Dear Monica, I wanted to follow up on your recent column about stepmoms. I have been dating a man for more than a year who has two grown children. They do not want to see their father get remarried and are determined to undermine our relationship. It is not always the stepparents who are the trouble makers. What should I do? —P.J., Philadelphia
You are absolutely right. There are two sides to every story. Even grown children can become very possessive of a parent who is dating seriously. This is especially true when money is involved. I sympathize with you. Going up against a man’s children is a challenging, and oftentimes heartbreaking, proposition. In an emotionally healthy household, the children feel loved and protected, and the father makes sure that they know that no one will replace them. Either the man you are dating has not done a good job of conveying to his kids the sense of security that they need, or he has indulged them to the point of no return and now they are out of control brats. Here is what you can do if you truly want this man in your life since he is a package deal.
Have a frank discussion asking him to take a long, hard look at the emerging dynamic between his biological family and you. Make it clear that you are not looking to create an either-or situation. You understand that his kids come first. Also let him know that you are not after their inheritance so everyone should rest easy. If the two of you cannot see eye to eye, seek the help of a therapist who can provide some needed objectivity.
Make the effort to spend holidays and birthdays with his kids. Hopefully they can find common ground in such gestures. If no good comes of this, you really need to gauge if you can see yourself spending the rest of your life with people who have never grown up. Realize that these kids were not born this way. Their dad, your lover, has enabled and reinforced this behavior. I was listening to Brian Cranston, star of Breaking Bad, as he was being interviewed on Howard Stern’s radio program. He said, “By default, parents will always be teaching their children, whether it is the example of how to behave or whether it is how not to behave.” Your significant other, like it or not, is the role model for his children, whether they are grown or little. I would suggest giving him this insight as he may continue to indulge his children’s negativity for the rest of his life. The ball is in his court to set limits and prevent the children from dominating him. He must step up to the plate and put the “kids” in their places since clearly they have never heard the word “no.”
It will be empowering for him to lay down an example of how it will be. Let your partner know that you are willing to meet him halfway, but you do not want to step on his kids’ toes and rile them up even more. If he loves you, he will find a way to mediate and make everybody happy. If he does not have the strength to do so, he either does not love you enough, or will never have room in his life for his kids and a woman.