Two different stories of early angst:

We loved having our mom all to ourselves before she remarried. It was just the 3 of us. We were close.

After the marriage, everything changed. Sometimes we’d get her to ourselves, but more often than not she was with him and our stepsiblings. Whenever anything went wrong in our stepfamily, our mom had to put out the fire. That was her job. She had to care for and support everyone, which meant spending precious time away from us. We got a raw deal!

…from 2 biological sons

Some days being with my stepdaughter was great! We’d talk, laugh, and make up stories. I’d get swept up into feelings that we were connected. We liked each other. It felt like family. But when my husband came home, it was all over. I immediately got the cold shoulder. I felt awkward and left out. I couldn’t get a word in edgewise. I’d usually go into the kitchen to cook or clean counter tops. That’s where I belonged.

.…from a stepmom

While the adjustment pains are hard, fortunately you learn as you go along. And so does everyone else in the family. If only I knew then what I know now!

With the gift of hindsight, I offer tips and strategies to deal with the adjustment pains:

  • Parenting and stepparenting is not a popularity contest. Just because stepkids turn a cold shoulder doesn’t mean you’re a failure, a bad stepparent, not doing your job well, or not likable. It probably means they’re angry, sad, confused and they’ll get over it in time. Let it go.
  • Continue to get to know your stepchildren and visa versa. Don’t be scared and overeactive if they lash out. Remember they’re adjusting too. Deal with the problem(s) appropriately at a good time when reason and logic can be applied.
  • Allow time with your own biological children to bond and to help them with their adjustment pains and losses.
  • Encourage spouses to make a point to include each other in the parents-children dyads. Hugs and kisses all around when they walk through the door. Don’t leave anyone out.
  • Do your work to be the best parent-stepparent-spouse you can be. Provide a positive role model, be fair, and take the high road as often as you can.
  • Take care of yourself, so you can work on the above in a healthy way.

While stepcoupling and stepparenting is the most challenging script you’ll ever take on, it can also be the most rewarding. One day at a time–you have the opportunity to build a new family that everyone can grow into and learn to feel comfortable in.

What are your hardest adjustment pains? Who in your family is adjusting well, and who is having problems fitting in and feeling comfortable? How can you understand and help them?

Susan Wisdom, LPC
May 2008

Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • V. says:

    Although my two step-children (now 12 and 13) are great kids, well-behaved and have as of yet (18 months) to give me any type of problem, I constantly find myself jealous of my husbands time with them. They are not often at our house, as they are very active in soccer. At the same time, I have issues with my 16 year old daughter who lives at home fulltime (dad passed away four years ago). I see his children as perfect, and mine is defiant.

    I feel guilty of my jealousy over the time my husband spends both away and at home when we have his two kids. I don’t have a clue as to how to maturely deal with these very immature feelings?

  • Susan Wisdom says:

    I think this is common. As time goes on you will probably gain more security in your stepcouple and stepfamily, and your feelings of his kids “being better than your kids” will hopefully fade away over time. I remember these feelings in the beginning very well. It’s difficult to form stepfamilies when kids are acting out their insecure teen years.

    Hang in there – don’t give up.
    Best regards,

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