Rejection by Stepchildren

By Susan Wilkins-Hubley of Second Wives

So you met this really nice man, you’ve fallen in love – possibly even married him and everything looks just about the way it should, right?  Oh but we’ve forgotten to mention that this wonderful man you are so smitten with has three lovely children.  The children get to know you, they spend some time with you, but have they accepted you as a permanent fixture in dad’s life?  Maybe they have, maybe they haven’t.  If they have – count your blessings.  If they haven’t stay tuned….

Rejection by stepchildren is not uncommon.  It is, as I see it, a child’s way of coping with an unfamiliar and possibly unhappy situation.  Let’s face it – the children probably don’t want their father spending a lot of time and energy on someone that they are not related to, girls especially, seem to take these adjustments the hardest.  The children truly, deep down inside, want their parents together again, don’t take this personally.  (Easier said than done)  As a second wife, or girlfriend, we represent the break down and failure of their parents marriage and their family.  Not a pretty mental-picture for a child.  I have read that divorce itself is not harmful to children, but animosity and disagreements that come in tow with divorce, if not kept from the children, are harmful.  A child’s acceptance of a stepparent can be based on how the child fared the divorce and it’s unpleasant “side effects”.  Rejection can also be encouraged or discouraged by the child’s biological parents.  If their mother doesn’t want them to like you – for whatever whacked out or legitimate reasons, chances are, they won’t.  If the biological parents encourage a positive and healthy relationship with you, it will most likely happen as well.  Parenting is a large part of the acceptance.  If the child sees that the mother wishes him/her to disapprove of the stepparent, the child usually follows suit to please the parent.  He or she has already figured out that if they cross or disagree with their bio-parent openly, gobs of guilt and damnation will follow suit.  What child wants to live this way?

Stepchildren can also reject stepparents on their own terms and for their own independent and sometimes thoughtful reasons.  These reasons can be valid – or not.  Whatever the reasons are, sometimes they will stand by their decision not to accept you as part of their family until they have matured into adults.  Please make sure you realize that this is merely their perception of the “family”.  If “Sally” doesn’t see you as part of the family, this does not mean that this is REAL.  The only people that can affirm your role within the family is your husband and you jointly.  If your husband does not affirm your role openly within the family, then perhaps you are with the wrong man.   

Coping Strategies:

  • Detach.  understand that this is the child’s (or adult child’s) problem.  Usually, there isn’t a lot that we as stepmoms can do to make this better.  Don’t own this problem.
  • Stop obsessing about it.  Yes I know it is very difficult to keep “our chin up” and to “hold our head high” but this is a very important part of healing and dealing. 
  • Focus on your relationship with your husband or boyfriend.  This is the most important relationship.  The children grow up (hopefully move out before they hit 40) and make lives of their own.  Your relationship and it’s success is paramount.  Spend time with your husband as a couple.
  • Don’t get caught up in your stepfamily.  Many stepmoms get overly focused on their roles as stepmothers, rather than individuals.  Certainly this relationship and your stepfamily is important, but remember you were a whole person before you met him, and you have ambitions, dreams, thoughts, feelings and interests too. 
  • Make time for yourself each and every day.  I don’t care if this means hiding in the back porch with a newspaper and a coffee for 15 minutes, do it!
  • Seek the support of other stepmoms.  Of course, it is extremely helpful to air your feelings and frustrations and know that you are not crazy, or alone.
  • Remember that they are his children.  If you are a non-custodial stepmother, this is easier said.  If you are a custodial stepmother (I bow in awe) make certain that “dad” is towing the line with the parenting of these children. 
  • Present a united front at all times! (Even when you don’t want to)  This is instrumental while stepparenting/parenting within a blended family.  If the children see a “crack” in your marriage – be certain that they will pick away at this crack until they make a nice big gaping hole to get what they want from.  Kids are smart – they learn how to manipulate quickly and know WHO to manipulate. 
  • Don’t become too upset or concerned if they kids don’t like you.  We don’t have to actually like them either.  We do however have to be the adult and treat them with respect.  If the child doesn’t like you – accept it – don’t obsess over it.  Many times this is temporary and they have to figure out who you are themselves. 
  • Don’t expect too much if anything from your stepchildren.  The less you expect from them emotionally, the less likely you will be hurt or disappointed.

Dealing with rejection is never simple, nor is it ever pleasant.  It’s actually quite painful.  Remember that they are children – they are usually innocent and they never asked for the divorce their parents put them through. 

Let me know if this article has helped you!
Susan Wilkins-Hubley
Canadian Mom & Stepmom to Four
[email protected]

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