By: Susan Adams, M. Ed.
Don’t take it personally if your stepchildren don’t like you. This is, in fact, usually the case. In the beginning kids tend to be pleased or tolerate their parent’s interest in a new adult. If this interest leads to marriage then it no longer matters how wonderful that new adult may be, he or she will most likely be rejected by the children.
It may happen but is extremely unusual, for the stepchildren to accept the stepparent from the beginning.
The very existence of the stepparent in the same hour with the stepchildren is enough to undermine the relationship.
What seems to matter is that the stepparent is present and the parent in whose place he or she rests, is absent. This makes a constant reminder that the original family can never be restored.
So—don’t take the reactions of your stepchildren personally. It is related to the situation, not to you. You can’t replace anyone’s parent. Your role is to be another adult in the family who is interested in the stepchildren’s welfare and may assume parental responsibilities if the biological parent is absent. However, the latter only when delegated by the biological parent.
Realize that the development of spontaneous feelings takes time. Respect must be expected by the biological parent of his/her children for you–and tolerance.. But the real feelings come later. The absent parent’s name must be mentionable–this eases the pressure on the stepchildren.
In order to like the stepparent, the child’s relationship with the parent of the same sex, is brought into question. Children worry about being disloyal toward the absent parent when they feel affection for the stepparent or even when they accept affection from the stepparent.
Encourage children to go right on loving the absent parent. Assure them that there is plenty of love to go around and that it is possible to love many people at the same time.
Demonstrate this to them as they watch you love many people–their biological parent–your children if you have them–your parents–and your friends–and any nieces and nephews and so on.
Keep the conversation open by articulating what you are feeling and what you perceive is going on. For example, “Alice”, I know that I can never take your mom’s place. I would never try. However, I hope that one day we can be friends when you are ready.”