Stepfamily Talk: Dealing with Adult Stepkids

Stepfamily Talk: Dealing with Adult Stepkids

What Do I Do If My Husband Treats Me Like a Kid, His Daughter Like Spouse?

Dear Lisa,

I recently married a man with three adult children, two daughters 26 and 30, and a son 32. My husband and his youngest daughter are very close. At the age of 12, she was the only child living at home when he divorced his first wife. I feel like he sees me as the child and her as the adult in his life. If my husband buys me something, she has to have one, too. He never seems truly happy unless he is spending time with his daughter. I feel left out and emotionally disconnected. Am I over-reacting?

Dear Hurting Stepmom:

It’s extremely common for stepmoms to feel left out. This is especially true if their new husbands spent some time as single parents and became close with one or more of their children. In our book, “One Family, Two Family, New Family: Stories and Advice for Stepfamilies,” we include a whole chapter about this subject, “Insiders and Outsiders.” I’d be happy to send the chapter to you for free.

In our book, here’s how one stepdad explained his feelings in a similar situation: My wife and her daughter (from a previous marriage) were a pair, and the rest of us were outsiders, orbiting around them.

Margorie Engel, former president of the Stepfamily Association of America, says that the children of single parents often end up behaving as if they’re the parent’s partners. They cook for and care for their parents, and often become their parents’ dates. The kids then resent new stepparents who enter the picture and take over these roles.

First of all, it’s important to understand that your husband’s behavior isn’t personal. He likely feels badly about his divorce and wants to feel as close to his kids as possible. This type of relationship, however, can create trouble in stepfamilies. When there’s a crisis or conflict, family members automatically ally with their blood relatives, Merkel says.

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If you feel your spouse or partner is too close to his child, don’t expect immediate changes. Don’t try to intervene each time you’re excluded from the pair. Instead, try to strengthen your relationship with the adult. Be sure to spend time alone with your husband. When the adults’ relationship is solid, the parent isn’t as needy and the child doesn’t feel as responsible for the adult, Merkel says.

Have you told your husband how you feel? When you broach sensitive subjects like this one, be careful about how you phrase your sentences. In our “Stepfamily Talk Radio audio, How Stepmoms Can Survive and Thrive,” Dr. Patricia Papernow gives stepmoms great tips for having difficult conversations with their husbands. You may also want to read this story:
http://www.csmonitor.com/2005/0608/p11s01-lifp.html

Good luck. Stay in touch.

Lisa

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