Posted By: Kelly Seal Date: 09-15-2020 Comments: 0
When you have children from a previous relationship, it’s only natural that you want them to get along with your new love. You want everyone to be as happy as you are, especially when the relationship is new and the romance is going strong! But what happens when they don’t get along, and you feel torn between your child and your partner?
This conflict isn’t unusual, so don’t panic. Relationships don’t just happen – they take time, effort and patience to build. You aren’t alone!
Think about it: relationships can be difficult to navigate as it is, and things get even more complicated if one or both partners have children from a previous relationship. There are so many emotions at play for everyone involved – parent, child and partner. While no “step” relationship is easy, there are things each partner can do to make it more amicable, even if personalities don’t mix.
Full disclosure: I’m a stepmother, so I have the perspective of coming into an already existing relationship dynamic and trying to figure out my place. While it was difficult for me and took time to build relationships with my stepdaughters, it was challenging for my husband, too. He had to protect and nurture all of us – he became the backbone of support for making it work.
No matter how well your partner gets along with your child, there will be problems you face, and it will take time to develop your own family dynamic. Be compassionate with yourself, your partner and your children. And if they don’t get along at all? Take heart, cultivate patience, and try these steps to bring them together:
Support your partner.
There could be many reasons your child and partner don’t get along. Maybe they have very different personalities, or your partner doesn’t have much experience around children, or maybe he was raised in a certain way that’s different from how you want to raise your child – and this creates tension. These things are surmountable, but they do take work and time. The key is communication and patience combined.
The most effective strategy I’ve experienced as a stepmom has been supporting each other and establishing our partnership first. In other words, we stand as a team when we ask something of the kids. Kids tend to split parents to get their way (even with parents who are together), so be careful of falling into this trap. Don’t let your child call the shots, including telling you who you can or can’t date. While some of you might disagree, it’s harmful to put the child in a position of power over you and your relationship – this not only hurts you and your partner, it hurts your child.
Children don’t want to be in control – they want boundaries and rules set by parents to make them feel safe. When you let your child know that your partner is part of your lives, and that you stand together in decision-making, you are not only creating a deeper bond with your partner, but you are also establishing a positive family dynamic.
Check in often with your child.
It’s okay to ask questions about how your child is feeling, and why he might not like your partner. If you are recently divorced, your child might still be adjusting to her new life going back and forth between parents. Also, your child is going to feel loyalty to your ex, and if your ex is unhappy that you’re in a new relationship, your child might feel pressure to act out and reject your partner. In this situation, the best thing to do is to reassure your child that you love her no matter what, and no matter who is in your life, your love is never going to change. Over time, your child will adapt and hopefully connect with your partner, but you can’t force either of them on your timeframe. This is where patience and communication are key. Check in often. Reassure your child that you love them.
Encourage your partner and child to do things together.
Maybe you are the glue holding things together, but is that pressure sustainable to your relationships? Instead of coming to the rescue and trying to appease both your child and partner, encourage your partner and child to do something together. It doesn’t have to be something extravagant or planned – it can be as simple as encouraging them to walk the dog together. The more time they spend together, the more they can learn about each other. In my experience, my stepdaughters opened up more to me when we spent time together without my husband. It’s a way to help them form a bond that’s separate from your partnership.
Act with love.
In my experience, it’s good to keep talking about love as an inclusive force, so that your child doesn’t feel like she can only love her “real” parents. What I mean by this is that love is designed to expand and include more people, especially those who are not related to you, and it is never diminished because there is “not enough to go around.” Tell your child that she will have another adult in her life who loves her and wants to support her – the more love, the better. And it’s okay to let your child know you love your partner, too, and that he makes you happy. Do new things together as a family to create new memories. Demonstrate love to your child and partner however you can.
Love is expansive, and you get to experience that with your new family with a little nurturing and patience.
Kelly Seal is a freelance writer, dating expert, and author of the book “Date Expectations: A Guide to Changing Your Dating Life and Finding Real Love.” She got her start in the dating industry by hosting speed dating events around southern California and offering advice and encouragement to attendees. She now lives in L.A. and spends her free time hiking in the Santa Monica mountains and blogging at www.kellyseal.com.