Blended families aren't all as instantly close and blissful as in-your-face family sitcoms tell you they will be. Surprise! Your toddler or preschooler may not cope well with her new stepfather, and your spouse may be at a loss for how to deal with life as a stepparent. If you suspect your spouse may have a growing resentment for your preschooler, the time to address the problem is now. This feeling of indignation can escalate if ignored, and drama is something every busy mom can live without. To say the least!
1 Protect your child from the negative feelings of your spouse, if possible. If your toddler is upset by something your husband does, get down to his level and look him in the face. Gently help him by verbalizing what he can't say. Tell him gently, "I know you are mad by what he did, and that's okay. We can be mad, but we have to deal with it. Let's find our words." Help him simply communicate with your spouse to encourage progress in the relationship.
2 Put on your brave woman pants and confront your ever-loving spouse. This can be tricky, but you want to dig into the real issues so you can get to the happily-ever-after sooner rather than later. Maybe he looks angry and walks out of the room when you comfort your toddler or preschooler. Oh, boy. That's a red flag. Call him on it. Say something like, "I noticed that you leave the room when I comforted him during his tantrum about why you aren't like his real daddy. I know that you think I shouldn't indulge him, but I have to help him deal with all these changes. Let's brainstorm together to create and agree on priorities so we can really make this work together."
3 Express sympathy for your spouse's resentment by choosing gentle words such as, "I am sorry that it seems that my allegiance is divided here. You are as much a parent of this family as my children, and I am sorry that your feelings get hurt. How can I help you feel more supported?" A simple reminder that you're on his side can help relieve some of his worries.
4 Create a fun day out for your child and spouse. Imagine the smiles on both their faces when you pipe up one morning with, "Surprise, guys! Here are two tickets to the big game!" That's right. Think big. Allow your child to perhaps do something with the stepparent that he doesn't ordinarily get to do. Doing so makes the time seem more special, and it can help the two bond.
5 Encourage your spouse to let your child set the pace for the relationship. Yeah, right, you may be thinking. A toddler or preschooler can't lead, right? Well, he can to a certain extent. Remind your child every night that his stepfather loves him, even if he does not respond well. Say something like, "You know, he loves you like mommy and daddy loves you, and he wants to be your friend. I know you are confused, and that's okay. When you are ready to be friends, that will make him really happy." Just letting your child feel as though he is making the choice can ease some of the tension that may fuel your spouse's own resentment.
6 Seek the help of a family therapist. You know more than anyone that simply becoming a part of a blended family is a major life change for every member of the family. So take a deep breath and go as a family unit to help foster positive feelings and a willingness to grow together. Introduce the subject to your toddler by saying, "We all need to be happy. Speaking with this kind lady about our feelings can help us all feel good." Let the therapist take the lead from there!
7 Give your spouse and young child permission to not fully accept one another right now if things go sour. It's not giving up on the relationship to step back. As long as your spouse is treating your child well and trying to work through his oh-so-frustrating resentment, keep fostering connections and mutual respect.
- Insist on dealing with resentment. If your spouse resists confronting his feelings, ask again about it the next day. Be persistent about dealing with issues between your spouse and children.
- Never dismiss your child's complaint about a stepparent. Yes, many children do resent their stepparents for reasons that have nothing to do with the stepparent himself, but give your child the benefit of the doubt. If you dismiss her very real concerns, you will teach her that she can't trust you or come to you in crisis. Scream inside if you have to do so, but put on your happy face for your child's benefit and be there for her.
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