What do I do if my child/teen doesn’t like my new partner?May 21, 2019
How’s it going with your children and your new partner? Do your children like and respect him or her? Does your new partner get along with your children?
Are there fights, resentments, complaints? Or do you feel caught between the people you love the most – your children and your partner?
I see a lot of parents and step-parents in my practice who are not having a good time with this particular dynamic. Sometimes the conflict and resentments are bad enough to put relationships at major risk. Conflict like this can cause a relationship breakdown between the parent and children. And parent and new partner.
Here are some mistakes I have seen parents make with their children which contribute to relationship break downs and resentment from children/teenagers:-
- Threatening a child with not living in the house anymore unless they change their attitude towards the step-parent.
- Telling a child they are “lucky” to live in the step-parent’s home (if the step-parent owns the home).
- Not listening to complaints that children have about their step-parents or dismissing the complaints with comments such as, “It’s all in your head”, or “It’s your problem”.
- Not spending enough quality time with your child/children without the step-parent around.
- Not including children or teenagers in extended step-family get togethers.
- Not setting up a structure in the home so that everyone gets their space and time away from the other.
- Not advocating for their children.
Here are some mistakes I have seen parents make with their new partners (step-parent) that also contribute to relationship breakdowns:-
- Allowing their children to be rude or disrespectful to their new partner.
- Undermining their new partner in front of the children or when the partner is not there.
- Colluding with children against the step-parent which leads to the step-parent feeling like they’re on the outer.
- Becoming defensive to a new partner’s ideas around the child or teenager’s contribution to household chores.
- Moving in too quickly with a new partner.
Here are some things you can do if you feel caught between your new partner and your child/teen:-
- Ensure the hierarchy in the family is clear. It should be the adults who sit equally above the children (it should not go: parent, step-parent and then children). Sometimes step-children are rude to step-parents because they view them more like a sibling than a respected adult. If you have a structural problem like this, family counselling can really help you sort it out.
- If your new partner asks your teenager or child to do something, don’t undermine the other adult. If you don’t agree with what they have requested, have a chat to your partner in another room or at another time out of the child’s earshot.
- Before moving in with your new partner, ensure they understand that you come as a ready made family and check they are willing to embrace your children in every aspect of their lives. Children sense right away when a step-parent wants a relationship and life with their parent but not with them.
- Encourage your new partner to become involved in activities like homework with your children. This will help your new partner feel more included in the family.
- Have regular discussions with your new partner about their expectations of chores and living standards in the home.
- Discipline your children privately so they don’t feel like they are being ganged up on by you and their step-parent – or that the step-parent is driving the discipline.
- Never threaten your children or tell them they are “lucky” that a step-parent allows them to be there. Your children never asked for their parents to be separated (or pass away) and to have new partners. They are grieving and have little agency in the situation. You need to advocate for your children and they should come first.
- Listen to your child’s/teenager’s complaints. Take them seriously but don’t undermine your new partner. If you can’t resolve the complaints yourself, think about getting some family counselling.
- Spend one on one time with your children/teenagers without your partner being around. The number one complaint I hear from all teens is that they do not get enough one on one time with their parents. They complain that the step-parent is always around – and resentment builds.
- Ensure you have a welcoming space for your children – set them up with proper bedrooms, furniture etc. that is theirs. Ensure that they have somewhere to go to get space if they are overwhelmed.
Ironically although many couples and families describe the problem between a step-parent and a child/teenager, it is usually the parent who needs to make the changes. Get some professional support to manage this tricky life transition. Don’t leave it until you lose your new partner or your children don’t want to see you. Family counselling can really help you make the changes that are needed so your most important relationships in your life are healthy and secure.
Jacqueline has been in private practice for more than two decades, helping individuals, couples and families. She has extensive experience in couple and family therapy and is considered a specialist in these areas.
In her clinical practice, she has helped people deal with complex trauma, affairs, complex mental health issues, eating disorders, adolescent behavioural problems (including self-harm and suicidal ideation), behavioural issues in young children which are impacting parents and families, relationship issues and post-separation work.
Jacqueline works with many different dynamics: couples, parents, families with young children, same-sex couples, foster/adopted families, families with teenagers and also adult families. She is particularly interested in helping parents of children with behavioural issues, or with diagnosed conditions such as anxiety, ADHD, ASD and so on.
Although Jacqueline’s work is supportive and friendly, she will challenge her couples and families to make the necessary behavioural changes, to repair relationships and to move towards healthier communication styles in the future.
Jacqueline’s style is direct and fast paced and she is known for quickly getting to the heart of the matter. Clients report that they feel safe and understood with Jacqueline.
Qualifications and Professional Membership
Jacqueline has a Masters in Couple and Family Therapy (UNSW). She has a Bachelor degree in Counselling and Human Change, and a Diploma in Psychotherapy and Counselling.
Jacqueline is a Clinical Supervisor for Counsellors and Therapists. She lectures in couple and family therapy at Masters and Post Graduate level, and is currently Head Lecturer for the Couple and Family Therapy course (Masters) at the Jansen Newman Institute. She has been a Lecturer at the University of Western Sydney and Sydney University, and continues to guest lecture at other tertiary institutions.
Jacqueline is also the Director of the Couple and Family Training Centre where she runs regular professional development workshops and seminars for Therapists, Counsellors, Psychologists, Social Workers and Health Industry Workers who are looking to gain skills in this specialist area.
“Thank you for seeing me today. Your help with all our family issues and all your advice has been invaluable.
I don’t know how other families do it, without a Jacqueline in their lives.” – Anna (43) step-mum and mum to four children.