Blended families can be tough to manage, especially early on – no one in the family has any idea of what they’re in for. Communication problems coupled with frustrating circumstances can rapidly get out of hand, especially if your stepchildren are actively trying to sabotage the family.
Given that, what’s the best way for you to approach handling these toxic stepchildren?
Look into why your stepchildren are acting out this way – there’s got to be a reason why. Talk to your partner about what you can do to mitigate these, but keep your expectations realistic with your stepchildren.
Avoid needless conflict, but be firm about not tolerating disrespect. Don’t allow yourself to be rattled or goaded into a power struggle. Set strict ground rules for both of you to respect and never abuse your authority over them to prove a point or get even.
Toxic stepchildren can be a nuisance, but they can be understood and dealt with appropriately. Don’t allow yourself to be provoked over pointless things – listen first, then act accordingly.
Identifying How Your Stepchildren are Being Toxic
It’s easy to write your stepchildren off as toxic, petty people, but their situation is vastly different from yours. Just because you’ll live under the same roof doesn’t mean you share a lifestyle.
In this blended family, YOU have the chance to opt-out and cut your losses. YOU can decide when enough is enough – that you don’t need to put up with their hassle.
Your stepchildren don’t get that. They’re stuck with you no matter how they feel. If they don’t like you already, chances are they’ve spoken to your partner – their biological parent – about this, to no avail despite their best efforts.
How would you feel in their situation?
It’s not an easy thing to deal with, and your stepchildren might lash out in some troubling ways. How they go about this is important: it could cue you into why they seemingly hate you.
- Are they trying to undermine your authority or sabotage your relationship?
- Do they disregard your attempts to teach or discipline them?
- Are they avoiding you, ignoring you, or just acting emotionally closed off?
Figuring out how your stepchildren are being toxic is the second best way to understand why they’re acting the way you do. You could also hazard a few educational guesses, but the actual best way to get answers about this would be to question your stepchildren directly.
Blended families can be awkward, especially early on. They don’t need to love you, like you, or respect you – but they do need to communicate with you. Everyone needs to be on the same page to minimize problems however tentatively that agreement may be.
Hopefully, your stepchildren will understand that everyone benefits here. There’s always a chance they might refuse, though, to which you’d be better off moving on to the next step.
How to Deal With Toxic Stepchildren?
1. Communicate This with Your Spouse
If things are tense between you and your stepchildren, the person in the best position to fix things would be your partner. Both parties would be more open to listening to them, pushing your blended family towards a better position to compromise.
At the very least, informing your spouse also reduces the risk of your stepchildren manipulating circumstances to drive a wedge into your relationship. Make sure that your partner understands that you want this blended family to succeed just as much as they do.
Why Trouble Them Here?
It’s normal to have some reservations about bringing this up with your partner.
They might be preoccupied with other things that need their attention. They could have a close relationship with their children, and you’d be worried that you’re putting them on the spot to choose between you or their kids.
To be clear, they’re already involved in this issue. How you interact with your stepchildren is a family concern, and simply ignoring this won’t make things better for anyone. Your frustrations would just boil over eventually – but doing things this way will just leave your partner in the dark.
Warning them about family problems won’t be a burden at all. In fact, it’s likely your best chance to get through to your troublesome stepchildren.
In the absolute worst-case scenario, they would unconditionally side with their children over you. In this case, you’d just be saving yourself from a toxic relationship you don’t deserve.
Bringing up problems like this will always help more than they’d hurt. Honesty won’t always feel pretty or comfortable, but it’ll leave the family in a better position than silence ever would.
2. Keep Your Expectations Realistic
Your stepchildren aren’t obligated to like you. If they’re treating you this badly right now, change will take a long time to come – if it comes at all.
Patience helps, but don’t hold them to the vague hope that you’ll eventually win them over. You can’t expect everyone to like you in time, and sadly that can extend to your stepchildren. It’s enough – at least for now – that they stop trying to undermine your authority and boundaries.
