When you marry or commit to a person who has children and either an ex-spouse or a deceased spouse, often while you yourself are in the same boat, you are creating a blended family. The fact that blended families can pose unique issues to minor children and new stepparents is widely acknowledged. Blended families with adult children who no longer live at home, too, need time to adjust, to learn to get along.
Even beyond that initial "getting to know you" period, even beyond coming to terms with your feelings about your new family, new difficulties can arise during important family milestones. The death of the adult children's other biological parent, medical issues, and the arrival of grandchildren are all prime examples of situations that may require some soul-searching.
As the new spouse (something you'll remain even after a decade of marriage) of someone with adult children, these children are now part of your family, but they may also be dealing with feelings of divided loyalty, grief over the loss of their other parent, and even hurt feelings over the fact that their parent has entered into a relationship with you, or worries about whether you are the right person for their parent. In such circumstances, what can you do to connect with your spouse's adult children?
Acknowledge The Feelings Of Your Spouse's Kids — And Your Own!
When a parent remarries — even when you're an adult — it is natural to experience feelings of grief. Your familiar family unit is gone, either due to death or divorce, and your parent is building a new life with someone who isn't your parent too. You may wonder how your parent could have entered a relationship "so soon", you may not like your parent's new spouse, or you may be worried that your bond with your parent will be affected by the new relationship. You have never chosen to accept this person into your family, and yet here they are.
As the new partner of someone with adult kids, you, too, may experience all kinds of conflicting feelings. You chose your partner, but their kids are there as well. In order to connect with your spouse's kids, consider their feelings first, and talk with your partner about them. At the same time, acknowledge your own feelings about your spouse's children as well.
Respect is the key to forming real bonds with your spouse's adult children. Respect can also, hard as it seems, mean respecting their wishes not to enter into a close familial relationship with you. By wanting to connect with them, by wanting to be a part of their lives, and perhaps even by wanting to help them grieve the loss of their other parent, you have positive intentions. Realize, though, that your spouse's kids may not be ready for that kind of connection, and take a step back when you feel you need to.
This can come in the form of:
- Making sure your partner's kids get time with their parent without you present
- Not trying to replace the role their mother or father played or play in their lives
- Being a friend, rather than a stepparent, or if that doesn't work, treating your partner's kids as you would a coworker: cordially, but with a level of distance
Do Not Take Things Personally
If your blended family isn't working out the way you had hoped, try your best not to take things personally. Your spouse's sons and daughters most likely aren't reacting to you as a person, but instead to very complex feelings about their parents and their lives to date. Though this can be extremely hard and hurtful, it is not your fault — be kind to yourself.
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