjoy the fact that they like each other and let it evolve. When the pressure is off of all of you, you can enjoy the relationship that seems to be developing!
Q: “I wish I understood more what my kids are going through since their father and I divorced. Now both of us are in new relationships. Is this very hard for them?” A: Children often go through a lot of grief after a marriage ends. They will grieve the loss of a parent, even if that parent has regular visitation, as it will never be the same. Some kids find they have more time with a biologic parent after a divorce. When a new partner enters the scene, the child loses much of the attention from that parent. They may feel a loss of stability as so many changes are occurring around them and they don’t have much say or control. A divorce and remarriages may mean changes for them they are not prepared to make—a change in school or friends. And all children have a loss of the fantasy of their first family and how they wanted it to be. We can sometimes forget, particularly if we have moved on, that the child may still be going through some or all of these feelings. It may be in the way of their being able to accept a new Stepparent. Making room for and talking through these feelings with your kids may help them realize these feelings are normal.