Falling in love with someone who has children from a previous relationship can be scary, challenging and overwhelming for many reasons. Your partner may be perfectly made for you, but despite this bond, over time you might realise that you are struggling to accept the children. Before commiting to and getting serious in the relationship, consider this carefully and assess whether you are ready to enter such a relationship, as the partner’s first responsibility is towards their children.
A lot of factors may contribute to the struggle for acceptance. Firstly, each situation is unique and depends on several issues including the children’s ages, behaviour, relationship with the other parent, the stage at which you and your partner start the relationship, and whether you have children too. Consequently, children may be perceived as a constant reminder of your partner’s previous relationship (“How to cope…”, n.d.). You could also find yourself caught up in parenting conflicts between your partner and the children’s other parent (“Meeting your partner’s children”, n.d.). Here, you may feel like an outsider, and you may also experience the feeling of being tested and trapped in family difficulties which you would rather avoid (ibid.). This could further add on to the struggle you may be experiencing.
If you are struggling to accept or do not like your partner’s children, the following tips can help you cope with the situation:
- Do not rush
Do not rush the process and do not rush to conclusions about your partner’s children. Give the relationship enough time to develop slowly and do not expect that you will like the children immediately (or them you).
- Be self-aware
Be aware of your feelings, your wants and needs in such a situation. How do you feel in such a situation? Why are you struggling? What is causing or triggering such feelings? Is this the right thing for you? Is this what you want? Are you ready to commit to this? Furthermore, be aware of your thought process. Just because you think something, it doesn’t mean it is true. Let these feelings and thoughts emerge; acknowledge them and consciously set them aside.
- Find Common Ground
While you do not have to like or love your partner’s children (or them you), trying to find some form of common ground with them is beneficial. This enables individuals to bond and connect on a personal level, no matter the age or life experience (“When love doesn’t come to town…”, n.d.). In challenging situations, look for anything that you might have in common with them, even if it is something simple such as a TV show, a favourite song or artist, a hobby, a favourite sport or team, or anything else.
- Be Honest and Communicate
Being honest and communicating with your partner about how you are feeling is vital in such a situation (ibid.). Find a good time and a private space where you can share this struggle with your partner. Do not take any feelings out on the child, and try to avoid bringing up any conversation when either you, your partner or both are upset or in the middle of an argument. Healthy communication is beneficial as it not only allows you to release some of your frustration and feelings, but it also allows your partner to understand your perspective better.
- Involve your partner
Involve your partner more and ask them to step in more. If the child’s behaviour and attitude is that which is making it more difficult for you to accept them, discuss ways and things you both can do to improve this, or to improve the relationship in some way. However, here you need to be careful and not fall into the trap of assuming that the behaviour will change overnight, if at all.
- Be respectful and kind
You may receive rude, disrespectful and difficult behaviour from the children, which makes it even more difficult to accept the children and to practice kindness and respect towards them. Here, it is helpful to keep in mind that the children might hold a negative attitude as an expression of loyalty towards the other parent (ibid.). The children may experience grief at losing a home, guilt at the thought of liking or becoming close to you, and might secretly hope that their parents might reunite some day. The children might not be able to express this in a healthy way, therefore they might react through difficult behaviour. This behaviour might be covering up other feelings, such as sadness, helplessness, confusion and resentment which might not be expressed. Unfortunately this goes unnoticed most often. If the children’s behaviour towards you doesn’t change, you may need to set boundaries, just as you would set with anyone else who is treating you in a disrespectful manner (ibid.). Despite all this or any challenges, be respectful, show kindness and care.
- Understand where the child is at.
This is beneficial and of great importance. Take the time to truly understand where the children are at. Here, keep in mind their age, developmental stage and experience of being cared for and parented by each of their parents. Given this, try to understand what they are realistically capable of doing. You may find that your expectations of what the children can or should do might not match up with their capabilities. Understanding this may support a smoother transition to acceptance.
Michela Aquilina is a trainee Gestalt Psychotherapist who is currently reading for a Masters in Gestalt Psychotherapy at the Gestalt Psychotherapy Training Institute Malta (GPTIM) and is working as a Trainee Gestalt Psychotherapist with Willingness Team. Michela offers therapy to young adults and adults who are experiencing various challenges and issues relating to mental health and psychosocial, emotional wellbeing.
How to cope if your partner has children from a previous relationship. (n.d.). Click. Retrieved from: https://click.clickrelationships.org/content/all-issues/coping-when-your-partner-already-has-children/?fbclid=IwAR2SHxG0pBQkgtRXzlPbpg6AxGVNTem5ihTPshu13G4A8fvRi60hTzca-aQ
Meeting your partner’s children. (n.d.). Click. Retrieved from: https://click.clickrelationships.org/content/all-issues/meeting-your-partners-children/
When love doesn’t come to town – What to do when you don’t love your stepchildren. (n.d.). Stepping Through. Retrieved from: http://www.steppingthrough.com.au/love-doesnt-come-town-dont-love-stepchildren/