Summer will be here soon, and so will your stepchildren! Excited? Scared? Ready to run? Join the club, this is about the time of year women start panicking.
Fathers who live far away from their stepchildren often only see them during the summer or for holidays. This can be a welcome relief for stepmothers who have contentious relationships with their stepchildren. However, that relief is often offset by long and intense summer visits.
Blended families who see each other more regularly have more time to work out the house rules and expectations. When kids only arrive for summer visits, their presence can equate to a complete disruption in a stepmother’s life.
If the father only sees his children a few times a year, he is less likely to want to enforce house rules during the few months they are visiting. The stepmother can often feel left behind while her husband and his children look forward to making up for lost time. The majority of her summer can be spent cooking and cleaning with her husband is playing with his kids.
To a large degree, much of this should be expected when a woman marries a man with children. Dad undoubtedly wants to spend as much time as possible with them while they are visiting. Learning to adjust to his absence during this time is something most should expect. This can be a great time for a stepmother to plan a visit with her relatives or go on a trip with some friends. Then everyone wins. It just takes some planning.
What can complicates matters, is when children visit who have hostile, pent-up resentment and jealousy toward their stepmother. Then she’s not just taking a backseat while the kids are visiting, she can also become the target for their animosity. Her home can go from being her safe-haven to being a battle field.
If a father tries to set house rules, his children may argue his wife put him up to it. If he tries to include his wife in activities, a typical argument from the children is that he has his wife the rest of the year. Now it’s time just for him to visit with the kids. Going from being a part of a couple, to being an unwanted outsider can be a difficult adjustment even if it is for several weeks or a few months.
Visiting children filled with resentment can focus on lashing out at the second wife instead of just coming to visit with their father. The tension in the house can become thick as attempts at manipulation, divisiveness and tug-of-war over their father take center stage. Passive aggressive swipes, eye-rolling, intentional defiance, refusal to acknowledge the second wife and rude behavior can fill a stepmother’s summer with anxiety and dread.
For individuals not used to the trials often involved in blended families, some common beliefs are that kids will just be kids, it’s only for the summer, let dad have his time with his children, be understanding and of course, the second wife knew what she was getting into when she married a man with children.
These beliefs dismiss and belittle a stepmother’s feelings. Women should never be expected to tolerate hateful behavior, in their own home or anywhere. Stepmothers are women, humans worthy of being treated with respect. Looking for ways to justify bad behavior is enabling.
One of the biggest contributing problems in blended families is the failure to communicate. It can be very difficult for these parties to communicate without becoming defensive. Additionally, these situations are often highly charged, so it is imperative that the adults choose their words carefully. The idea is to share feelings and ideas, not to ram them down each other’s throat.
Couples need to first communicate their expectations to each other in a calm manner. Some things to consider are:
What will the bedtimes be?
What will the cooking and cleaning schedules be?
Which plans will involve the second wife and which ones can she expect to sit out on?
What exact behaviors will not be tolerated?
What house rules will be expected to be followed?
What will the consequences be for not following the rules?
What are the expectations when the father is gone during the visit?
While these conversations may seem daunting for some, they are critical to ensure everyone can have a good time. Children need to feel secure, and as though they are a part of the family. They won’t feel welcome in a house full of tension. And if expectations aren’t discussed prior to a visit, it won’t be long before the house becomes a turf war.
After the couple has listened to each other and made a plan, the father needs to have a talk with his children communicating both the fun plans that are being made and also the expectations during the visit.
The goal is for the father and his children to bond and enjoy their time together. Allowing aggressive behavior can complicate that goal for all of the parties involved. It’s absolutely possible for children to visit with their fathers and enjoy their summer visits. However when the summer fun comes at the expense of the stepmother’s peace and sanity, the potential for the visit to turn sour can increase exponentially.
Stepmothers do not need to be fill-in mothers. They also don’t need to be doormats. Finding a good balance can mean everyone enjoys their summer months rather than dreading them.