As one of the most common and also most distressing issues step-couples bring to counselling are the difficulties that arise as a result of stepchildren displaying challenging behaviours and their bio parent being unwilling or unable to effectively deal with this, I thought that a few articles on this topic might be helpful to you.
The main issues I'd like to discuss are when stepchildren:
1. Refuse to accept their dad's choice of new partner.
2. Are disrespectful.
3. Won’t toe the line.
4. Make their stepmum’s life a misery.
Before addressing these issues let me say that whilst I DO consider listening to, understanding and accepting children’s thoughts and feelings to be very important and firmly believe that children’s concerns, insecurities and fears deserve acknowledgment, consideration and respect I DO NOT approve of allowing children to make life-choices on behalf of their parent, emotionally blackmail their parent into doing what they want them to do and holding them at ransom with threats of: “If you don’t do what I WANT, I am going to withdraw my love from you/go and live with my mum/will never see you again/will hate you forever”…and so on….
Having said this, let’s now take a look at the first of the above points:
CHILDREN WHO REFUSE TO ACCEPT THEIR DAD’S CHOICE OF NEW PARTNER:
Naturally, children who refuse to accept the new woman in their father's life present a difficult challenge not only to their stepmum but also to their father as this will cause him to feel emotionally pulled in two different directions. Whilst some dads who find themselves in such a dilemma will be so fearful of losing his children’s affection that he'll actually allow his children to drive his new partner away, others take a very different, and in my opinion, far more appropriate stance.
Just as they would not allow their children to make decisions on their behalf that require adult experience and maturity such as their choice of career, investment property, whether or not they should open their own business, build a new house, etc it is equally unreasonable to give their children the power to decide whether they can or cannot partner with the woman of their choice. It is not only inappropriate but also damaging to give children of any age the power to make decisions that are totally outside their realm of experience and responsibility, that are far beyond their capacity and that will have a significant impact on other’s lives. Far better than giving their children control over their choice of partner is to invest their energy in helping their children accept the new woman in their lives.
The following steps are helpful for those who find themselves in such a situation:
§ Explain to your children that you have an adult life that includes hopes, dreams and desires of an adult nature that are healthy, natural and, basically, are not open to negotiation.
§ Listen carefully to your children’s concerns and try to identify whether they might be driven by insecurity, immaturity, fear, jealousy or (perhaps) your ex-partner’s hostile influence.
§ Having established the root of your children's concerns, address each one of them.
§ Assure the child that your new partner has no intention of replacing their 'real' mother.
§ Make it clear to the child that you do not expect them to love your new partner but absolutely require them to treat her with respect.
§ Address any inappropriate behaviour your children may be showing towards your partner as immediately as possible.
§ Regularly spend some time - that does not include your partner - with each of your children.
§ Assure your children continually that your love for your partner is different to the love you have for them and that you have plenty of love to go around.
§ Be aware that your children will need time to get to know your new partner and to adjust to the new circumstance.
§ Be aware that children will divide and conquer, given half an opportunity.
§ Never give your kids the impression that they hold enough power to drive your partner away.
§ Be kind, sensitive and patient but firm and consistent in all your ways.
§ Be sure to deal with any disagreements you may have with your partner outside the hearing of your children.
§ Be determined and do what it takes to stand united with your partner.
Remember that patience is the name of the game. Most children, if handled with due respect and care will eventually come around to accepting their father's choice of partner. Just take it easy, don't get discouraged if things don't move as quickly as you would like and allow things to take as natural a course as possible.