It’s not easy when your partner and your child don’t get along, and it can have a real impact on your own relationships. You might feel angry or disappointed in your partner for not being able to get along with your child. You might feel frustrated with your child for rejecting your partner’s attempts to get along.
What to do when your partner and your child can’t get along
Do they not get along, or does your partner just not love your child as much as you do? It is completely natural for you to desire that your partner will love your child in the same way you do. However, we need to consider the fact that this bond may not be possible to achieve. You have seen them grow, watched them laugh, watched them achieve various milestones, and celebrated each one of them. You’ve read books together, taken trips together, were there on their first day of school. Your partner cannot expect (or be expected to) develop this kind of bond overnight. You could argue that a stepparent and stepchild’s relationship has a distinct attribute to it; that love is ultimately a decision. They have to choose to love each other.
But they REALLY don’t get along
Your child might still be missing not only their own parent (who is now living separately from you) but also missing all of you being together as a family unit. As long as they’re still processing this, and grieving the loss of this family unit, they will likely display some unwillingness to bond with your new partner. Grief doesn’t just happen when someone passes on—grief happens with any kind of loss. Let your child grieve this loss before you expect them to fully embrace their new family situation.
Your partner may need support finding ways to connect with your child. If they don’t have children of their own, the relentlessness of parenting will probably take them by surprise. They may need more guidance from you than either of you anticipated; this is ok. It’s better that you take the lead here than leave them feeling unsure of how to proceed. You should absolutely discuss what their role is as a parental figure, including how you approach matters like discipline.
It’s not like it is on TV
Has the media ingrained false images of what a stepfamily should be like? No doubt about it! The Brady Bunch seems to have stepfamily life all worked out. Jake and Josh, Modern Family, and other shows make it seem like stepfamily life only has beautiful sides and no ugly ones. The truth is, real life looks a little different from what’s on TV. Being a stepfamily can be complicated and it can be messy. So don’t beat yourself up if you’ve been trying to live up to TV standards. We’re here to tell you it’s OK for your blended family to be imperfect. Hang in there – you got this!
Think about how your partner and your child feel
It can be upsetting for your partner if they feel like they’ve been working hard to develop a relationship and your child keeps rejecting them. Jealousy can arise when they observe the time and love that you give to your child, and the way your child responds to you. They may just now realize that they will probably always come second in your eyes. These feelings are valid and allowed! Your partner might even not like your children sometimes, and this is ok. It may not be ideal, but it’s not unusual. It might give you less stress to understand that it’s OK to have both positive and negative feelings between stepparents and stepchildren. What’s important is that your partner and children are treating each other with respect.
Accepting your partner and your child may never love each other
And what if even with time and work, love never develops between your child and your partner? Maybe they end up just caring for each other, with mutual respect. What if you let go of all expectations for love and deep-rooted bonds to develop? Aiming for mutual care & respect can lift a weight from everyone’s shoulders and lead to a more harmonious life. And of course, love may still develop in time.
Things you can try (but don’t force anything!)
- Look for natural opportunities to do family activities together.
- When you create opportunities for bonding, do it without expectation. Trying something new that none of you have done before can be a great way for this to happen.
- Throw out some ideas and allow them to land naturally. Forced interactions will only lead to more tension and unwillingness.
- Make sure both parties feel like they’re important to you by spending quality one-on-one time.
- Keep talking to both parties about how they’re feeling, and make sure you step in before resentment or disrespect becomes an issue.