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My Stepchildren Hate Me!

Dear Robin:

I’ve been married for 3 years and while I love my husband very much, we struggle with my relationship with his children.  They are 12 and 15 and live mostly with their mom but stay with us every other weekend.  My son lives with us, he is 9.

I have come to dread those weekends because these kids won’t give me a break.  They are rude, surly, demanding, and honestly just downright mean to me.  They do not act this way towards their dad.  They are OK to my son but not overly friendly.

His divorce was ugly and she still hates him.  Worse, although I met him long after the divorce his wife told several people we had an affair when they were married.  I have to assume she has shared those thoughts with the kids, because they hate me.

Now my husband and I are fighting about these weekends and I just want to go out of town every time they come over.  These are good kids: athletic, great grades, great friends.  Why do they hate me?  Help!

(Not) Wicked Step-mom

Dear Step-mom:

You described your step-children as rude, surly, demanding, and mean.  You also described them as 12 and 15.

Since your step-kids don’t treat your husband like dog shit I’m going to assume you are correct and they don’t care for you all that much, rather than suggesting this behavior is just age-related.

In reality, it’s probably a nice combination of age, trash-talking by their mom, and upset over the reorganization of their family during a tender time in their lives.  You, my friend, are residing in the eye of the perfect storm of raging hormones and emotions.  Now: how to get out?

Before I give you my advice I’d like to put a couple of thoughts in your head.

You told me you dread these weekends and want to escape every time your step-kids come to see their dad.  While you would claim that is your reaction to their bad behavior, you should keep in mind that they are likely very aware you don’t enjoy having them around.

Imagine if you were a teenager, your family broke up, and you only got to see your dad every other weekend.  Now imagine he is married to a woman whom mom has described as the wrecker of their home and he is also raising that bitch’s child full-time.

You now have unhappy children who feel unwelcome in their own father’s home on the rare occasions they get to spend time with him.

It doesn’t really matter which came first: the chicken of rude step-kids or the egg of your discontent.  You need to make an omelette of understanding, empathy, warmth and kindness for these kids when they come to visit.

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Mending this fence is not only important for your mental health and theirs.  The continuation of your marriage quite literally depends upon you getting along with your step-children, because the difficulties of blended families that just don’t blend is an often-cited reason for second divorces.  And third.  And so on, and so on…

I think your husband needs to lead the charge on this one.  Here is my advice in AskDesCamp Advice by Numbers format for easy installation:

Advice for Dad!

1. Dad needs to meet with his kids without you.

2. He should start not by accusing them of being rude to you, but rather taking their emotional temperature about how they feel when they visit and how they feel about you, your son, the divorce, and what perceptions they may have about your involvement in the breakup of their family.

3. The key to #2 is active listening and calm responses that show he is hearing what they are saying and cares about their feelings, while at the same time not allowing them to continue laboring under the misperception that you were a factor in the divorce.  He should also demonstrate that he understands how tough the reordering of the family must be for them.

4. If the kids don’t believe you weren’t involved in the breakup of their parents’ marriage, Dad should offer proof.  I’m sure you both have an email or some other evidence that can unequivocally show when you and your husband first met.  As long as it’s not a naked selfie with a date stamp, your husband should show it to his kids.

I know you are probably thinking: why should he have to prove anything to these brats?  They should just take his word for it!

While it’s true they should, unfortunately, they may not.

Remember, they live almost exclusively with a bitter and angry mom who is not over the divorce and who is lying to them about their step-mom’s involvement in that divorce.  In other words, you are fighting an uphill battle based largely upon the amount of exposure these kids get to unhappiness and lies rather than positivity and the truth.

While I usually believe kids should be left out of conversations about divorce particulars, I also strongly feel parents and step-parents need to advocate for themselves when children are being used as pawns and brainwashed by a parent who is more invested in hurting their ex than raising happy kiddos.

5. Dad then needs to make it clear this relationship must be repaired, and should offer ideas for such improvement.  These ideas should start with a family pow-wow about what has been going on with an open discussion about everyone’s feelings concerning the new family unit.

After (and assuming, but I’m optimistic!) the air is cleared and everyone is on the same page about trying to get along and getting to know each other better, spend thoughtful time with one another.  Take a vacation together, have meals together, go shopping together – whatever!

The key is simply spending quality time with one another and changing the paradigm from one of uncomfortable and negative to more laid back but at the same time proactive in keeping things as positive as possible.

6. Finally, Dad should ask the kids if they have any ideas for how to get to know you and your son better and make your home a happier one when they visit.  If they do, he should take note of those ideas (so long as they don’t involve you winding up in a shallow grave) and follow through on them.

It’s important to pay attention to and respect their ideas.  Kids need to feel like they are being heard, or at least that’s what my son keeps texting me when I put on my earphones and play music loud enough to drown out his voice.

If the above approach doesn’t work, seek help from a family therapist.  Do not let this continue without taking significant steps to make things better, because you can have a happy home with your new family, but only if you put in some serious work.

In closing, keep your chin up and remain as optimistic as you can.  Kids usually figure out sooner or later what’s really going on and become more welcoming to step-family members.  You said yourself these are good kids, so be patient, be kind, be empathetic and be welcoming.  

Finally, know this: if your husband won’t stand up for you and help you resolve this problem, you are in for years of misery until you finally divorce.  

You can turn this around.  Good luck!

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PS: Tune in next week for a letter from a woman whose husband refuses to have sex with her but pleasures himself to Internet MILF porn.  Fun times!

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. greg

    Oy. My life, but not as severe. I’m in the dad role, with two daughters whose mother has been actively working to alienate from me for 10+ years. It got so severe, we had to take out a restraining order and eventually chose to move away. I consulted with a child psych for years, since their mother and I split (never married) and at a point when the girls were 9 and 11, we agreed that developmentally, it was better for them if I moved further away and had less time for two reasons. First, just my presence was enough to agitate the girls’ mother (untreated personality disorder) so that would be over, and I wouldn’t be worried about how it was affecting the girls. Second, time with the girls would be more peaceful for the girls, my wife, and me.

    Unfortunately, there is no immediate reward for a good deed and depression, sadness, and tears ensued for all of us. The estrangement falls away when the girls are with me for a day and we get back into our routine. Sadly, my wife, who is a very sweet and loving person, is cold and distant when the girls are around, as she still associates their mother’s horrific actions and violence, with them. .

    The girls are beginning to see through the cracks now, at 13 and 14. My biggest fear now is that they will struggle with relationships as adults. The system in Oregon is horrible and the people who do the custody recommendations are the bottom of the barrel, from what I’ve seen in the counseling world. The adversarial system is a nightmare in cases like ours, where the psych doesn’t do his diligence and our family ends up subject to the whims of an ill person.

  2. Don't give up hope

    I became a stepmom when our boys were 6 and 9. Their mom hated me and undermined our parenting (my husband had full custody and she had limited visitation, at her request). My relationships with them were never what I’d hoped they’d be, but when they were teens, they were miserable. I often thought that if I could go back in time and somehow keep the younger me from meeting my future husband, I would do so.

    Time passed, and they grew up. IT TOOK A LOT OF TIME, family therapy, their father not tolerating their bad treatment of me, and (I think) their mother becoming happier in her own life, but things got better.

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