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Some Advice for Stepparents

Stepfathers and stepmothers sometimes feel like throwing their hands up in despair. "I'm really trying to get along with my spouse's children," they may say, "but they just won't accept me."

In most blended families, children challenge their stepparents from time to time. Some youngsters may become openly aggressive; others may keep an emotional distance from their stepmother or stepfather. If this happens in your family, don't take it personally; it is the child's way of testing you and per­haps dealing with his own feelings over having a new adult in his life.

If your stepchild criticizes you, don't overreact; this will become less com­mon as the months pass. In general, the older the child, the more critical and judgmental he is likely to be of you as a stepparent. While letting him express his feelings, you can be comforted by the fact that, if you are fair and making a sincere effort to get along, the negative feelings will eventually be out­weighed by more positive ones. It is a sign of progress and a developing rela­tionship that he feels comfortable enough with you to voice his feelings.

To build some bridges, find some interests that you and your stepchildren share, and invite them to join you in these activities. You might hold regular family meetings to pull together on some issues and to iron out differences. Above all, treat your stepchildren with respect, and you will ul­timately win their trust.

Sometimes the difficulty children have within stepfamilies is really a contin­uation of their anguish over their parents' divorce. Children's responses to the divorce of their parents can take many forms—and those feelings are not eas­ily or quickly resolved. They may linger and then disappear, only to resurface in times of stress, especially the stress present when relationships, like step-families, are formed or broken.

Over the long term, if children are unhappy in stepfamilies, it is frequently because of marital problems between their parent and stepparent. More than one third of children who enter into a stepfamily later experience a breakup of that family. When children sense that their mother or father is unhappy in the new marriage, they are frequently unhappy too.

If you are starting to have difficulties with your spouse, get some counseling to try to smooth out problems before they become serious ones. Also, in most communities, support groups are available to help remarried couples and their children deal with the various issues that can arise in stepfamilies.

Last Updated
Caring for Your School-Age Child: Ages 5 to 12 (Copyright © 2004 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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