Dear Dr. Weiss-Wisdom,

I’m living with my boyfriend who has two kids under eleven years old. What do I do if I don’t like his kids? They are lazy and watch a lot of T.V.-even during the daytime. They don’t pick up after themselves or have any chores. I feel like I’m the maid! When I talk with my boyfriend about it, he agrees with me and gets on them; but they know it’s really coming from me because he didn’t start asking them to do anything until I moved in. I also don’t want to be a nag and keep complaining about the kids to him. It doesn’t seem like that will be good for our relationship. He’s a really great guy and I’d like to make the relationship work. Do you have any suggestions?

- Struggling girlfriend

Dear Struggling,

What you are going through is common during the early stages of developing a stepfamily. This could be an ideal time for you and your boyfriend to learn more about each other and what you would like your family life together to look like. Stepfamilies are difficult and more challenging than first families for many reasons. And couples who have pre-marital counseling have higher marital success rates…hint..hint…

For families recovering from divorce, it can be like taking a boat from dry dock out into the ocean; it can take everyone a little while to get their sea legs. So, maybe you and your boyfriend can sit down together and talk about your values, how you want to raise the kids, and what’s required to make your relationship work. For example, maybe your boyfriend has some tips on how he’d like you to remind him when the kids need discipline or nurturing.

Divorced parents are often distracted and family routines are disrupted. A new adult on the scene can help with the restructuring. In blended families that thrive, stepparents are involved in parenting but initially it’s behind the scenes with the biological parent on the front lines. And couples get good at discussing problems in ways that are not destructive to their relationship; while there aren’t always simple solutions to the various challenges that will inevitably come up, both parties can feel understood, accepted, and respected by each other.
Divorced dad’s can be especially lax on chores and discipline because they don’t want their limited time with the kids spent on reprimanding them.

Sometimes when parents feel guilty about the effects of the divorce on the kids, they want to make everything else as easy as possible for them. I’m sure that you know parents who do everything that they can to keep their kid’s lives as stress free as possible. The problem is that this approach can end up short changing the kids who build character and self-esteem through facing and overcoming challenges.

It’s possible that the children’s mother is struggling with the kids and their habits; in the best scenario, you, your boyfriend, and his ex (and her significant other if she has one) would all come together to create the same rules and consequences for both households; this would be in everyone’s best interest.

In the meantime, before you commit to a long term situation here, I’d suggest that you try to find some likeable qualities in his kids (your potential future stepchildren). For example, when you see them hanging out in front of the television on a gorgeous southern California day, also think about the fact that your ‘step-son’ has a good heart and wouldn’t hurt a fly.

You might also try getting to know the kids better. If they are open to it, one way to do this is by spending some one on one time with them doing something that you both enjoy. If you come from your heart and focus on their positive qualities, it can help them and your relationship as well. The research consistently shows that stepmothers report having the most difficulties in blended families. You might find it helpful to reading some good books about stepfamilies, pitfalls to avoid and methods for success.

Two good books are:

Wonderful Ways to Be a Stepparent by Judy Ford and Anna Chase

The Truth about Stepfamilies: Real American Stepfamilies Speak Out about What Works and What Doesn’t When It Comes to Creating a Family Together by Anne O’Conner.

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Weiss-Wisdom, is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Rancho Santa Fe (San Diego area). She works with adults, couples, adolescents, and groups. In additional to her private practice work, she does stress management retreats, and workshops for stepparents, and couples in blended families. Contact: (858) 259-0146.