Understanding vs Enabling
There’s a thin line between accepting their boundaries and tolerating their disrespect. It can be difficult to discern where this falls, but we’ll give you an example to mull over below.
Let’s say your stepchildren aren’t ready to call you “mom” or “dad” yet. That’s perfectly fine, and while it might be a little disappointing they aren’t compelled to call you either of those things no matter how long the two of you live under the same roof.
What they can’t do is call you by your first name – especially when you’ve made your discomfort on that topic abundantly clear. It’s okay if your stepchildren aren’t accepting of your presence quite yet, but regardless of their feelings, they need to treat you with respect.
3. Avoid Engaging in any Needless Conflicts
Some children like provoking their stepparents. They might do it to show that they aren’t fit to be in a relationship with their biological parent, or they might also do it just because they enjoy it.
No matter the reason, don’t take the bait. There’s no need to meet all the problems they cause head-on. You want a good relationship with your stepchildren – or a civil one, at minimum.
Reaffirm your own boundaries, clarify that you won’t tolerate disrespect, but let some things slide from time to time. Prove to your stepchildren that you can be reasonable and patient in handling them.
Show them that you aren’t just waiting for an excuse to bite their heads off. It’s okay to be annoyed and frustrated, but letting these feelings dominate your whole dynamic won’t work out.
It’s okay to accept a bit of grumbling, begrudgingness, and even protest at times, so long as they know they’ve got to listen and obey. Draw the line at disrespectful behavior, though.
Let’s say you told your stepchildren to handle the dishes. If they complain a bit or roll their eyes but do as they’re told anyway, you’ve got their cooperation. There’s no need to dredge it back up as a full-blown conflict just because how they did it bruised your ego.
Forgiveness is a huge part of parenting. Don’t forget that your stepchildren, however difficult they might be, are under just as much stress with you as you’re getting from them.
It’d be a different story if they outright refused to obey or yelled back rudely. Let things slide when you can. Don’t fumble a solid, if begrudging start because your authority felt challenged.
There might be a time where both of you are too upset to care about what the other thinks – sometimes, those bad days align and lead to even worse times to come. If you want to avoid that, be ready to disengage with your stepchildren until you’re back in full control of yourself.
Accommodating someone you ostensibly should have power over can be exhausting. At times, it’ll be very tempting to play the parent card and bulldoze through their pettiness. It’s well within your rights to ground your stepchildren if they try to give you a hard time.
We strongly urge that you don’t do this. Utilizing your authority this way widens the gap between you – it’s no longer “us vs the problem” so much as “me vs you”. This type of conflict gives way to a pointless battle for control when time could be better spent patching up the relationship.
For this reason, never end an argument with “Because I said so”. Harmful family dynamics are best solved through open communication. Overruling them demonstrates just how little you value their perspective. It shows them that you’d rather settle issues quickly rather than properly.
If your stepchildren are being difficult, try talking to them. If they’re disagreeing on some points, look to understand why they feel that way. Work to convince them, but keep an open mind when you could be wrong. It’s best to find a compromise where no one loses.
It’s not always fair – and it’s certainly not easy – but it’s still your responsibility as the parent to do just that for the sake of your blended family’s stability.
4. Set Firm (but Fair!) Ground Rules for Everyone to Respect
Your stepchildren had problems with bringing you into the family. They were overruled by your partner, and it’s not hard to understand why they’d be worried about that power disparity. You can leave this at any point, while they’re stuck putting up with you no matter their feelings.
The best way to set their mind at ease would be to meet them halfway. Prove that you’re on equal enough footing to communicate openly about the things upsetting you.
Your stepchildren may not be receptive at all, so there will be occasions when you might have to nudge them out of their comfort zone. If this is really needed, be sure to provide them with a modicum of control on that front.
