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How Do We Handle Differences Between Kids and Step-Kids To Be?

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From the U.S.: I am divorced after an abusive marriage–my kids endured a lot. Despite this, after years of hard work, I have two children who, thankfully, have come through all that with flying colors. I have a lot on my side, good finances, career, and family.  NOTHING in my life makes me happier to more deeply satisfied than seeing my  kids happy and whole and thriving. I thank God DAILY for it.

I have found a good man who I love, who is also divorced. We have decided not to marry until later. We live close by but not together. I love his kids too.

However, his kids–similar ages to mine–are not doing well in some ways, struggling academically and socially, and have quit many things, and are in fewer and fewer things as time goes on. Their mother (who I made a friend) struggles with various issues. I try to support them as best I can. If they are in a play, or sporting event, I go.

My kids persevere, and have had many successes (and failures too!).  My kids now do lots of things, while they do little.

It has created a disparity. And that is the issue. I don’t know how to handle it. My daughter recently got the lead role in her school musical, but she does not want her future-step-sister to know about her part, and downplays it–for fear of making her feel badly (future-step-sister has been passed over for parts in past). I keep quiet about my kid’s lives to my man and his kids, not wanting to draw any attention to the disparity. My son downplays his activities too, not wanting to make them feel bad. I am FINE with this. So are my kids–none of us are boastful people. Even saying this much about them is embarrassing to me. They do these things because they LOVE them–not to brag about it.  I do LOVE his kids, and don’t give ONE HOOT what they do or don’t “accomplish”. I am not sure any of it means all that much in the end.

But the downplaying is starting to feel like LYING.  I don’t invite my man to my kids events, not wanting to make him feel badly, because he DOES think this accomplishment stuff is important. It DOES affect him. I DO go to his kid’s few things. It feels like lying/leaving him out.

How Do We Handle Differences Between Kids and Step-Kids To Be?

Answered by on -

A.

I don’t think you are lying. I do think your approach to the situation isn’t helpful. Your kids deserve to feel good about all they have managed to accomplish in spite of a tough start. You deserve to share in their pride. If your man is to become a permanent part of your life, he needs to be able to celebrate their achievements with you and them.

Downplaying your own kids’ strengths is only helping your man avoid dealing with the fact that his kids are troubled and in trouble. There is a reason that they are struggling with school and retreating from normal hobbies and interests. There is a reason that they aren’t setting themselves on a path to a successful adult life. It needs to be dealt with — now. It’s not about comparing them to your kids. It’s about getting them the help they need.

I suggest that you and your boyfriend seek out a family therapist. Just go by yourselves at first to explain the situation and perhaps to get some input on how best to handle it. Your future stepkids’ mental health depends on it.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

How Do We Handle Differences Between Kids and Step-Kids To Be?

Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

Dr. Marie is licensed as both a psychologist and marriage and family counselor. She specializes in couples and family therapy and parent education. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2019). How Do We Handle Differences Between Kids and Step-Kids To Be?. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 15, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2019/05/09/how-do-we-handle-differences-between-kids-and-step-kids-to-be/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 May 2019
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 May 2019
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.