Building a healthy relationship with a stepchild is no easy task – it generally takes between 1 and 2 years for a blended family to adjust. Family dynamics are different and relationships can be complicated. In many cases, being in a relationship where one or both of you have children from previous relationships ends up not working.
If your stepchild is causing damage to your relationship and every intervention you try seemingly fails, or your partner doesn’t seem to be invested in fixing the problem or seems to be oblivious to the gravity of the problem, you may be better of leaving. If your stepchild is hurting you or causing danger to their step-siblings, it may be time to leave because of your stepchild.
Knowing when to leave a relationship because of a stepchild is never easy. If nothing you have tried seems to make your relationship with your stepchild work, it comes time to listen to your intuition and watch out for signs that leaving might be your best option.
Signs To Call It Quits
Your Stepchild Hurts Your Children
Children get into fights and get hurt sometimes. That’s normal. What isn’t normal is when one child repeatedly hurts or bullies the other for seemingly no reason. If responding with kindness and understanding, doling out appropriate consequences, and trying therapy don’t seem to make any difference, it may be time to consider leaving the relationship.
Your own child’s safety and well-being should be your priority. If your stepchild hurts your child or puts them in serious danger, it is up to you to decide the best course of action that will keep your children safe.
Your Stepchild Tells Lies About You
Having a stepchild accuse you of being mean or treating your children better than them is frustrating and hurtful. Not only is it frustrating, but it can also result in the breakdown of your relationship.
Having to do the detective work to clear yourself of blame between you and your partner is hard enough, it becomes much more complicated when the child has other family members and friends believing falsehoods about you. Depending on what your stepchild has said, you may end up on the receiving end of so many hurtful attacks and threats from people you’ve worked hard to build a relationship with.
Having someone tell damaging lies about you is bad enough and having someone tell lies about you day in and day out in your own home is even worse. In some cases, it may be enough for you to consider leaving or at least taking a step back from your partner and your stepchild.
Your Stepchild is Manipulative
Someone who lives with you or is around you often will often know just how to push your buttons. Your stepchild may emotionally manipulate or guilt you into allowing them to have what they want by telling you that their mother allows them to do a certain thing or that their mother said a certain negative thing about you. Your stepchild may also manipulate you into giving in to their whims by accusing you of hurting them or not loving them.
It can be hard to know when someone is manipulating you. If you, your stepchild, and your stepchild’s parents aren’t able to work out the problematic behavior, or if they just don’t seem to care about your concerns, it may be time to call it quits.
Your Stepchild Won’t Listen To You at All
In your house, it’s up to you to do the disciplining. Your stepchild may be openly disobeying your rules or they may be sneaking around your rules behind your back. Having your stepchild disrespect your boundaries and break your rules in your own home is enough to make anyone think about reconsidering their relationship.
As if disciplining your own child wasn’t complicated enough, disciplining a stepchild adds another layer of difficulty – the line between what’s appropriate and what isn’t when disciplining stepchildren is a very vague one.
Your stepchild’s disobedience may cause a rift in your relationship with your partner if they believe that you are being too harsh or strict towards their child.
Your Stepchild Makes You Feel Unsafe
This is more so a problem with older teenage stepchildren and adult stepchildren who are in control of their actions and aware of consequences, as opposed to young children who may not be as aware of the harm their actions might bring. Your stepchild may be threatening to hurt you or might be causing your physical or emotional harm.
If your stepchild’s behavior is enough to make you feel unsafe around them or afraid for your safety in your own home, protecting yourself by leaving may be your best option.
Ways to Handle Problems With a Stepchild
Adjusting to a new family dynamic is stressful for everyone. Children aren’t able to understand or process their emotions as well as an adult would be able to and may act out as a way to express their negative emotions. Understand that your stepchild’s behavior isn’t necessarily reflective of your character, but rather may just be them expressing difficulty at adjusting to new people and new arrangements that inevitably come with blending families.
Understand Where They are Coming From
Children may be left feeling anxious, stressed, scared, and overwhelmed when adjusting to a blended family dynamic. They may feel like their lives have gone out of their control and the problems you experience are a result of them looking to gain some sort of control over their life.
