Dear Rachel,

I am recently married to a wonderful man who has two teenage children from his first marriage. As I am ten years younger than my husband, and as he was young when he first married, I am not that much older than my "step-children." The problem is that they have decided they hate me, even though they don't know me, and they are really making my life miserable. My husband desperately wants to have a good relationship with them, but they are rude and disrespectful to me and I can't allow that behavior in my own home. Any suggestions?


Dear Hurt,

Under the best of circumstances, it is always a difficult transition when there is a second marriage and children are involved. In this case, with children that you feel hate you, things are all the more complicated.

You are most likely a huge threat to themFor starters, is your husband aware of how his children behave towards you? Are they disrespectful in front of him or only when they are alone with you? It is important that he be aware of what they do and how they act. And you are absolutely right that they have no right to treat you badly, especially in your own home.

At the same time, from their perspective, you are most likely a huge threat to them. They are probably concerned that now that you have come into their father's life, that they may be kicked out. Needless to say, there are unfortunately all too many situations where a man remarries a younger woman, starts a new family, and the older children from the first marriage are ignored. Not to say that this would ever happen in your situation, but you can clearly see the source for the fear they may be having.

Children never want to see their parents divorce. It is devastating, no matter how peacefully done. And children always harbor the secret hope that maybe one day their parents will reconcile and get back together. Your marriage has shattered that dream and that possibility. Because of you, they now know that their parents will not reunite. Being that I don't know the circumstances of their divorce, or how it came to be, I can only say that if this was something their father wanted more than their mother, you can double or triple their anger that would be misplaced on you at this point.

I think the best thing you can do is deal with the short term in one way while working towards a long term solution. Your husband clearly loves his children and wants them in his life. You therefore need to recognize that, respect that, and ideally want that for him and for you as well. These are his children and they should continue to be involved in his life and him in theirs as much as possible.

Right now they are not ready to accept you as part of their relationship with their father. And if you continue to always be present when they are there, the response will be that they will avoid and resent their father, which will be the worst situation for everyone involved.

My suggestion would be to make a huge effort to simply not be around when his kids come over. Unless they specifically say they would like you to join them, have other plans, and give your husband the time and space that he needs for his kids. I know this could mean needing to leave your own home, but if that is what it takes, do it. Let his kids know how much you want them to spend time with their father, and help make plans that you know they will enjoy. Find out what foods they like and stock the kitchen with them or make them a meal you know they will enjoy. If you are continuously nice and generous to them, you will be harder and harder to dislike. And the closer they are with their father, the more they will hopefully start wanting to connect to you, who their father loves and cares about. And while you are not around, but only the proof of your kindness is, you give them a chance to slowly get used to the fact that their father is married without having to face you which they are not ready for. That is what I would suggest for the short term.

Children never want to see their parents divorceFor the longer term, hopefully you will be able to slowly spend more and more time with them and enter into their lives. I would continue to clear with them what they want you present for and what they don't. And if they don't want you coming to a school event or trip, don't. You need to show that you are secure in your marriage and don't need to be present for everything their father does. However, long term, you do not need to escape every time his children come. And when they are in your home, it will need to be made clear to them that they are to be respectful to you. If they can't handle that, then they should not be allowed to be there and your husband will need to visit them outside of the house. But again, this should only come after you have spent significant time giving them time and space to get used to you.

It is also important to not try to parent them. They have a father and they have a mother. And they are teenagers, not babies. You should not attempt to act like their mother unless they specifically seek that from you. If they ask your advice, give it to them, but if they don't, don't offer it. Especially since you state that you are not much older than they are, at best they will one day view you as a friend, but most likely never as a parent figure. And that is fine, as long as their father ensures that he is parenting them and doing that role when they are with him or with you both.

So I hope the above is useful and that you are able to provide them and your husband with some space while everyone gets used to this new situation. And hopefully one day soon they will come to realize that you are not the enemy and that even though it is not the ideal situation that they wanted, that you are a wonderful new addition to their lives.

Much luck!