Dear Barb—Stepmother Syndrome

Dear Barb:

Hi, I am in my mid-thirties and have never been married or had children.  I met this fantastic guy last year and we are talking about moving in together.  He is divorced and has two children, ages six and nine, and he has 50/50 custody.  I have gotten along great with the kids, but I haven’t seen them too much.  Greg seems to want to spend time alone with them and I am okay with that.  Once we are living together, though, I will be spending more time with his children.  I have heard a lot of stories about some of the difficulties that stepmothers experience and I want to avoid these pitfalls if at all possible.  We are also talking about having our own children at some point and I want us all to be a family.  Do you have any advice on how I can avoid being seen as the “wicked stepmother?” Thanks so much, Alexis.

Hello Alexis:

Congrats to you for finding a great guy.  Wonderful that you are aware of a potentially demanding situation you are stepping into.  Being informed of the pitfalls and working to avoid them is a step in the right direction.  Over 60% of married people with stepchildren have disagreements over their children.  It is essential that you take a step back and allow your partner to parent his children.  It may not be the way you would parent, but they are his children.  In saying that it is important that the children not disrespect you.  If you are having a problem with the way the children are interacting with you, then you need to speak to your partner alone, not in front of the children.  It will take time, but you must feel comfortable in your role as a stepmother.  Boundaries must be set by you and your stepchildren.  Do not expect everything to be smooth sailing from the beginning, it will take time to work through the challenges.

You could be faced with feelings of resentment from the children, as they may feel you are trying to replace their biological parent.  Try not to react personally to these feelings, give the children time to adjust and accept you in their lives.  Another common issue in stepfamilies is that the children may be reluctant to bond with you, as they fear you will leave.  These children have been through a divorce, so they have already felt abandoned.  It will take a while for them to trust you.  When setting house rules, do not establish them without the cooperation of your partner.  Initially the children will likely only accept rules from their father.  Once you have established your role in the children’s lives they will be more accepting of your boundaries and expectations.

This is a workable situation which can be extremely rewarding for everyone if you give it time, and do not set your expectations too high.  Best of luck in the future Alexis.

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