I just married a woman with an 8-year-old daughter. My wife, Mary, is very close to her daughter, April. When I'm with the two of them, I feel like an outsider. I’d very much like to feel like a parent to April, but she has made it clear that she doesn’t want me to get between her and her mother. Any advice?
Feeling Left Out
Dear Feeling Left Out:
It’s important to be patient in this situation. It’s very common for new stepparents to feel like outsiders. In fact, it’s especially common for stepdads to feel left out of the mother-daughter relationship, says Dr. Jennifer Thomas, adolescent psychology expert and assistant professor of psychology at Wilkes University.
“A unique dynamic exists between a divorced mother and her daughter. Research shows that, after a divorce, a mother and daughter often form a close, special bond. If a stepfather enters the family, it is crucial for him to allow this bond to continue through encouraging one-on-one time between mother and daughter,” she says.
She also suggests that you enter the family as an outsider. “A stepparent should take a step back and observe the family unit as it already exists before entering and making changes.” You should act like a “fun camp counselor,” blending respect and friendship when trying to bond with April. In addition, you should try to focus on the child’s interests when you’re trying to connect with her. Lisa
Lisa Cohn has written for the Christian Science Monitor, Parenting, Mothering, Your Stepfamily Magazine and other publications. She writes an advice column for Philly Women (www.philly.com) and is the co-host of Stepfamily Talk Radio (www.stepfamilytalkradio.com.) She is the co-author of One Family, Two Family, New Family: Stories and Advice for Stepfamilies and The Step-Tween Survival Guide and Lisa has been quoted about divorce and stepfamilies by the Associated Press, Washington Post, Time Magazine, msn.com and other media outlets.