Dear Mr. Dad: I have two kids from a previous marriage, ages 7 and 9. My new husband’s two children are almost the same age and spend every weekend and all holidays with us.
Problem is, my kids and the stepkids don’t get along. They spend most of their time together fighting and bickering. My husband and I don’t know what to do. Any advice?
A: Before we can start looking at possible solutions, it’s important to try to understand why your home becomes a battlefield every weekend.
From your biological children’s point of view, their home (and possibly their rooms) aren’t theirs any longer. Their once-familiar and comfortable physical and emotional spaces have been invaded by strangers.
Children are creatures of habit and they may be feeling more than a little confused about roles, rules, and boundaries.
The resentment they’re displaying toward the uninvited interlopers is at least in part a reflection of their uncertainty and fears that things they’ve taken for granted all their lives.
On the other side of the equation, your stepkids are being taken, temporarily, from the security and comfort zone of their own home. They aren’t sure of the prevailing family dynamics, where they fit in, and what they’re allowed to do or play with.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to make the transition easier.
• You and your husband need to come to an agreement about how best to handle this situation and resolve conflicts. To start with, he should have the primary responsibility for disciplining his kids, and you for yours.
• If you haven’t already, have a friendly talk with all four children.
Ask each of them why they fight. Whatever they say, take their grievances seriously and involve them in finding solutions they can all agree on.
• Write a new set of family rules, so that all four kids know what their rights and responsibilities are at your house. Make sure the rules are fair and don’t favor one set of kids over the other.
• Plan ahead of time the weekends and holidays when the step-children will be with you. Ask each child to come up with an activity that all the family members can participate in – trips to the zoo, a sporting event, family game night. And rotate so that each one can have a say in what you’ll be doing.
• Ease up on the pressure. Telling your kids (or your husband telling his) that they’re “really going to love” their new step-siblings is almost a guarantee that they won’t. They need to forge their own relationships.
It may take a while for things to calm down, so be patient, loving, and positive. Others have gone down this path before and have found (at least some) peace and harmony in the end.