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The Evolution of The Step Family: As the Kids Grow Into Adults

By February 21, 2016 No Comments


I’ve been recently asked to write more about how to deal with adult stepchildren. This post will be the first, but not the last. There is not a whole lot of information out there on later stage stepmother struggles. When you get married you marry or make a commitment to your spouse with the intention of “forever” or you enter into some form or ideal of permanency in your relationship.  The kids have probably figured out by now that you are here to stay. That then would mean that  as the relationship “ages” so too will the children.  The littles become bigs and they eventually grow up and in due time, move out.  In theory, there are a lot of things to look forward to here. Empty nesting where it’s just you and your spouse and you get to focus on just the two of you. You’ve weathered the storms and now you get to see the rainbows.  Success at  last!  Or is there?

Patricia Papernow has written about the developmental stages of a stepfamily.  The stepfamily takes time to “gel” and become more of a cohesive unit. That can take anywhere from 4 – 12 years. Some stepfamilies take less time, some take more time, some never get the cohesive unit stage and some break up. You deal with defining rules, roles, and relationships and none of that is easy. It is A LOT of work. Through out that time the intimate couple relationship gets tested and re-tested by the kids and the ex and all of the other dynamics experienced stepmamas already know about.  If you and your spouse have made it through all (or most) of the myriad twists and turns that get tossed your way-great.  If not, there is work to be done. 


Bottom line is your intimate relationship.  He HAS to have your back and you HAVE to have his, you have to face stepfamily life as a team.  The intimate relationship needs the most work and needs the most attention when you face the odds against you. Focussing on the health and wellbeing of the couple is the only way that you can sustain a stepfamily until the children become independent and move on and out. The clearest way he can communicate that he has your back to his children (young and old) is that they MUST respect you. If you still don’t have respect then it’s more than time your partner has had a sit down conversation with the “kids” where by he makes it clear that if they disrespect you they disrespect him. If he hasn’t done that or is unwilling to do that it is time you have a conversation with your spouse that if he doesn’t or can’t have that conversation with his kids, then that devalues you and your relationship. He must also make it clear that his commitment is to you, now that they are standing on their own two feet (and as long the post secondary education expectations and commitments are  cleared up). Then know, it is your home and you can set the rules on who is welcome and the behaviour that will be allowed or not allowed into your home.  You no longer have dependent children who need you to care for them. They don’t have to be over, especially if their behaviour is more in line with adolescent behaviour. They are also adults who can be told that there behaviour needs to reflect that they are adults. Even as adults, your stepkids don’t need to like you but respect you they MUST.

It is also important to keep in mind that you must be gentle on yourself and be okay with a distant relationship with your stepkids if it keeps you emotionally, mentally and spiritually stable and feeling safe.  If nothing else,  know that as they continue to grow and experience life which brings love and loss and maybe even parenthood they gain insight and awareness that only comes with age.

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