The title basically says it all. If you look deeper into it, that is. Your spouse is your stepchild. What do I mean? They are inseparable. Your spouse had children before he or she met you. They are dependent on him or her and should, and hopefully will, always be their parents’ first priority. If a new spouse cannot accept that, in my humble opinion (IMHO as the new generation says), the relationship is doomed.
But like the title says, what if you “dislike” your stepchildren? There is a lot there. What if your spouse also dislikes the children? Yes, it happens. Parents and children grow apart. But for the stepparent, as a divorce lawyer who has seen my share of stepparent and stepchild relationships, the stepparent must be a “stepback” parent. The stepparent cannot be the primary disciplinarian, instructor, and guidance counselor. The parent must be primary, or things get askew. Sure, there are exceptions, and I am by no means a psychologist. But we often see children desperately wanting their parent to be their parent and treating the stepparent as the adversary (even if the stepparent is actually their best advocate).
So what to do? First, if you really not only dislike the stepchildren but can’t stand them, please consider whether the relationship is worth it and will survive over time. Seek individual therapy and think about the long term. Not only can a bad relationship with stepchildren be uncomfortable, but it can also get worse as children get older. And that places the parent at true risk of having to choose between spouse and children. What a horrible dilemma.
But if the choice has been made, and you decide to try your best to make it work, despite disliking the stepchildren, you have an immense task ahead, and I don’t envy you. There will be times when the children want to do things, alone, with their parent. Let them. Let them sooner, or realize how rude that maybe and that you should be included. Their parent may choose you and love you, but they did not choose you. They have to learn who you are and see for themselves why their parent chose you and loves you. And hopefully, they will, of their own volition. Certainly, your spouse should support the minimum requirements of decorum and respect, but the balance is to let children grow into a new situation. This is their entire universe. As one judge I appeared before years ago put it, “Just as the children’s empire is imploding, to make it even harder, a new emperor is installed.”
So be patient, hope for the best, and love your partner. Kids grow up, graduate, and move on (in most cases). Then you will be left with memories of how you handled things, and you want to feel good about that. Even if it is never acknowledged, being a supportive, loving, and considerate stepparent is one of the most important jobs a new spouse can have. In today’s world of new family arrangements, being an adult takes on a new meaning. We all get only one childhood. Let’s do our very best to give every child the best one we can.
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