Hello Dr. Buckingham,
My husband and I recently married a little over a month ago. The issue that I need insight on is how to deal with our children (my step children)?
During the planning of our wedding, the relationship I had with two of his children changed drastically. One of his kids, whom I had a great relationship with, seemed to change once we decided that we would reside at my home instead of his home (a home that he once shared with his ex-wife).
She decided that she would go live with her mom (his ex wife), and he wasn’t completely in agreement with her but supported her decision. The relationship I had with her changed from us spending time together, getting hair and nails done, going out to eat and her also asking to be a bridesmaid, along with wanting to go wedding dress shopping with me. I thought this was an awesome idea!!
But within a month or so of her moving in with her mother, she became very distant and not responsive to any of the text messages or calls from the other ladies in the wedding.
Moving forward with the planning, we wanted to include all of our children in some way with our special day. We were recently informed from his son that his eldest daughter (who is an adult) was upset that she wasn’t included in the wedding party (we assigned her to write and say a poem at the ceremony, and she did a fantastic job!). We thought that this would be a great fit for her, and she didn’t object; now over a month later, we find out that she has issues with not feeling included.
My question to is how do we approach the issues with the kids or is this something he should handle with them alone? It’s hurtful to me because I feel like we made every attempt to include all the children in our day, I also feel like there has been outside influence from other people that has placed a wedge in my relationship with the kids.
First things first. Congratulations on finding eternal love and celebrating togetherness as a blended family.
I have worked with thousands of individuals who have given up on love after experiencing adversity and heartache. Given this, I value blended families because they are telling the world that finding and having true love is not a matter of circumstances but a matter of resilience. Resilience is the ability to bounce back after experiencing adversity. In my personal and professional opinion, blended families represent the true essence of resilience.
Living as a blended family can be challenging at times, but the reward is worth the challenge. The initial phase of bonding and connecting often takes time because adjusting to change is not easy for most people, especially for children. While they may have appeared to be accepting in the beginning, it does not mean that they have truly bought-into you.
While trying to relate to you, they still have to figure out how to cope with and manage existing relationships. This is where things get rocky for you and them.
In order to blend as a family, you have to live as a family. What do I mean? If you want the children to accept and buy-in to the concept that you are a family, you and your husband must present as one unit.
This means approaching the children together. Your husband can approach the children alone, but this will not help them relate to and understand you or your perspective as a role model in their lives. It is important that you speak for yourself.
However, be mindful that the children might come across as being defensive, but this is normal, so do not personalize it. Remember that they did not chose you, their father did. They have to grow to believe and trust that you have their best interest at hand. When this occurs, their ability to truly embrace you will evolve.
Also, do not force yourself on them or try to be over zealous, but do not distant yourself either. Time is your best intervention. Over time, you will learn the best way to interact with them and to deal with outside influences. Remain devoted to them and they will eventually return the energy and effort.
As you interact with the children, move forward try practicing the following strategies.
Ask Open-Ended Questions that Promote Dialogue
Open-ended questions require more than one word answers. For example, what would you like to do as a member of the wedding party? This is an open-ended question because it requires a lengthier response and is helpful in gaining insight into what the person prefers. It is extremely important to ask open-ended questions when you are getting to know someone.
At the same limit, closed-ended questions. For example, would you like to write and say a poem? This is a closed-ended question because it requires a one word response such as Yes or No and does not offer additional insight into how or what the person is thinking or feeling. Remember that children, even adult children sometimes say yes to things that they do not fully agree with because they do not want to disappoint their parents.
Model what You Expect
Children in blended families often struggle with adjusting. And they spend time trying to figure out how to conduct themselves. Your ability to model appropriate behavior will influence how they connect with you and conduct themselves.
You stated that you are hurting because your husband and you made every attempt to include all the children in your day. This is commendable, but now you have to make every attempt to model how to deal with disappointment and hurt appropriately. This will be an area where you can relate to them and them to you.
Whenever you blend something, it takes time for all the ingredients to settle. The ingredients in regards to blended families include announcement of finding new love, introduction of new spouse to the family and children, serious dating announcement, marriage announcement, wedding planning, discussion of living arrangements and finally the joining of the hearts and minds.
All the aforementioned ingredients take time to break down and blend well. With this in mind, give yourself and the children some time to figure things out. Let the children and outside influences know that you are a marathon runner, not a sprinter.
There are a lot of resources available to help blended families like yours overcome challenges, and one of my favorite resources is the new movie by Lamar and Ronnie Tyler, the creators of BlackandMarriedWithKids.com entitled, Blended: The Unspoken Truth About Stepfamilies.
Blended taps into the dynamic of the complexity of the blended family structure and provides a look into the lives of parents and children who have overcome serious obstacles to solidify their love.
BMWK, do you have any tips on how to deal with children during the early stages of blended a family?
If you have questions for Dr. Dwayne Buckingham regarding relationships (married, single, etc), parenting, or personal growth and development, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Disclaimer: The ideas, opinions and recommendations contained in this post are not intended as a substitute for seeking professional counseling or guidance. Any concerns or questions that you have about relationships or any other source of potential distress should be discussed with a professional, in person. The author is not liable or responsible for any personal or relational distress, loss or damage allegedly arising from any information or recommendations in this post.