What do children think when faced with a new step-family? An expert answers some common kids’ questions.
It’s bound to present difficulties when you’re blending families. You’re bringing together your own children with your new partner’s children, people who’ve been brought up with a different approach to what happens at home.
“It takes a lot of adjustment, especially for children – and it doesn’t happen overnight,” says child psychologist Dr John Irvine. “Adults often don’t see how hard it is for the kids.”
Dr Irvine says it’s important to keep an open dialogue with your child about the new family situation. “They need to know it’s okay to talk to you about what’s going on for them and that you will listen with compassion,” he says.
“It may not mean that you’ll change anything, but your child needs to feel listened to so that they feel loved and supported during this time of upheaval.” To help gain better insight, we asked Dr Irvine to answer some questions from children in this situation.
“My dad is much nicer than Mom’s new boyfriend. Why would she want to be with him instead of Dad?” – asks Evie, 9.
It’s hard to know what makes us like some people more than others and why adults choose a certain partner. There must be things about your mom’s boyfriend that make her feel good. Also, there are many reasons why parents split up and although you might have a terrific dad, there may be things about his behaviour that your mom didn’t like.
“When my mom and dad split up, my mom got a girlfriend. I’m worried about what my friends will think. What should I do? – asks Angus, 14.
Although it’s normal for some people to be attracted to the same sex – women can be attracted to women and men to men – it can take a bit of getting used to, especially if one of them is your parent! There are lots of people in same-sex relationships including sports people and celebrities. Your friends might even know someone who has a same-sex partner. It’s likely they won’t be as bothered about it as you think but you don’t have to tell them until you’re ready.
“My stepdad and I fight all the time. What should I do?” – asks Emilia, 13.
It can be really hard for children and step-parents to get along and work out what their relationship is going to be like. Tell your mom exactly what things your stepfather does or doesn’t do that annoy you. Perhaps the three of you can work out a plan for what your stepdad needs to do to make your relationship work better and what you need to do to help the situation. If you can’t work it out together, you could see a family counsellor.
“When my dad’s girlfriend is visiting, he ignores my sister and me. What can we do?” – asks Njabulo, 10.
Have you ever had a new friend and made a big effort to be extra nice to them? It sounds like this is what your dad is doing in paying so much attention to his girlfriend. He may not realise you’re feeling left out. Let him know how you feel so that he knows he needs to keep reminding you and your sister that nothing has changed in his heart and that you’re both just as loved as you ever were. If your dad can spend some time with just you and your sister, this will help you feel more special.
“Do I have to like my dad’s new girlfriend?” – asks Kayley, 15.
Nobody can make you like someone and it’s especially hard when that someone is your parent’s new partner – and when you’re probably still upset that your dad and mom aren’t together anymore. It’s pretty normal not to like your parent’s new partner but it’s still important to be courteous and polite to them.
“My stepbrother and stepsister make me feel uncomfortable. They want me to do things I don’t want to do. I’m scared to tell my mom. What can I do?” – asks Chloe, 12.
We’re all entitled to feel comfortable and safe in our home. If you don’t, it’s important you tell your mom straight away. If you’re worried about her reaction, write her a note and give it to her when she has a quiet time to read it. Tell her exactly what they’re doing that’s upsetting you. If you can’t talk to your mom or she doesn’t believe you, tell your teacher or school counsellor as soon as you can.
“The thing I hate most is when I hear my mom talk meanly about my dad. What can I do about it?” – asks Nothando, 8.
Some parents don’t realise that this is one of the things that hurts children the most after a divorce or split. Make a list of rules for both of your parents to follow and give it to them. Include things like: don’t talk badly about the other parent, don’t ask me lots of questions about what I did at my other parent’s place, let me phone Mom/Dad at least once a day when I’m at your place.