Marriage is hard, yet rewarding. It takes a lot of work to maintain a good marriage. Adding children into the equation adds even more complexity and can make it more stressful. And when the children are his and you are their stepmother, you now you have a real tightrope to walk. The wicked stepmother is infamous for a reason. No matter how much the kids like you or how wonderful you are you still REPRESENT the hard reality that they cannot live with their mom and dad together.
In addition, they may be very afraid that their dad has replaced their mom with you. If they like you, this will make them feel guilty because they will feel disloyal to their mother. They may react by distancing themselves or trying not to like you. You also represent the end of their hope that their parents will reunite and life will go back to having with both parents. When parents split up, the kids also fear that they, too, could stop being loved and be left. They may fear that their father will love you more than them and so they will lose him.
It’s helpful to understand where children are coming from emotionally during this time so you won’t take their behavior personally and react with a counterattack if they are treating you like an unwelcome interloper, torture until you, too, want to leave, or try to show Dad you were a big mistake. You are in tricky territory because mothers are usually the primary parent, yet in this case they have a mother and you are their stepmother. So you need to think pro-actively about how to handle these new relationships rather than waiting for problems to arise. Here are important things to consider.
1. Don’t force the relationship. You can’t make them love you. Relationships take time to develop. If you seem desperate for their affection this will likely turn them off. Try to let them come to you at their own pace.
2. Make yourself very available. Be around for them to come talk to you if they feel like it. Just hanging out to watch TV or go food shopping can be the times they find to warm up to you.
3. If you don’t have biological children, then make an effort to learn about children’s development, in particular about the ages of your stepchildren and what you can expect from them. You can read about it in parenting books, go to parenting lectures or just talk to friends with kids.
4. If you have your own children too, make sure to spend independent time alone with both your own children and your step children so your biological children do not feel pushed out and threatened and your stepchildren feel there is a space for them with you.
5. Do not criticize your stepchildren’s biological mother. No matter how angry she makes you or how tough she may be, these children need to maintain their own relationship with her and they will feel hurt and angry if you speak badly of their mother.
6. Get on the same page with Dad about discipline and privileges. Sit down and compromise until you have some meeting ground about the basic rules for the kids. If you are inconsistent they will play you off one another and it will cause discord between you and your spouse.