The relationship between a step-child and their step-parent is a delicate one. On the one hand, the step-parent wants to treat their stepchild just as they would their birth child.
On the other hand, they’re hesitant to overstep, not wanting to appear as though they are trying to replace the birth parents.
There are times when despite your best intentions as a step-parent, a mutual ground cannot be met and it might seem as though your stepchild is trying to ruin your marriage. It can be devastating but perhaps understanding why your stepchild is acting out can help you to mend these fences.
Why Is My Stepchild Acting Out?
Divorce can be tough on children, especially teens. Their entire world shifts with this one decision that they probably cannot understand and have no say in.
Not only have they watched their family fall apart - they now have to find a way to create a new ‘normal’, work with the new routine and - in many cases - keep the peace between their parents.
With the introduction of a new parental figure comes a new dynamic. In some ways, a step-parent symbolizes the end of a fantasy the child might have of their parents reuniting.
When children act out, it’s usually to hide deeper pain, fear or loneliness. It’s not hard to see why a child of divorce might be feeling any or all of those emotions.
This could also be a cry for attention, especially if their step-parent has a child with their birth parent.
Parents tend to react more strongly to negative behaviour and a stepchild might feel this is the best way to get their parent to focus on them as they seemingly compete with this new sibling for love.
They might even think that ruining the marriage means their birth family will be reunited.
How Do I Approach My Spouse?
Raising your concerns to your spouse will undoubtedly make you uncomfortable.
They too might be reeling from the dissolved relationship, shifting tensions with their ex as they try to co-parent and similar behaviour from their child.
To approach them with a less than glowing account of their child’s behaviour could drive a wedge between you both.
They might instinctively defend their child, even without meaning to imply that you are mistaken or overreacting.
Blended families are usually not armed with the knowledge and skills needed to form and maintain a healthy familial bond.
According to Step Family Coach, Kimberly Sayer-Giles, less than 25% of blending couples seek relationship or educational help before marriage. This means that most families are unprepared to handle the obstacles that might come.
It could also mean that these families have not gone through group sessions to clear the air in a safe space and start to establish common ground.
As difficult as it might be, it is important that you maintain open lines of communications with your spouse.
Share with them in a calm and collected manner, how the child’s behaviour or attitude has affected you. Let them know what your concerns are and reassure them that you too have the child's best interest at heart.
It is also important that ground rules be established on methods of discipline and conflict resolution at the beginning of the relationship. Having this guideline in place makes it easier to handle obstacles if they should arise.
Can I Mend the Fences with My Step Child?
In the heat of the moment, it might seem like the best move to make is to throw in the towel. You might have been dealing with abuse at the hands of your stepchildren for years with no reprieve.
While it is perfectly understandable for you to consider that you need to ask yourself if this is just a quick fix that you might come to regret.
All relationships require effort and the more complex the relationship, the more effort required. We cannot stress enough just how complicated a blended family is and if each party is unprepared for what is to come then the complications just continue to grow.
A great first course of action is counselling. By allowing the stepchild to have an objective ear in a safe space, they’ll have an outlet to vent some of their frustrations or simply grieve. Yes, you read correctly.
A lot of children need a grieving period after a divorce in order to come to terms with the end of their ‘old’ life, so that they can freely move on.
If the ex-spouse is contributing to the abuse, perhaps a heart-to-heart might help.
Having them understand that you are in no way trying to replace them, reassuring them that you respect them and their position in the child’s life might allow them to see you as a partner and not the enemy.
Having their support can drastically change how the children behave towards you because they’ll feel less like they’re betraying their parent by accepting you.
Whether you decide to try to mend the relationship or not, be sure you are doing what’s best for you. It’s easy as a parent to put others ahead of yourself, but living in discomfort will do no good to anyone.
Strongly consider counselling for all members of the family to see how the abuse has affected you and find out the motivation for the child’s behaviour so they too can heal.
We hope you now have an idea of how to approach this situation. Leave us a comment telling us which approach you think will work best for you and your family.