Sit down and have open discussions with your stepchild about how they feel being in a blended family and what you can do to help them. Encourage your stepchild’s biological parent(s) to have the same conversation with their child.
Sift Through Your Own Emotions
When problems with your stepchild come around and seemingly won’t go away, it’s easy to feel frustrated and powerless. Sitting down to reflect on your own feelings and thoughts towards the matter can help you respond more positively to the situation and to your stepchild.
Ask yourself what it is you are feeling, why you feel that way, and who your feelings are directed towards. You may find more strength and patience to handle issues that arise once you have had time to process your own emotions.
Establish Mutual Respect and Honesty in Your Household
Establish household rules with your partner and agree that everyone living under the roof needs to obey. Set clear, age-appropriate consequences for breaking rules and disrespecting their parents or step-parents and implement the same rules for all children.
Let the child(ren) have a say in your rules and try to accommodate their opinions as long as reasonable. Having them know that you respect them and have their best interest in mind will go a long way in resolving future issues that may arise.
Oftentimes, issues arise when a child accuses the step-parent of being unfair towards them or treating their biological children better than their stepchildren. Have them be honest with you and your partner about why they feel that way and what circumstance it was that made them feel that way.
On the other hand, be honest with them about your own feelings as well and apologize for any fault you may have had in the situation. Let them know how you feel when they break your rules or accuse you of being mean or unfair, without using accusatory language.
Acknowledge and validate the way they must feel being in an unconventional family and let them know that you are making the effort on your end to make your relationship better.
Maintain a Healthy Relationship With the Other Parent
Let your stepchild know that while they do have to respect you, you aren’t trying to replace their biological parent or be a stand-in for them. Don’t force them to call you “mom” or “dad” unless they want to.
If you get a chance to meet your stepchild’s other parent, maintain your respect for them and try to positive and understanding, even if there are issues surrounding your relationship with your stepchild. Make it a point to show your stepchild that you can get along with their other parent, and don’t talk poorly about the biological parents either.
It sometimes happens that your stepchild’s other parent will bad mouth you in front of their child or your partner. Talk to your partner about it privately and be honest about how you feel. It isn’t any good for you to hide your hurt for the sake of keeping peace either.
Get Professional Support
Seeking out a family counselor or therapist is never a bad idea. Talking to a therapist all together and individually can help you sort out your problems and transition into a blended family unit, while individual therapy can help all members of the family find healthier outlets for their emotions.
If an issue is between a specific group of people in the family, say you and your stepchild, or a child and their stepsibling, it may be a good idea to incorporate therapy sessions where issues between 2 people can be closely worked on in addition to going to therapy as a whole family.
Couple’s therapy can also help you and your partner build a more cohesive partnership and co-parent better. A therapist can help you and your partner set realistic expectations for your family and resolve any lingering issues in your marriage.
Get Your Partner on Your Side
Having someone on your side can make all the difference in whether you stay or go. Having your partner on your side will help resolve any issues of spousal conflict that come as a result of problems you have with your stepchild.
Explain to your partner your side of the issue without presenting it as an attack on their child. Your partner will be more likely to support your side if you are able to use calm, gentle language in telling them how you feel.
If your partner refuses to see your side or still disbelieves you over their child even after showing him that you were in the right, it may be time to raise your concerns over leaving the relationship.
The most important thing in any partnership and family is communication. Being able to express your thoughts and voice your concerns in a healthy way will go a long way in preventing conflict and resolving issues as they arise.
When things start going sideways in your relationship with your stepchild, finding ways to get back to normal is frustrating and a challenge for everyone involved. Sometimes, relationships with stepchildren need more than what both parties can give, in which case therapy with a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) can give you some direction on how best to proceed.
If things do not improve, however, or if your situation seems to get worse even after putting as much as you can into your relationship with your stepchildren, it may be time to consider leaving to protect yourself and your health and sanity. There isn’t any shame in wanting to leave of a relationship that affects you so negatively so much.