I had been divorced 4 years when I met the man of my dreams and decided to remarry. We both brought children from our first marriages to the relationship. I had a 12 year old daughter and a 10 year old son and he had a 10 year old daughter. We were pretty sure that with their ages being so similar, we had it made! How could kids not like each other right?
Well, we were right about the kids. That wasn’t the issue. My new step-daughter, Kim, had the previous 7 years with her daddy all to herself. When he exercised his parenting time, his attention was 100% on her, and she liked it that way for sure! So when all of a sudden her “time with Dad” became “time with the new family,” she didn’t think that was so hot – and I got the blame for it.
How dare I steal her father’s heart and distract him from his clear parental priority! Not to mention if she actually enjoyed spending time with me then she knew it was a blatant betrayal of her mother who made it very clear that she didn’t care much for “the new wife.” I understood that completely and didn’t blame her. After a long first marriage of my own, it didn’t matter that I was glad it was over it still hurt when he moved on to someone else. I understood how my new husband’s ex felt but it didn’t help matters with Kim.
I would try to talk with my husband about it and was surprised at first when he reacted very defensively. He would jump to my step-daughter’s defense and try to poke holes in my frustrations. Then it dawned on me that he viewed his daughter as an extension of himself and felt very helpless to impact the situation.
Kim was never outright cruel to me, mostly just ignored me and did lots and lots of eye rolling. OK, I confess I wanted to stick my tongue out at her several times but restrained myself. But I digress.
She would constantly let me know that she did NOT want me in her life. If there was an issue at school that she was discussing with her father and I would walk into the room, she’d stop talking. When my husband told her to keep going she’d say, “I’m just not comfortable talking with HER here.” Lucky for me, my husband was always in my corner and would jump to my defense. He would then spend 10 minutes talking to her about our new family and how we’re all in this together, etc., etc. Bless his heart. If you are in this situation or one like it, before you even start to plan how to handle it, make sure you’re on the same page as your spouse.
So, what to do?
At the end of the day, take the high road – always. Remember that this is a CHILD that is being forced to adapt to a situation they didn’t ask for. It’s HARD! So cut them some slack. The most important thing I found that helped me was letting go of expectations. I so wanted Ki and I to hang out and be buddies. I hoped to be a positive voice in her life that wasn’t part of the drama between her parents and I had to accept that it just wasn’t going to happen. That was hard for me. But once I let go of the desire for things to be different than they were, it allowed me to accept the current situation in a whole new way.
I realized that Kim needed to be where she was. Someday things between us might change but the most powerful thing I could do for her was give her unconditional love. I didn’t need to be a doormat, but I could continually reinforce that I was on her side. It is not the step-parent’s role to discipline so that helps. We had a counselor confirm for us that the natural parent should handle all discipline and the job of a step-parent was to “not make the child miserable.” He told me to stop trying so hard. Can you imagine? Seriously? You’re letting me off the hook? Wow. How liberating that was!
You should NOT be trying harder than the child to make your relationship flourish! If they won’t meet you half way, IT’S OK!! Stop beating yourself up and be a good role model for the child. They’ll learn far more from what you DO than from what you SAY!
And hang in there. Kids do eventually leave home.