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Family Relations/Adult stepchildren conflict


QUESTION: My husband and I have pursued a course of action with his children that I think was the right way to go...I suppose I am seeking reassurance from a professional.  

Some background:  I am in my early 40's, husband in late 60's, married almost 20 years, we have four children and he has three children from first marriage, they are in their late 20s/early 30s.  My husband had a problematic first marriage that ended acrimoniously, she essentially cleaned him out but he managed to hang on to family property that he put in a trust for them. What he had to do to keep this property cost him a lot, both literally and figuratively.  
 My stepchildren's relationship with me and their father could be characterized as civil with underlying hostility. I have been in counseling, have researched stepfamily relationships and so on, to be the best stepmother I could be but it was all for nothing. I do not think I was the perfect stepmother but I know I tried:  I had no false expectations, I never pressured them to think of me as a maternal figure (I'm not even 10 years older than the oldest child, that would have been ridiculous!), I always included them, respected boundaries, respected their relationship with the father etc. In the end, they hate me, hate our children and are mean to their father.  

Anyway, we decided to write them letters, one from each of us.  He decided it was time they knew what had to happen for them to keep their beloved family home (one of them lives there with husband and kids, there has been some conflict there about the property for the last few years, mostly because,  in my opinion, my husband should have been very clear about who takes care of what with the property now that his kids are older) and also that he is unhappy with their treatment of me.  
My letter only focused on our relationship;  I don't feel I should be part of that other discussion.  

These letters were not to vent or make them feel badly but to achieve the goal of an honest, respectful blended family.  

Their reaction to the letters was almost a total lack of acknowledgement of  their father's letter, especially   the part about me.  And they didn't even respond to my letter.

So, at this point, I'm done.  It would take pages to describe the last 20 years, to list each incident but basically the pattern was, they would be mean to me in some way, I would grin and bear it and move on, until next time....With their father, the same.  He never ever confronted or said anything negative about their mother (who was an addict and  had depression/anxiety, was unfaithful, secretive about money etc, she passed away in her early 50's).   The few times I confronted after particularly awful episodes did not have a good outcome, really no outcome, just a few months of getting ignored.  So I stopped confronting them, until now.  The reason I decided to write the letter now is because my own children are being affected by their behavior and this I  cannot tolerate.  I will not have them made to feel badly about their very existence!

I really can't understand why they have never acknowledged their behavior, have never, ever apologized and they also somehow manage to place blame on us!

So where do we go from here?  We become estranged from them?  Is there any hope for a resolution?

Some of this depends on what you said in the letter. Your age difference leads me to believe that when you married you were very close in age to your step children? They obviously felt that this age difference was wrong, but I would say you have been together long enough to dispel that belief. There is hurt that should have been dealt with long ago by everyone not just you. This could have been dealt with by everyone working with some type of mediator. I think from your last paragraph that there is probably some jealousy as well with the new children that came along. There probably is hope for a resolution, but I'm not sure what you said in your letter which could have made things worse.


---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thank you for your prompt response.  Yes, I was 23, the oldest child was 14, the age difference was an issue for a little while, not just with the stepchildren but everyone had something to say about it, I was not surprised by the reaction of our families. Now it's fine, we're actually one of the longest lived (happy) marriages on both sides.   No one cares anymore, I don't think though our teenage children get a little teary sometimes when they realize their father will most likely not be there when they're 40.

Yes, there is also jealousy about the new kids, of course but it seems ridiculous that they are still jealous as adults.  I must add that I have "half-siblings" 8 and 17 years younger than me and I have never been jealous of them and I also don't differentiate between them and my full biological sister, so I don't accept that it's a given there has to be strife between those two groups.

My concern is that we go to a mediator and we establish ground rules of  respectful behavior and so on but it won't change the underlying dislike they have of me and my children. If it's all for show, what's the point?

People aren't alike, thus what may be easy or normal for your doesn't come easily to someone else. At a minimum it seems like there should be some type of politeness shown. If it isn't then there needs to be less time spent with the offenders in my opinion.  

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Dr. David Simonsen


I am a licensed Marriage & Family therapist with a Ph.D. in Psychology. I work primarily with teens and families on a weekly basis. You will get the straight truth. I will not pull punches.


I have been working daily with teens and families for the last 10 years.


M.S. in Marriage & Family Therapy; Ph.D. Psychology

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