Do you get so wrapped up in your stepcouple relationship that you ignore the kids? When you’re behind closed doors fighting …or the opposite…what are the kids doing? What are they thinking? Do they need your attention when you’re not available? What are their stories? Do you know… or do you care?

I ask only because I’ve been there! There were times when we just weren’t available to our kids due to our own desires…sad to say. I’m sure we’re all guilty at times. But from where I stand today…hindsight, of course… I think I could/should have been more sensitive and attentive to the kids’ feelings and needs. That may sound strange coming from one who strongly advocates for stepcouple bonding at all costs. But sometimes there are costs. There are ways that a stepcouple can have a balance of both – a rich and rewarding partnership as well as rich and rewarding relationships with the kids…his, hers, and theirs. I believe this balance is a goal worth working for…even though it’s not easy or even what you want at times.

Think about it. If you believe that the stepcouple is the foundation, heart, and soul of the stepfamily, it follows that whatever the adults do (and even think!) trickles down to the kids. Trust me, it just does! Therefore it’s up to the stepcouple to control what trickles down. If the stepcouple sends out the message that their relationship needs are all that matters, the kids will feel left out and resentful…and rightfully so. If the stepcouple sends out a different message that while they love each other very much, what really matters is the success and happiness of all the members of the stepfamily. This stepcouple will strive to develop a positive stepfamily culture.

A good way to address this as a stepcouple is TO THINK about what you want for your kids. Talk to each other. Ask yourselves “How do you want your kids to grow up and what memories of childhood do you want them to have?”

Some things our (grown) children still remember are: We always ate dinner together whether we liked it or not…we loved our big Christmas celebrations, but we didn’t like the thank you notes that our parents made us write… family vacations were really fun, but never enough…. we skied, went to the beach, and one time we all flew to New Orleans for the holidays…sometimes we’d get so angry at our stepparents…we wished they’d just go away and leave us alone…Dad and Mom spent a lot of time together out of sight…that was sort of weird…they used to go on trips together without us…we tried to be a regular family, but we really weren’t…there were good times and not so good times…

From the wisdom of experience and hindsight, I offer two thoughts for stepcouples to address as they travel on their stepfamily journey.

1. Stepcouples should think about how to balance stepcoupling and parenting/stepparenting demands. There are so many things you can do to include the children and make them feel that they are cared for and that they belong. The stepcouple relationship can only be enhanced by reaching out to the kids and respecting them for who they are.

2. Stepcouples should discuss and negotiate parenting roles and guidelines while coparenting. Begin by projecting into the future and imagine your kids’ feelings and stories they will carry with them as they grow. Will they feel that they were cared for adequately? What will they tell their friends, future partners and children about growing up in a stepfamily? How will you feel about the part you played in each child’s development? Is your stepcouple relationship something that you want your kids to model after? And lastly what kind of relationship do you want to have with the kids after they grow up?

Talking calmly as a couple and listening to what your partner has to say will pave the way for mutual decisions not only in your best interests but also your kids… whoever and wherever they are.

Susan Wisdom
Licensed Professional Counselor
February 2010

Join the discussion 8 Comments

  • Amanda says:

    We have the opposite problem. In fact, just this past week my husband and I have been trying to figure out how to focus more on our relationship and less on the kids. We never have time for each other because the kids’ needs monopolize everything. I know some of this is normal for anyone – step or biological – with children, but there is a limit to how much I can do and do and do for children who are not mine and who do not love me as they do their mom, without getting SOMEthing back. As we all know, getting recognition or appreciation from stepchildren is as rare as a shooting star, I know that the pressure of that (showing me appreciation) falls to my husband. So I don’t know what to do… we can’t neglect the kids and their needs, but we also can’t neglect our relationship and our needs. Most of the time it feels like a lose-lose balancing act.

  • Susan Wisdom says:

    I hear you! Good that you and your husband are aware of this frustration and talking about it. Can you just try to get away from the kids for romance and adult together time…if even for a short time. -a walk around the block, a long hug, a treat of some sort from each other… You deserve it as we all do. USE IT or you could lose it, I always say.

  • […] Have a look at her piece, “Your Needs, the Kids’ Needs–What’s a Stepcouple to Do?” […]

  • Susan Wisdom says:

    It’s not the QUANTITY of time you spend with kids and partners, but the QUALITY. Short, focused, genuine periods work just fine. Try it and see what you think.

  • Talia says:

    Here is my dilemma. We have his children (SD 14/SS 13) every other week. His daughter for a short period of time, the son for a week. When his children arrive, I feel as though I am put on the back burner. Everything then revolves around his children, specifically the son. I get frustrated which turns to resentment. I have a terrible relationship with his children (they ignore me and have very little to do with me) which makes being home stressful. I’ve two jobs so I am not home a lot (somewhat intentional). Any/all help would be welcome!

    • Susan Wisdom says:

      Sadly, it sounds like you have two lives-one alone and together with your husband and another dodging his kids and him when they visit. Do you have a desire to change this? If so, where to you think you can start. These kids are teenagers, so they’re not going to reach out to you or even respond to you easily or naturally. You could start by having a a conversation with yourself, talking with other stepmoms, as well as your husband …and when you’re ready offering an olive branch to your teenaged stepkids. I wish you all the best. It’s never too late.

