One of the things I’ve learned since getting married is one doesn’t automatically become a step parent. Marriage does not entitle you to the role. The child or children have to accept you. Otherwise, you’re just the person mommy or daddy married.
I see it too often. Someone marries a person with children, and immediately, they want to demand that they be treated as an equal by their children to their new spouse. Or the parent tries to force the new spouse on their children, sometimes out of spite to the previous spouse. Divorces are usually contentious, and sadly, kids often end up as pawns.
But the fact is you have to earn the kids’ trust. It’s best done during the courtship, and no matter how bad the other parent might be, you must avoid being the antagonist. I know when my brother and his ex-wife have a dispute, I naturally side with my brother. But I have to hold my tongue because his ex is my niece and nephew’s mother.
Likewise, regardless of whatever I think of AJ’s father, I have to remember that, no matter how well or how poorly they’re getting along, I need to hold my tongue. I’m the new ingredient, and there’s a 13-year history, some of it quite positive, that I can’t stomp all over. How Nita’s ex treated Nita before she was my wife is irrelevant to how I relate to AJ.
So what did I do? When I finally met AJ for the first time, he was 13. I decided that, since he was less than five years from being an adult, I would simply treat him as an adult. My main goal was simply for him to accept me as mom’s new man. If he and I tolerated each other enough to live together comfortably, I would have been happy.
But AJ respects a man who takes care of his mom. And I take care of AJ as best as I can, too, once to the point of giving up the first home I ever owned. Treating him as an adult or not, there’s a certain level of decency I would expect any parent to have toward a child, whether their own or their spouse’s. It just doesn’t occur to me not to treat AJ as my own or to back off when he needs a little space from this strange guy his mom met not too long ago.
Of course, a lot of things play into this. Some kids are absolute monsters. Some are pretty traumatized by divorce and don’t ever really get over it. But you have to make the effort. And you have to respect the kid. A divorce is messy enough as it is. Handle it right, and you can be the one who gets them through it instead of making it worse.