Blended families can be challenging. However, they can also be the source of much joy.
If your spouse has children from another relationship (66% of second marriages involve children from previous marriages), merging your families takes patience and work.
You might wonder if it is normal not to like your stepchildren, and the answer is a resounding yes. It is entirely normal to have negative feelings about your spouse’s children, and it is even normal to be contemplating divorce due to stepchildren.
However, a problematic relationship with your stepchildren does not have to ruin your marriage.
Find out what you can do to improve the situation.
- Signs that your stepchildren are having difficulty adjusting to your marriage to their mother or father include acting out, your spouse upset and in the middle of you and the stepchildren, resentment, and a stressful home life.
- Therapy for the entire family or just for you alone can help solve problems with stepkids.
- Try not to take on a parental role with your stepchildren, unless they specifically ask for it.
- Be aware of any role you might play in the conflict with your stepchildren, and think about how you can change that.
- Make sure there are clear rules and boundaries.
- Keep your expectations low.
- Be honest with your spouse and with yourself about the situation.
- Take steps to strengthen your marriage.
- Support your spouse's relationship with the kids, the kids’ relationship with the other parent, and strive to have a relationship with the other parent yourself.
- Don’t take it personally. Remember, they are just children.
Signs You and Your Stepchildren Are Struggling to Get Along
There are signs that your relationship with your stepchildren has room for improvement, including:
- They act out. Your stepchildren may misbehave, talk back to you, or break the rules. They may not respect you and demonstrate that vocally and with actions.
- Your personalities clash. It’s not unusual to find that you and your stepchildren have personalities that do not mesh well together or a lack of common interests.
- Your spouse is put in the middle. When you and your stepkids have conflict, your spouse is often stuck in the middle, struggling with conflicting loyalties.
- They resent you. Your stepkids may feel that you are keeping their parents from reconciling or somehow are at fault for the divorce.
- You resent them. You may feel they have negatively impacted your marriage and caused you much personal pain.
- Your home life is constantly stressful. Discord with your stepchildren can make it hard to feel comfortable in your own home.
Steps to Take If You Think You Hate Your Stepchildren
If you have an uncomfortable relationship with your stepchildren, it doesn’t have to mean the end of your marriage. The following steps can help you find a way to coexist and even heal your relationship.
If at all possible, go to family therapy with your spouse and stepchildren. A therapist can help you resolve conflict, implement strategies to improve communication and dive deep to uncover the root of the problems.
If your spouse and/or stepchildren refuse to go to therapy, see a therapist yourself or go together with your spouse. Mental health support can give you the tools you need to cope with the situation and manage how you react to the behavior.
A therapist can also help you understand normal developmental stages in children and what to expect. Therapy cannot be emphasized enough in blending a family.
Don’t Try to Be Their Parent
As an adult in one of your stepkids’ homes, you deserve respect, but everyone should be clear that you are not their parent and do not unilaterally make important decisions about their lives.
Parenting with stepchildren can be tricky - some stepparents are more involved than biological parents and have been for years. Others have recently been introduced to the family. You and your spouse must decide your role in the stepchildrens’ lives, and include the stepchildren in that decision if age and maturity allow.
Ensure the stepchildren know that you have no intention of trying to replace a mom or dad and that you will never try to replace their other parent.
If personalities clash, try to meet the stepchild where they are. If they like communicating by text, send them reels and text. If they love basketball, learn how to shoot hoops with them and know all the NBA lingo.
Let the stepchildren guide the connection. Your job is to meet them by identifying common interests and showing up.
Think About Your Role in the Conflict
Step back and look at what is triggering you and how you respond. What role do you play in the conflict? Are you amping things up with your responses? Time and space are two gifts that you can give yourself before responding to triggers with your stepchildren.
Take responsibility for your own behavior and think about how you, as an adult in the situation, can make changes. It’s human to make mistakes, and if you do, apologize for them. This not only shows the kind of person you are, but it also models the behavior you hope for in them.
Divorce and remarriage can create a lot of emotional upheaval and confusion about boundaries. Work with your spouse to create house rules that everyone must follow and explain them to the children.
Create a united front with your spouse on rule enforcement. Ideally, do this before you merge households. If there are clear rules, everyone knows what is expected of them.
Have Low Expectations
If you set the bar too high and envision a cozy, happy, blended family, you are setting expectations that may not be achievable. Instead, try to have very low expectations so you aren't disappointed if you don’t have the desired outcome.
Be Honest With Your Spouse and Yourself
You may hesitate to tell your spouse how their children make you feel. You may even be reluctant to admit it to yourself. It’s important to talk openly about how the situation makes you feel. When talking to your spouse, use “I” words and talk about YOUR feelings.
Try not to bash their children.
Things will never improve if you can’t communicate about them.
Ask your spouse for help in improving your relationship with the kids. Your spouse is the person most likely to be able to help you connect with their kids and provide the backup you need.
Separate the Marriage From the Behavior
When you live in a home with your spouse and their children (either part-time or full-time), all of the separate relationships overlap and impact one another.
If you genuinely are considering a divorce because of the stepkids, try to separate your relationship with your spouse from your relationship with the children.
Work on strengthening your marriage, deepening your trust, and finding time for each other. If you can improve your relationship and your bond, it makes it easier to work through problems involving the children.
Support the Other Relationships in the Family
It is essential for your spouse to maintain a civil and cooperative parenting relationship with the other parent. It is also necessary for the kids to have a healthy relationship with their other parent.
And, if at all possible, you should try to have a civil relationship with the other parent because studies show the family as a whole is more likely to function better if you can manage this. All of those components are necessary for the family to function.
But successful stepparenting requires all of these relationships to exist and be functional and at least civil in nature. Think about ways you can support and nurture these other relationships.
Don’t Take It Personally
As poorly as your stepchildren might behave, it is important to remember they are children who have lived through a divorce and had to learn to cope with changes to their family. Studies show that divorce has a negative impact on children and can result in disruptive behaviors.
They may feel abandoned by one parent and may feel they have to compete with siblings for parental attention. They would likely react poorly to anyone stepping into the family as a stepparent, so it is not about you specifically.
Adjusting to a blended family is hard for everyone in the situation. There are many ways to work through your negative feelings about your stepchildren so that you can remain married and improve your relationship with your stepkids.
Blended families come with their unique set of challenges, but understanding and addressing them can lead to stronger bonds.
Recognizing signs of conflict with stepchildren and taking proactive measures, such as therapy and clear, unified boundaries, can pave the way for harmony. It's essential to approach the situation with empathy, remembering that every member is adjusting to the new family dynamics.