  • Renee says:

    I have no problem with his kids, (ss/22,ss/20,sd/12,sd/7), Although I was not prepared to be dealing with them on any sort of regular basis as they lived the other side of the country from us. Then my SO dropped the bombshell that rather than making the move we intended, he felt it necessary (due to past health issues of his mother) that he wanted to move back to his home town, where his children also resided. We have been here just under a year, and he continues to travel out of town to work, and I offered to take his young daughters every other weekend even while he is away, to keep a level of consistency in their lives, and I mostly enjoy my time with them…when he is away. When he is home and his children are here my life is hell. Every second revolves around the kids, and he gets very angry and defensive if I mention anything that would allow us a little time to ourselves while they are here…such as a 20 minute hot tub on our own. I do not enjoy the hot tub with young children as it defeats the purpose in my mind to go soak and relax. I take them in often when I have them, but I always also make time to do so on my own as well.

    Our most recent argument was about this very thing. He usually is only away for 3 weeks at a time, but this time has been away since the 1st of January, we did manage to see each other for a week during this 3 month period of his absence, but it was a very long haul for both of us. When he finally arrived home (after driving for 40 hours straight) in the early hours of the morning, we had very little time before he had to run and see his mother and his children began arriving for the holiday weekend (all 4). The first evening he and his eldest son decided to have a hot tub, I opted out as I was exhausted from the long night, awaiting his arrival home. I figured we’d have ours together the next night, as we had planned to on his arrival, but was too late by the time he actually got home. By the next evening all 4 of his children were here, and when the subject came up, even his 7 year old daughter said…how about we go in the hot tub with the boys and then you two can have some alone time. She even gets it! But he was adamant that he wanted to go with the kids. I was disappointed, but I would survive. When he later asked me about it and why I was so quiet, I told him that I had been looking forward to that time together and was just a little disappointed. His reaction is always so extreme and volatile, he tells me I’m ridiculous (as well as other choice phrases) and that I am jealous of his kids, and he cant see why I don’t understand that he hasn’t seen his kids for 3 months and want time with them and that I will have time with him when they leave. Although I respond and tell him I do understand, I find it hurtful when he belittles or dismisses my wants and feelings whenever his children are here. He is always extremely defensive with me regarding his children, and I really am beginning to resent all the things I do with and for them while he is away. I put his older daughter in dance and take her to all her classes, and will be taking the younger daughter to ball when her mother is busy, on top of having them every other weekend.

    No matter how many times I try to explain that my disappointment and hurt and anger ended up being about how he dismisses me and my feelings, he insists that I am impossible and that I created a huge argument because he wanted to have a hot tub with his children. I end up feeling just like he says, ridiculous and petty and jealous…when I know I am not…that issue became his treatment of me and not what he insists it is. This is a constant repeated scenario with him and I am at the end of my rope. There is no reasoning with him ever, with respect to his children in general either, as far as bed times, behaviour and discipline etc. I have been told that it is not my place to discipline, but I feel when he doesn’t correct them on certain things, then I need to, to keep some level of comfort for myself and my expectations of how our home is run. I also have them when he isn’t here, so am I to just let them do what they want with no discipline then? It is such a tremendously touchy area for us, that I dread when I know his children are coming. Our argument was so extreme this time (and has been before as well) that I left our home and went to stay the night with a girlfriend, so that I didn’t have to listen to him mutter under his breath at me or outright belittle my feelings, or if the children were present, ignore me totally. This made him so angry that he told me he was going to his mothers for Easter, because he wasn’t going to let me ruin their holiday. There would have been NO easter if I had not done the easter bunny shopping, and meal planning and birthday cake planning (for his son who was also having a birthday). When I returned home I stayed out of their way and in our room or in my office, except for when they were away at his mothers. Then, I noticed that he sent the younger girls off with their older brothers for a few hours. What happened to not giving up his time with them? Wow, now if he weren’t totally ignoring me and I wasn’t feeling as if I had to stay out of their way, so as not to ruin their Easter, we could be spending that time together. But no, he is angry, so he finds something else to do and leaves shortly after the kids left. I have two grown daughters as well as 3 (almost 4) year old twin grandsons, and had been an “empty nester” for several years when we met, and going from that lifestyle, to dealing with young children again, was somewhat of an adjustment, but I feel that I am doing my best to embrace that and be a good step-mother and I feel as though my heart is crushed every time he reacts this way. I don’t need pats of the back for what I do for his children, but I do feel less than “unimportant”, when he becomes this angry and defensive with me. I believe we can and should have time together whether they are here or not. But he sees this as selfish of me. It is almost beginning to sicken me at how adamant he is about his time with his children and NOT giving me any time with him when I ask.

  • Susan Wisdom says:

    Gosh, I feel badly for you Renee. Sounds like hubby is pretty walled off from you and your stepcouple relationship. It’s hard to say why, but if I were you I’d try to get him to talk a little about his feelings and what he wants out of this relationship. You could tell him gently what you’d like in the way of spending more time alone with him. If he still resists and won’t open up at all, you might think about yourself and how you can get your needs met. You deserve better, I think. He may not be able to meet your needs or make you happy.
    Good luck and best to you.

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