It’s true that children should respect their elders and appreciate their parents. This is an area where parents may occasionally run into difficulty with their children, but the issue seems to become even more intense in the case of stepparents.
It is a touchy area, because most stepparents want to be liked and respected by their partner’s children. However, the step-parenting relationship is different than being a biological parent. You cannot demand to be treated in a particular way, because that will only exacerbate an already difficult situation.
If the children instinctively like you, respect and appreciation are generally not issues. Usually when they are, it is because of underlying tension between the stepparent and the stepchildren. Sometimes an ex-partner is resentful of the new spouse, and the children show their loyalty by being cool to the new partner.
Alternatively, the children may resent the newcomer, if they have had a period when they had Mom or Dad all to themselves. Sometimes the stepparent tries too hard to be a parent, to be accepted, or to have some control over the stepchild. This will create resistance in the child, who already has a mom and a dad, and does not want a third one! It is so important to try to view the situation from the child’s perspective.
Most children want their parents to be together, and unless a parent is deceased, they do not necessarily want their parent to find a new partner. When the new person is introduced to the children, it is usually as Mommy or Daddy’s ‘friend’. They seem to be able to handle the idea of a friend. I think if stepparents thought of themselves as friends of the stepchildren, and acted that way, that a mutually respectful parenting relationship might evolve.
It is important to respect the wishes of the biological parent in a blended family. Criticizing how the bio parent is parenting can be a time bomb. The biological parent may have a co-parenting arrangement with the other parent, with agreements about how the children are to be raised. If a newcomer tries to alter that plan, that can create pain and tension for all involved.
The stepchildren are not there to meet your emotional needs. Try not to take things personally. You are the adult and do not want to be in conflict with your partner’s children. Each of you has the right to raise your children as you like.
It is wise to sort out these issues before living together. If there is disagreement, seek professional help rather than just closing your eyes and jumping in. The children’s wellbeing is the top priority.
It is also important that children be involved in discussions about the role the new adult is to play in their lives. If they are involved and have input in these discussions, they are more likely to co-operate. Blending a new family is an extremely delicate process, and so it is best to proceed slowly, gently, and with a willingness to be flexible.
Gwen Randall-Young is an author and award-winning psychologist. For permission to reprint this article, or to obtain books, CDs or MP3s, visit www.gwen.ca. Follow Gwen on Facebook for inspiration.