The beginning of a new stepfamily is rarely a smooth transition. In fact, for each member of the stepfamily the journey begins well before the stepcouple ever meets. Everyone comes into a stepfamily with some “baggage” that influences their experience.
This is one child’s perspective of the changes and challenges on this journey. By sharing this, I hope to empower parents and stepparents with insight into a child’s point of view. When we are aware of our child’s feelings, we can more fully support them.
“The end of my family.”
This was so hard. I knew mom and dad weren’t getting along, but I hoped they would figure it out. Instead of talking things out, like they tell me to do with my friends, they either yelled it out or they didn’t talk at all.
I felt so many things. I was mad at my parents for not getting along. I felt sad because we used to be a happy family and then we were “broken.” I was stuck between wanting our old family back and relieved because my parents argued less after mom got a house of her own.
Oh, yeah, about that…having two houses sucks. They told me it would be great and that I’d get to decorate my room in Mom’s new house. Big deal! I don’t want a new room in another house. I didn’t want any of this.
Now I’m never in the same house for more than a couple of days and even our family house feels empty. Nothing feels right.
Sometimes I feel really angry, Nobody asked me for my opinion, my grown-ups just did this. They tore the family apart and they keep telling me it’s better this way. Better for who? Not me.
Will it always feel this awful?
Mom and Dad still don’t talk much. Sometimes I hear them argue on the phone when they think I’m not listening. When it’s “switch” time it’s always so awkward. They try to be nice but you can tell it’s all fake. I know Mom is still sad some days. That makes two of us.
“My dad is dating. Ugh.”
We finally settled into a routine. I’m at mom’s some days, Dad’s the others and weekends are pretty even.
Just when I thought things were feeling “better” I found out my dad is dating! Ugh. Gross.
At first, it was just a name that would slip into conversations when we’d talk about stuff. Sometimes I would hear him on the phone with some lady and he would laugh and he sounded happy. I hated it, he should be happy with Mom and me, not her.
When I think of him dating I guess I feel both mad and sad. I’m mad because he promised to love Mom forever when they got married and he broke that promise. I’m sad because with her around it means my parents won’t be getting back together. I know, it sounds stupid that I still hope for that, but I just want what we had before.
So I’ve met her. She’s fine, I suppose. She seems nice and when she’s around on my days with Dad we do fun things together. Sometimes it feels okay, but when I’m having fun with her I feel bad, like I shouldn’t because then that will hurt Mom’s feelings.
I feel like I have to pretend this is all okay because Dad seems so happy when she’s around. It’s not like I hate her, but I kind of feel mad at her for showing up and ruining things.
On my days with Dad I want it to just be us and not have her around. I know that sounds selfish, but that is my time with him and she doesn’t need to be here.
“One big happy family? Not so much.”
Now my dad and Ellen are talking about her moving into our house, and she has 2 kids so I guess they are coming with her? Umm, no thanks!
Dad and I talked about it one day. He seemed so happy and excited. I haven’t seen him that way for a long time. He asked me how I felt about it and I just said it’s fine. I didn’t want to disappoint him. I mean, I guess it’ll be okay. I just don’t want her kids in my room or touching my stuff.
We had a “family” meeting, me, Dad and Ellen, but she’s not my family! She’s just Dad’s girlfriend, so why does she get to be in the family meeting? They talked about all the changes that will happen in the house when they all move in here.
I’m telling them it’s all okay, that it’ll be fun. Really, I’m just saying that because no matter what I say this is gonna happen anyway so why bother getting mad.
My parents used to listen to me, ask me questions, talk about changes with me. Now everyone is making decisions and we kids have to go along with it. How is that even fair?
“A safe place to land”
I went to spend time with Grammie, she’s my mom’s mom. She listens to everything I say and never gets mad or disappointed about what I tell her. We usually talk while we bake or cook together. She’s pretty cool.
I told her about Ellen and her kids moving in. We talked about how much I don’t want them in my house, that it would feel weird having other people there. I was worried she would come in and start changing things in the house even though it’s not really hers to change.
Like I said before, it’s not that I hate her, sometimes we have fun together, but then I feel bad about that. What if Mom finds out? I don’t even know what’s okay anymore.
Grams told me, “You don’t have to love her or her kids, but you need to be respectful. You won’t ever love Ellen the same way you love your mom, but it doesn’t mean you can’t like her.” Grammie wanted me to talk to mom about all this.
When Mom and I talked she looked a little sad, but told me that I shouldn’t feel guilty about being nice to Ellen. “This isn’t what we expected, but it is what it is and we need to make the best of it. I love you, your dad loves you and it sounds like she is kind to you, that’s all that matters.”
“Our new normal.”
So, it’s been 8 years since Mom and Dad divorced and 3 years since Dad and Ellen married. It wasn’t easy to adjust to her and her kids moving in, but eventually we figured things out. Her kids are okay and sometimes we do stuff together. We had to all learn to share the house and make it work. It wasn’t easy and sometimes I still wish they weren’t here, but they are.
Things are better between Mom and Dad too. I mean, it’s not like when we were a family, but at least they can be in the same room and it’s okay.
Looking back, I can see my parents weren’t happy. There are so many times, like birthdays and holidays, that I wish our family was still together. Being a kid in a stepfamily is hard sometimes, but this new normal we have is okay too.
Tips for Parents:
1. Acknowledge your child’s feelings even if you don’t understand or agree with them. Simply asking, “Can you tell me more about that?” will help you gain insight into your child’s perspective.
- Watch for changes in your child’s mood or behaviors. Children going through major life changes may experience “big” feelings they aren’t sure how to describe, so they act them out instead.
- Be prepared, even small changes may feel like a huge deal to your children.
- Children experience loyalty issues throughout the stepfamily journey. Giving your child permission to have a positive relationship with all the adults in his or her life will ease the stress of divided loyalties.
5. Seek help! There are parenting and stepfamily coaches who are trained in guiding your family through all phases of this journey. Even if neither parent re-partners, there are co-parenting techniques that will ease your stress and build harmony in your family dynamics. Your kids deserve the best of you, this is one way to guarantee they get it.