The Reluctant Step-Children | A Different Kind of Friend | Out of “Step”


The Reluctant Step-Children

Dear Micah,

I am getting married in a few months to a man I truly love. My problem? My kids can’t stand him. I have three boys (14, 10, 8) and they don’t like him at all. I think it’s because they love their dad so much. They have a really close relationship with their father and won’t give Dave a shot. All I know is it gets pretty awkward around my house when Dave is over. The boys are polite (I don’t tolerate rudeness) but it’s a freeze out. My oldest told me they don’t like him but can’t offer up many reasons. The ones he does offer up are silly. Like he doesn’t like the way Dave laughs and he doesn’t like the way he dresses. There are no substantial reasons to dislike Dave. So what are some ways my family can come together before this wedding? I really need my boys on board with this and to love Dave. Dave’s a good guy.

Kelli

—————

Dear Kelli,

What will you do if they are not on board with it? That’s an important question, because the answer to that question could be the very reason why your children dislike Dave. If the answer is “I’m marrying him anyway,” THAT is most likely the problem. Do your boys feel like you have chosen Dave over them? Now I realize that kids are likely to think they feel that way regardless of how things shake down in situations like these, but in a very real and truly honest way ask yourself this and examine the dynamics of your family since Dave came along.

Do you make time with your kids? Are you always rushing to be ready for Dave? Do you take Dave’s side over things? Do you let Dave’s opinion lead the decisions? Do you and Dave ever do things with the boys like a family would or are your dates usually just the two of you? If your boys are always saying goodbye at the door to you as you leave with Dave then it’s unlikely that they are ever going to feel “part of” this new dynamic.

You need to understand that these boys had an interpretation of what their family was. Dad isn’t in the daily picture now so they redefined the family (in the household) as Mom and the three of them. If Dave is going to join it, Dave has to join it–meaning the family dynamic—and that includes dating and wooing the boys as well.

Dave should have asked all of you to marry him, not just you. The boys may be thinking that you jumped ship to start a new family with Dave and they are just in the way until they get old enough to get out so Dave can have you all to himself. That can make them start to feel awkward and unwelcome in their own home when Dave is there.

It makes me wonder if perhaps Dave has inadvertently given this impression to them by making you his only real focus. Your boys need to feel like they are included in these changes and not just that they are losing their mother now.

The good news is it’s not too late if you can get everything to work out just right. How friendly are you with the boys’ father? Could you ask him to help ease this transition? Would it be possible if Dad and Dave both took the boys camping or to a ball game or to do something where upon they boys could spend some fun time with Dave getting to know him better? It might be that the boys would be willing to do something with just Dave, but just in case that is tricky, I thought perhaps their father might tag along. This could accomplish several things. It keeps the boys from being rude to Dave while out away from you because their other parent is there. It also shows the boys that Dad and Dave can get along—maybe even be friends one day. It also shows the boys that Dave doesn’t intend on replacing their Dad, he just wants to earn a place in their family for himself.

It may not be possible to get your ex on board with this plan, but if you two are at all friendly, it can’t hurt to ask. It behooves him to be on good terms with the step-father, and it teaches the boys some really important lessons about courtesy and kindness and welcoming new people to your lives. I know that if my son ever had a new man coming into his life in a ‘fatherlike’ role, I’d want to know this guy and have an established relationship with him so that I was not ever left out of the loop with my own kid. Just an idea.

My basic point though is that I suspect your kids are not feeling like they are or have ever been a part of this new change in the family. It’s time they felt connected to it all, and Dave needs to do some things to bond with these boys. You still have four years left with your eldest and ten years left with your youngest before they graduate high school. These are really important developmental years. You cannot allow these boys to live them in a home they don’t feel comfortable in.

It’s just my opinion–I am no expert–but you did write me: if these boys still do not like Dave by the time of the wedding, I would not marry Dave. You will have time after they’re grown to find someone else. And even if you don’t, you signed up to be a parent, and that means providing a home your kids want to come home to. You can’t bring in someone no one likes and expect that home to be peaceful for them. Too much adult behavior rides on how we developed in childhood to risk contaminating the childhood with tension and animosity. Dave has to become beloved by all parties involved, or it’s just not going to be a good family environment.

—————

A Different Kind of Friend

Dear Micah,

I am a guy with a lot of friends that all like the same things. We watch games together, drink some beer, play a little ball together on occasion, cook out with our girlfriends. We’ve all got the same basic interests and we look at the world the same way, yada, yada, yada.   A few weeks ago I was at a party thrown by one of my girlfriend’s co-workers. I didn’t really know anybody there. There was another lone guy like me who knew no one. We hung out at the party and really hit it off. He’s got a wicked sense of humor. Funny, but in ways my friends and I aren’t. He sees the world way different than I do and I enjoyed getting to know him. Since that party we’ve hung out a few times. I really like him. He’s a really cool guy. A nice guy too. So I naturally thought to introduce him to the larger group. My girlfriend really likes his girlfriend so that transition has been a little easier with the women, but the guys don’t like this dude at all. I mean at all. They haven’t said it but I can tell. Everybody keeps their mouth closed and acts like there isn’t an elephant in the room but it’s pretty uncomfortable. I know he’s a little out there compared to the rest. He’s tatted up and he has a couple of piercings that are real obvious. He’s very liberal. His humor is a little edgier than I guess some people are comfortable with. I really couldn’t even tell you why I like him cause I probably shouldn’t seeing as how different we are, but I do. I just need a way to work him into the group. Do I try to get him to tone it down a notch? Do I appeal to my friends to give him a chance and just talk about it with them? I don’t want to make too much of a deal about it but I don’t want this awkwardness to keep happening. I also don’t want to stop hanging out with him so it’s important to me for the rest of my friends to welcome him in.

Ray

—————

Dear Ray,

You are making it seem like you live in a fraternity. You do realize, I hope, that a man can have friends that are not at all affiliated with his other friends, don’t you? In fact, that is probably better anyway for those times when you may just be sick of hanging out with the larger group. Now I suppose I could sit here and try to come up with ideas to blend this new guy into your fraternity of friends, but I just don’t see the point. At worst they will not accept him, and it will possibly hurt his feelings and/or cause you some embarrassment and resentment towards your group of friends. At best they embrace him and welcome him, and then he folds into the group. Within a year he’ll have lost some of the edge that drew you to him because he’s assimilated in with everyone else and adapted their ways.

You don’t want that to happen because if all of your friends are really the same person, then it’s kind of like you really just have one friend. There was something special about this guy that drew you in. He approaches life differently than anyone else you know. Keep that fresh and untainted. Attempting to water him down enough to have a group accept him is wrong, and it will eventually defeat the whole purpose, because then you’ll just have one more friend exactly like all of the friends you already have.

I’ve said this before in articles, but it bears repeating. You want to have people in your life from all different walks of life. I think it’s the only way to make yourself more interesting. If everyone is basically living the same kind of life that you are, then what is there new to learn from the people around you? You seem to completely understand that line of thinking, and you demonstrated that by initiating a friendship with this tattooed, pierced, liberal guy that you say is nothing like you. Hurray to you for being smart enough to embrace differences! Preserve that by keeping this special man and his girlfriend separate from the others. Do things with them where it’s only the four of you. He doesn’t have to be friends with your other friends. It’s good that he now knows the others in the larger group a little in case there is ever a time when all of your friends come together (like your birthday party or maybe, one day, your wedding), but other than that, keep this couple separate as your own personal friends.

—————

Out of “Step”

Dear Micah,

My grandmother is actually my grandfather’s second wife. They married when I was 5, so I always referred to her as my grandmother. I don’t think she’s ever referred to me as her granddaughter. I am always Norman’s granddaughter or Norman son’s daughter. We have a good relationship. We have never had any words.   I have thought we loved each other but she always makes that distinction no matter how many times I try it the other way. It’s not just me, it’s my brothers and sisters, too. Well recently I have become pregnant. In my mind she will be my child’s great-grandmother. How do I have a conversation with her where I ask her to please not make the distinction with my child that she’s made with me?

Lea

—————

Dear Lea,

This is a really great question because it’s almost 2015, and the perimeters of what defines a family have changed so much over the last decades. People have long talked about the roles step-parents play in children’s lives, but step-parents grow up to be step-grandparents, and that can become really confusing. But I think the answer is simple, they are the grandparent.

In my opinion, the only reason “step” enters the dynamic is to differentiate that this person is a relative newcomer to the game. They weren’t there from birth. But that doesn’t hold true when a stepchild has a baby. From the moment of that baby’s birth, that step-parent is a grandparent in every real way. The baby doesn’t understand that somebody died or divorced and grandpa married someone else. They just see their grandmother. And that’s the way it should be.

Now sometimes that may step on the toes of the natural grandmother, but that’s just the price you have to pay when marriages break up. Your spouse will probably remarry, and so will you, and two new people have to be blended into the larger family. A child with three sets of grandparents is even luckier than a child with only two. However, in your case, Lea, it sounds like your grandmother has always made the distinction that she is not your “real” grandmother. I guess because you were already five when she joined the family, she probably believes that you were of an age old enough to recognize that she was new and not really your grandmother.

Instead of trying to change that over time, she just held to that original classification—probably out of respect to you or your natural grandmother. She didn’t want to appear presumptuous. But it’s time for that to stop. If she loves you, and you say she does, she would welcome being identified as the authentic great-grandmother to your baby. Just tell her how you feel. It is never an insult to a step-parent (or in this case step-grandparent) to hear a child tell them that they think of them as their official parent (or grandparent). I do not see how a person would get their panties in a wad over being told “I love you like my real grandmother so would you stop saying step-grandmother.” So, have that conversation before the baby comes so that at showers she can be introduced as the great grandmother. Kids deserve all the grandparents and great-grandparents they can get, no matter how they got there.

One Response to “The Reluctant Step-Children | A Different Kind of Friend | Out of “Step””

  1. Wow! You get some really great questions! And the answers are so well thought out!

    Just like to point out that with the step grandparents thing. In our family it’s a non issue and all grandparents are equal! As my older 2 got older they came to realize who was really who, but nothing changed. Grandparents are awesome! LOTTS of grandparents are even MORE awesome! Hope it works out!

    Xoxo

Leave a Reply