My boyfriend and I will be married soon (I was divorced three years ago, and he was widowed a year later). Between us, we have five kids, and they all like each other. But his 11-year-old daughter is not happy that he’s dating me—not because she doesn’t like me but because she’s not happy with “the situation.” She can be pretty awful—screaming at him frequently about how I’m always there. She’s in therapy, but I’m worried that at this rate, we’re not going to make it to being a stepfamily. Do you have any tips for preparing to be a blended family?
It’s fantastic that all the kids get along! But for a girl who’s going through the changes of puberty and has lost a mother so recently, it would be hard for her not to be upset. She’s likely scared and jealous that you will be taking her place as the only female in her dad’s life and trying to replace her mom. Most researchers say that children benefit from a three-year period post-divorce to cycle through emotions, and adjusting after a death can last much longer.
Dad really is the driving force here, and he has to be the one to send consistent messages of love to his daughter while setting boundaries for her. He may be feeling guilty that she has to deal with “the situation” and thus feeling hesitant to enforce consequences for her bad behavior.
When all of you are going to be together, but before anyone arrives, he could tell her what he expects her behavior will be. He should explain the consequences if she acts up; perhaps she’ll have to leave the room or have a privilege revoked. He should assure her of how much he loves her and that he will always be her daddy no matter what. If she does act up (she may, for a while), the rest of you can still be together.
Try to go easy on her. Girls have the toughest time with divorce between ages 11 and 15, so some parents choose to date and marry after the children are through this developmental stage. Of course, that’s a very tough choice to make. Consider taking the situation nice and slow, and it will likely pay off in the long run.
Jacquelyn B. Fletcher is a stepdaughter and stepmother of three children—two of them girls. She’s the author of A Career Girl’s Guide to Becoming a Stepmom.