Upended, Then Blended: A Stepkid’s Perspective

I find that a lot of the children I teach have the extra added burden of one parent speaking negatively about the other or asking incessant questions about a new partner.  Some (quite a few) become emotionally coerced into retaliatory behaviors trying to please one or the other parent.

I do not think anything is wrong with finding love the second or third or fourth or umpteenth time around, but (speaking as a former stepchild and current pseudo-stepparent), parents should be much more proactive in the way that they go about beginning relationships and ultimately allowing new adults into their children’s lives. It all could be a lot less traumatic if more parents looked at it from their child’s perspective.  So I’ve compiled a list of…shall we say guidelines for your consideration.

Talk to your child(ren) about the changes that are happening.  Kids understand a lot more than you think, and what you don’t fill in they will fill in for themselves.  If you give them an age-appropriate heads up before major changes take place, you’d save yourself some headaches and counseling down the line.

Introduce the new person into your life slowly.  Please, please, please, please, please don’t let your child wake up one morning to a strange person walking around your home.  That may seem extreme, but really it’s what most people do–move into a serious relationship where a stranger suddenly has power over the child in the household.  New partners are like vegetables to kids–they have to try the person multiple times to acquire a taste, then liking for, the new cuisine.

Don’t get caught up–manage your time.   The number one reason why children hate the new guy or lady is because they feel that they’ve been abandoned-that you have chosen the other person over them.  Give your children the attention that they need and deserve.  Don’t be so “in love” that you forget to be a parent.

Respect your child’s feelings; then require them to respect yours.  Your child has a right to his feelings.    You also have a right to yours.  Allow him to express himself, then reassure him that you still love him.  At the same time, voice your expectations of respect for your feelings.  Talk it out, come up with reasonable family expectations and require that your child be polite even if he doesn’t like your new friend–and that requires you to not fall out of your child’s life because of your new friend.

Be an adult.  Don’t act like a teenage hater, badmouthing the other parent for dating someone else.  If you weren’t so bitter and unpleasant you’d be dating someone else too–in fact, despite your childish behavior you probably ARE seeing someone and keeping it a secret.  Just don’t be a jerk and cause conflict for your child.

Show up for your scheduled, promised times and events. Non-custodial parents:  If you’re dating someone new, the best way to insure that your child will hate the new person is if you start flaking out on quality time–especially if you’re the “weekends only” parent. You are a PARENT FIRST, and your new mate must understand that and be willing to sacrifice for the good of your family.

Show up ALONE (unless previously discussed and agreed upon).  Non-custodial parents: Children don’t like to share.  I don’t care how nice they are, children especially do not like sharing their parents’ time and attention.  If you just show up with another person in tow without notice, it will end up bad.  Even if your child is mild-mannered, she will find a way to make you pay for the encroachment on her time.

Don’t be nosy.   If you want to find out all about the “new lady that Dad is seeing”, ask Dad.  If you are interested in finding out how rich Mom’s “new friend” is, ask Mom.  Don’t waste your child’s time playing Inspector Gadget–your kids want your questions to be about them.  A child is already having a rough time accepting the changes.  He doesn’t want to spend time rehashing what could be a very painful situation.

Expect RESISTANCE.  Nobody likes change.  We become frustrated.  Well, you are introducing a new person into your child’s life and routine–MAJOR DISRUPTION.  Your child is going to fight back; be prepared to be patient, understanding but firm and a peacemaker at all times.  It will pass (unless you have a horrible dating history, love wife beaters and losers or change partners like most folks change underwear. In which case,you DESERVE the hell you get from your kid).

You should always be on your child’s team. Whether you want to or not, considering your child throughout the process of dating is a must.  Otherwise, you could end up losing in love and in family, too.

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