“My new stepchildren treat me like a doormat. My own kids are starting to talk back to me, too. What can I do to improve the situation?”
You can start with a discussion with your spouse. Let him or her know that you do not appreciate the way in which you are being treated by the children. The children should be aware that you are a team and that none of the children from either parent can mistreat either of you. Often, it is the children who take control of a relationship, especially if the marriage is a second, third or fourth one.
(Read more about this in my book, Divorce: It’s All About Control — How to Win the Emotional, Psychological and Legal Wars in Chapter Four, “Who’s in Control: You or Them?” In that chapter I point out that there are six basic children “types” — some of the types can overlap — and they often manipulate the parents by behaving and reacting in certain ways. There is the “opportunist”, the “dualist”, the “plotter”, the “trickster”, the “navigator”, and the “resilient”.)
Once you begin to understand the different types, both you and your spouse can seek counsel on how to handle the types that best characterizes your children. Blending families can be tricky and messy, but if you let the children know you and your spouse are in control, not them, the antics will hopefully stop. The next step, after your frank discussion with your spouse, is to have an open discussion with the children. If you do not achieve satisfactory results, seek a neutral therapist — not yours or your spouse’s — and get to work on airing differences and setting ground rules. Things should change, if not rapidly, gradually.
Stacy D. Phillips is a co-founder of Blank Rome LLP, which specializes in high-profile family law matters. She is a Certified Family Law Specialist by the State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization.