“I’ve been seeing my girlfriend for about eight months and I couldn’t be happier with her. About four months ago, we decided it was time for me to meet the two young children she has from her previous relationship. The kids stay with her every weekend and I’m pretty sure they’re not so fond of me. They seem to throw more tantrums when we’re all together and my attempts to ingratiate myself to them have fallen flat. While I understood their resistance to me at first, I’m beginning to fear that I’ll forever be slotted into the step-witch category. How can I convince them that I’m really on their team?”
Not feeling liked, by just about anyone, is always difficult for our ego. Despite your best intentions, there’s a chance the kids won’t be alright for a little while longer.
Here are some tips that should help ease the turbulence.
Kids have their finger on the pulse and can sniff inauthentic gestures from miles away. Being real and consistent is more likely to build a connection over the long term. Honour their authenticity too: Don’t pressure them to show affection that they aren’t yet feeling. When it comes to forming a strong bond, kids are no different than adults — so show your genuine interest in their lives. Ask about their friends, activities, likes and dislikes; be invested in their day-to-day lives instead of trying to be their favourite.
Assume that your girlfriend’s priority will be the kids when she’s looking after them. Their time with her is precious right now so you’ll need to rely on your separate couple time together for true intimacy. Ultimately, the kids come first — so if your gal needs to cancel dinner plans to fetch the kids, you’ll have to be okay with it. The more relaxed you are in the presence of the kids, the more relaxed they’ll be.
Meet Them Where They’re At
Unfortunately, you are already at a disadvantage: Kids who’ve survived a separation are wrestling with their allegiances to either one of their folks, so becoming besties with you could feel like a threat to those loyalties. Like it or not, you represent the end of a dream: Some of the edge you’re seeing in them could be their realization that their parents won’t be magically reunited. You are a reminder to them that their mom has moved on, so be sensitive to their processes.
Keep it cool
Leave disciplinary stuff to their mom — the munchkins have no reason to see you as a parental figure at this point. You don’t need to prove your place by taking a heavy hand, which could only foster more ambivalence about you.
One last thought: While you don’t want to delude the kids into thinking you’re just their mom’s pal, it may be helpful to lay back on the overt displays of affection so that it’s not a trial by fire for them.