As much difficulty as women seem to have with stepchildren, adult stepchildren seem to cause even more stress and strife. Whether it’s dads who are having a difficult time shifting priorities, adult kids who seem to be manipulating or interfering, or a number of other frustrations, adult stepchildren seem to present special challenges in blended family relationships.
I am in the position of being both a step mom to adult stepchildren and, more recently, an adult stepchild. Because I raised my stepchildren from the time they were young, as adults, we don’t have as many challenges as we might have had I inherited them when they were older. However, there are still times when their dad and I still struggle over entitlements.
When our oldest daughter graduated from high school, the plan was that she would be leaving after the summer to attend school. Mid-summer, she changed her mind and decided to stay home and go to community college. My husband and I had different levels of expectation about the contributions an 18-year old adult should make to the household, given that we were still supporting her while she attended college. It sometimes causes grief for us – right or wrong, it’s hard for me not to want to shift our priority (i.e., our budget) to the younger kids. Is it because they are my birth kids? While that might play some role in it, the way I see it, it’s their turn. When the other kids were little, we took them on trips and to movies and spent money on sports and activities they were interested in. Shouldn’t we be able to do the same for the younger kids now that they are of the age where their interests are growing?
We managed to find a comfortable compromise that worked for us. Our adult children are still expected to do certain things around the house to contribute, and while they are free to live their lives, it is not without some very restrictive rules about how that impacts the younger kids who still have to stay on a regular schedule, get up and go to school, and have routines. Our daughter was welcome to stay out late with her friends, but she wasn’t able to bring them home to hang out at our house until 3am. She could come and go as she pleased, but she had to keep her bathroom and bedroom presentable. We stopped planning meals around her schedule; we were happy when she was there to share, but okay if she wasn’t. We expected the common courtesy from her of letting us know when she wasn’t going to be home for a night and how we get get in touch if we needed to. It worked.
If only it was that easy for me as an adult stepchild! My dad remarried shortly after my mom died. I was still grieving; I felt like he was moving too fast; I was unable to see through my personal pain that he needed to do what was right for him. Because we got off on the wrong foot, my “stepmother” and I haven’t built a very strong relationship. In fact, I was probably one of those adult stepchildren new wives complain about – I told my dad I thought he was making a mistake, I didn’t want to go to the wedding, I resisted their relationship at every turn. I had more than my share of mean thoughts. Over time, I’ve realized that my stepmom is actually a very sweet lady, she makes my dad happy, she does thoughtful things for our family, and she is a good person.
When it comes right down to it, I love my husband – and I love his children whom I’ve been privileged to raise. When it comes right down to it, I love my dad – and his new wife makes him happy and that’s really all I want for him. I wish there was an easy answer, but as both a stepmother to adult stepchildren and as an adult stepchild, the only thing that really works is time, patience, and communication.
This is an excerpt from Shadra’ s book, Stories From a StepMom, available on Amazon Kindle. Read more or request a review copy.