From Mistress to Wife: Now What?

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Coping With His Kids

A new husband who comes with children can present a particular challenge. It can be hard to love other people's children, especially when they are angry, sulking, adolescents, or noisy rugrats. Some stepmothers are barely older than their husband's oldest daughter, which can set up mutual competition. It's easy to resent the passel of progeny that comes along with a man, especially if the man was all you wanted.

Here, too, it helps to be civilized and see it from your new husband's point of view -- and from the vantage point of his children. Often when parents split up, younger kids blame themselves. Even older kids who understand the reasons and get the picture can feel that the family life they knew has been stolen away. If they know you're a former mistress, they may decide to blame you, even if they don't voice their anger directly.

What to do: "Take time to get to know the kids individually," says Dr. Curtis. "Don't see the kids as the enemy, or as instant best friends. They are neither." They are, in fact, close relatives of the man you love, little people he cares about deeply. By treating them as people you know to be somehow lovable, they will respond in kind.

Children who get along well with their real mothers may fear that you are a "new mother" who needs to be embraced totally, whether the child wants to or not. A child's relationship with his mother is so profound that the child may feel he is expected to do that all over again, which may create tremendous pressure. Don't expect that kind of commitment, and you won't be disappointed. Be good to them, and wait for them to come to you.

And there is the issue of discipline. Often, fathers who feel guilty are a tad too lenient with the kids, and that leaves you either playing the heavy or the victim. "Children of any age have a great deal to cope with when parents split up," says Dr. Curtis. Unless they are setting the house on fire this very minute while dad's at work, Dr. Curtis also advises against disciplining the children because they are, after all, his children. Instead, use reasoning, use suggestions, use understanding. Treat his children as you would his mother.

If the kids' father seems overly strict or very lax about discipline, see if you can find out why. "Dads often fear they will lose contact with their kids if they become too strict," says Dr. Curtis. They also feel the children might become sloppy, mannerless and disorderly because they're suddenly from a broken family.

"Try to understand these very real fears," she says. But his parenting might cause you problems when he's not around. If he is too strict, they may test your leniency. If he is permissive, they will expect the same of you. Even if they're not your kids, they are part of the package. "Talk to your new spouse and let him know how you are feeling," says Dr. Curtis. After that, though, let him handle it his way.

Continued on page 4:  Does the Sizzle Fizzle?


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