Dear Bronya:

This is my situation: David and I feel that we're really suited for each other, but his children are very unhappy about him getting married. His teenage daughter is especially angry. She won't even talk to me, and told her father that if I move into the house, she's moving out with all her mother's things.

Right now the house is the same as it was when their mother was alive. When David said that he's going to be making changes, his children got very upset. I noticed he took some of the family pictures off the wall, and put away his wedding picture, but I didn't comment.

He says that we don't need to buy anything for the house since it's a fully furnished house with linens and kitchen things. It's a very nice and homey atmosphere, but I feel strange moving into another woman's home. So, how do I make it my home? He wants to start work renovations in the house, so that the married children will have a place when they come to visit.

Where do I fit into the picture and how do I relate to the children that don't want me there?


Dear Sarah,

I'm happy for you; it sounds like you and David are good for each other, and I was moved by his very strong desire to make his home yours. I have no doubt that the two of you will find, in your own home, continued happiness.

At the same time, Sarah, you need to create strong and clear boundaries.

First, his children are his. They are not your children. This is a boundary that has to be very firmly respected by all of you. When David and his children celebrate family events — such as their birthdays or siblings' anniversaries — you're a guest there. Not a member of that family. Not yet. Perhaps in time, but only they can make that happen, not you. And the only way they can make that happen is if they invite you.

I know how much you want to be the "caretaker" and nurturer, but that was their mother. And you're not able to replace her. Respect that. Of course, you will be performing many of the tasks that were hers, but do it, each task, with permission. Shopping for any of the children, or doing their laundry, or taking the younger kids to their friends' homes or other extra-curricular events — ask them first. Tell them that you'd like to drive them, and would they like for you to do that. Ask if they'd like for you to get them the socks or books they need. Don't just assume, ask permission to assume that role. And still, be very careful that you don't "act" like their mother. Of course you want with all your heart to give them what they're missing, to nurture them, but you need to be very careful when acting on this. It's a delicate balance, a very subtle dance. You're there, you're running this household now, but you need to respect their feeling of intrusion, even if not warranted.

It's up to you to create the dynamic — don't be put off by their resistance. You feel that this is your home, but they need time before they can let you in.

When you next come into the house, ask about the missing pictures. Don't ask David, ask the children, the ones living at home. Don't be casual about it, be deliberate. Softly, say you want to ask them something, and then say that you noticed those pictures weren't there when you last came, and ask them about their removal. I wonder if it was their father, or they, who thought the pictures ought not to be there.

Let them know that you recognize that this is their home. Yes, you are now their father's wife, and now moving into this home, and want to make it yours...but you realize that it has been, all their life, and will be, always, their home. Reassure them, tell them you'll not subtract anything from their home, you'll just add to it.

After your wedding, when you have your own pictures, don't put them out on the living room credenza or on the dining room walls. For now, keep them in your own room. And the picture of their mother that you found it to David's daughter, and invite her to come with you to have it framed. Suggest making copies for her married siblings.

You say David is renovating the house. Perhaps you can create a new room for the two of you, and leave his bedroom as is. It will remain, for his children, 'his' room and the two of you will have your own new quarters. Don't sit in her chair, unless they ask you to.

With time, Sarah, you will not be a 'guest' in their mind — but that will only happen if, for the beginning, you respect fully their mother's presence in the home.

Most of all, be sensitive to their need for this strong recognition of clear boundaries. There is the relationship between David and their mother; there is the relationship between David and you. They are not connected in any way. There is his relationship with his children, and there is your relationship with his children. Two different relationships. They may intersect. But they don't overlap.

Much, much more to be said about this....we'll talk...