When stepsiblings fight, parent feels guilty for blending family

Parents of young children are conflicted after blending their families. It's important to realize their behaviors around their new stepsiblings may not differ from if they were blood relatives, Carolyn Hax responds.



March 7, 2024 - 1:38 PM

Photo by Pixabay.com

Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: My partner and I are blending families. We each have two kids within the 5 to 10 range. It’s going well for the most part, but sometimes it feels incredibly challenging. We are doing all the right things according to experts — aligning routines and rules, spending quality time, giving the kids space — but sometimes it feels so hard.

The hardest part for me is when one kid is being mean to the others. I guess I start feeling guilty that the kids are going through this because of our (grown-up) decision. If anyone has any words of wisdom, advice or can share any resources, we would be so grateful!

— Blended

Blended: Kids are just mean to one another sometimes. If you didn’t blend the families, then each set of two would be mean to each other sometimes, and their friends would come over and be mean to them sometimes, and they’d all get together on special occasions and gang up on someone.

If there’s a pattern to the meanness — say, one kid is a regular source of it, or one is regularly singled out for abuse, or both, or if glancing meanness escalates into cruelty — then you need to get on that. Decisively and now, with sustained supervision.

But that would have been just as true with the original sibling sets had you not introduced stepsiblings. So while I understand the extra sense of responsibility if you, say, caused the family remix that is causing the pain at any given time, your job nevertheless has been the same throughout: to model consistent, loving civility and prioritize your kids’ emotional health. Parents and stepparents also need a flexible vision of what that looks like with the kids they have, vs. a bunch of shoulds and supposed-tos.

Here’s a good thought from a reader:

∙I have no idea how to get your kids to be nice to each other, but the biggest thing I took away from my blended family experience was seeing how d— hard my dad and stepmom worked on it, themselves, their marriage. I think because they let us know — in age-appropriate ways — that it was work, I had an excellent model of a functional marriage in my life. Their marriage and commitment to their blended family have been the lodestar to my life (I am mid-40s now). You sound like you are being thoughtful and doing the right things. It will pay off!

Dear Carolyn: I have two friends who have to one-up me at every turn, and I don’t know how to respond. For instance, when I was sick with covid, I emailed one friend about how miserable a disease it is. I was really suffering. She wrote back that she didn’t have a hard time with it at all, it was just a few days to catch up with her favorite TV shows. No mention of hoping I’d feel better soon or could she help in any way. What’s the best way to respond to a one-upper?

— Friend

Friend: The obvious response is to befriend better people. The entertaining response is to offer congratulations for any and all ways they outperform you. “Congratulations on living your best covid! I have much to learn from you.”

You probably don’t want extremes, and that answer hits both of them, but really, the middle-of-the-road answer is the same: Decide whether there’s a friendship here worth having and, if there is, decide how to behave within it to maintain your integrity and keep them from snuffing out your last flicker of joy.

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