Dealing with other people’s children

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Recent studies show that one in three of us will become part of a step-family situation at some time in our lives. In theory this is often a welcome aside to meeting a match you really connect with but occasionally other people’s children can cause problems in a relationship, especially if the break up of the family was fairly recent or bitter. Here we look at some of the most common difficulties and strategies for dealing with them.

The kids don’t like you

So it’s time to meet the kids. You may feel very nervous and just like the beginning of any relationship it can feel awkward at first. The trouble is that kids aren’t like adults and won’t bother to hide their feelings if they are uncomfortable around you – they may even be openly hostile or rude, depending on their age. If this seems to be the case it is important that you try not to take it personally.

Most kids harbour a wish for their parents to get back together and the advent of a new partner can make this dream impossible to realise. They might think that by being horrible to you, that you will go away and mum and dad will get back together. The key here is time. Don’t avoid opportunities to be with them and don’t try to buy their affections. Just be patient and they will eventually come to see you as a permanent feature in their parent’s life. Remember they are often only acting from loyalty to the other parent and have their own feelings about their mum and dad not being together. Be firm, patient and consistent, as they begin to see that their parent is happy and you are here to stay they will likely come round.

You don’t like the kids

This is a tricky one to negotiate. It can cause real problems in your relationship if you don’t want to be around your partner’s kids because you don’t like them. No-one is asking you to love them but they are a really important part of your partner’s life and unless you can develop a healthy relationship with them it is unlikely that your relationship with your partner will develop very far. Whatever you do don’t express dislike or negative feelings about them directly to your partner; parents are usually sensitive and protective about their kids. If you have kids yourself don’t compare yours with theirs as that is likely to cause a row.

As far as possible try to find the positive in them and to nurture that; don’t be critical or standoffish but warm and open. Be yourself and don’t try to be somebody you think they want you to be. Treat them as you would like to be treated and try to imagine how it must feel from their point of view this will soften your heart and give you the best chance of overcoming whatever difficulties there are at the start. Remember they aren’t going to be kids forever.

The ex causes problems

Unless your partner was widowed then there is another tricky customer in your new relationship – the ex. When it comes to this relationship the best position to adopt is that of ally to your partner. You can’t get in there and fight any of the battles for him/her because this war is likely to have been raging for years and the kids may have become the main ammunition. Love and support your partner. Give advice if they ask for it but don’t add to their difficulties by making it all about you. The ex will need time to see that you are not going to try and steal their children away from them or try to be a better mum/dad than they are.

Your partner is too soft /strict

It may seem to you that your partner doesn’t discipline their children in the way you think they should and that is why there are problems. Many parents who no longer live with their children feel guilty and are prone to overcompensate when they have them to stay. Be patient and tolerant and try not to jump in and do the discipline for them.

The most important thing is your developing relationship. If you are struggling with anything to do with your partner’s children talk to them about it. Talk about your feelings rather than criticising their kids or their style of parenting and you will see that developing intimacy isn’t about not having any problems but about developing the skills to deal with them together.


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