For example, if you need to talk about things, let them decide on a date or time that suits them. They still need to change, but have options on how and when they’d go about doing this – we’ll elaborate a bit more on this down below.
You can’t just walk in on your stepchildren with demands, forcing them to step in line or be punished. Boundaries and communication go both ways, and their current bullheadedness means that you’ll probably be providing the lion’s share of respect and initiative early on.
Establishing ground rules are a good way to accomplish this, allowing both parties to draw lines that the other knows they won’t be permitted to cross. It reaffirms their agency, respects their space, and gives everyone a clear understanding of what to expect from one another.
Try to organize a sit-down with your stepchildren. Let their thoughts be heard and validated. Talk about how you feel, what you ought to expect from one another, and what is or isn’t tolerable.
Mutual communication is key to establishing healthy boundaries. Make them understand that they will be heard, but hold them to provide you the same courtesy in kind. Deliver on that promise and trust that they’ll try their utmost to do the same.
Troubleshooting and Personal Agency
The worst thing you can do here is to keep these grievances buried. The conflicts you have with your stepchildren need to be aired out openly – otherwise, they’ll be left to rot and fester.
While it’s always best to meet them halfway, there will be some situations where you need to play the parent card. It’s an unfortunate necessity, but you can alleviate it by giving them options.
Let’s say you wanted the opportunity to bond with your stepchildren. You offered them a date and event to do it, but they refused. They’re allowed to do that, but you might need to nudge them out of their comfort zone through less persuasive means.
For this situation, offer a reschedule or change the event entirely. If they don’t seem pleased with your plans, ask them what they’d like to suggest doing with you instead.
They still need to work with the non-negotiable situation, but you can leave certain factors in their control. Allowing them the opportunity to exercise some agency will go a long way towards softening their attitudes towards you. In short, try turning their “no’s” into “not yet’s”.
5. Don’t Let Things Get Personal
Toxic stepchildren acting out is undoubtedly frustrating to accommodate. They can say some hurtful things that can seriously tax the little patience you may have left at times.
Remember that it’s okay to be upset, but you can’t let those feelings govern your actions. You need to be above that impulsiveness for the sake of your family. Parents need to be strong, especially when the difficulty comes from within their own family – blended or otherwise!
It’s tempting to lash out when your stepchildren cross lines they should have never broached. It could be cathartic to ground them from their plans, or to take away some privileges indefinitely. But you need to be better than that now.
Not in the future, not after this lapse, but right now.
We’re only human, and it’d be unfair to demand that you be cool-headed at all times, but you can control how you respond to your feelings. If you feel that your emotions are about to get the best of you, leave the area until you can compose yourself.
You don’t want to hurt your stepchildren, even when they hurt you first. You’re better than that.
Separating Behavior from Character
While your stepchildren might be insufferable at times, that’s not all they are. They’re more than the sum of their petulance, even if petulance is all they allow you to see.
If they act out of line, hold them accountable for their mistake – and only their mistake!
For instance, let’s say your stepchild forgot to bring something they needed for school. You’d end up having to rush it in time for their class, throwing your own schedule into disarray.
It would be fair to chastise them for forgetting something important. It would be fair to be upset because they disrupted other things with their lack of responsibility.
However, it would be unfair to call them stupid. It would be unfair to blame their character for one measly mistake, no matter how aggravated you might feel.
Your stepchildren aren’t any less worthy of guidance, compassion, and respect just because they made a mistake. Their only fault was the error they made at that moment – don’t bring other problems to bear alongside it, as that would just invite more trouble into the fray.
Toxic stepchildren can test your patience, make you feel worse about yourself, and even pit you against your partner at times. It wouldn’t be entirely true to say it’s not their fault, but slinging blame and anger won’t help the family get better.
It can take a lot out of you to do that – especially when they’re being difficult or deliberately provocative. You don’t need to force them to like you or even pretend to get along with them.
What you need now is a civil relationship with your stepkids – everything past that is a bonus!