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Penny Rayas, MFT
Penny Rayas, MFT, Therapist
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Potential bleaded family with conflict

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I am looking for advice on a "potential blended family" conflict. Me and my ex-wife seperated/divorced approximately 2.5 years ago. I later started dating an old high school friend of mine, who had been seperated and divored for several years prior to mine. We both have two beautiful daughters each and of course that has brought conflict at times, especially with similar ages (Her's are currently 10 & 13 and mine are 10 & 16). The main conflict arises from the relationship (or lack there of) between my daughters and my girlfriend. There isn't any arguing, fighting or anything like that, but instead my daughters often don't speak to my girlfriend. They are sometimes like this with others as well, especially adults. My girlfriend takes this as being disrespectful and says that it means that they don't like her. I understand how hard it is for her and have talked with my kids about the situation on multiple occassions. At times it will get better and other times it will regress to not speaking again. In our talks, they have openly encouraged our relationship and constantly want to spend time with her and her kids. We often plan outings together and have even vacationed together multiple times. It has gotten to the point now where she will not speak unless they speak to her first and I think everyone can feel the tension which makes things that much worse. That is where we really disagree because I constantly defend all four of the kids and their own insecurities and feel that it is the adults responsibility to show that they care, etc first and not the child's. Rarely will I allow her kids to apeak to me first, because I want to engage them first, find out how their day went, what's going on in their lives, etc. I just feel that this helps me build a true relationship with them and shows that I'm genuinely interested in them and not just their mom. I even keep them for her while she is tied up with work, etc; giving me time with just me and them. However, she doesn't feel comfortable doing this with my kids and refuses to extend herself that way. I love her with all my heart and I know our kids love each other as well. I also know my kids like her, but I just can't seem to get everyone (her and my kids) on track to improve the relationship and build it.
Submitted: 5 years ago.
Category: Mental Health
Expert:  Penny Rayas, MFT replied 5 years ago.

Hello there, the problems that you are talking about are
very common with blended families. It takes a long time for blended families to
feel cohesive. Your girlfriend should
not take your daughters silence personally. Your daughters will warm up to your
girlfriend with time. I think if she plans an outing just with your daughters
to do something like shopping or seeing a movie that will help out. I think
both of you will have to develop relationships with each child separately. Having a family day say every Sunday and game
night for the family will help set a routine.
Your girlfriend can find something she has in common with each one of
your daughters and talk to them separately. I know that both of you come from different
families that have different values. I
can understand how she would think that your daughters are being disrespectful
if she came from a family where children are supposed to talk to adults as a
sign of respect. In your family children
may have been encouraged to talk to adults but not seen as rude if they were
silent. In some families being silent is
a sign or respect. We all interpret things differently because we are socialized
so differently. You family (you and your
daughters) have your own rules, regulation and culture even if you don't realize
it. Your girlfriend will want to also
teach your kids her own values I think that will take time and should be done
slowly. You also will have to slowly
become a step father to her daughters.
Family units resist change, so if either of you push too hard the kids
will push back. Both of you have to be patient because the bonds with each
other's children take a while but they will happen. I don't see any major
issues in what you write just the normal frustrations that we all face with our
blended family. The work that you are both doing is very much worth it. All
kids will get used to both of you with time.

Customer: replied 5 years ago.
I agree with what you, but time wise; this relationship has been approximately 2 years now with really no change other than hot today and cold tomorrow. How do I help everyone here, myself included, and not lose the trust of anyone because they don't see me as being on "their side", when I'm on everyone's side. Part of her frustration is seeing how her kids have accepted me and my relationship with them and continually compares my relationship with them to her relationship with my kids. I honestly don't mean to pat myself on the back wiht this, but I honestly feel that my relationship with her kids is a result of two things; 1) My time invested in them, in getting to know them and showing that I care about them as individual people - with nothing expected in return and 2) Them not having a parent telling them that someone is trying to take their dad's place. I know my girlfriend has issues with trust and opening herself up, but how can I help everyone here; especially the relationship between her and my girls?
Expert:  Penny Rayas, MFT replied 5 years ago.

your girlfriend children may be a bit different in their need to have a father figure and ofcourse you put more energy into the relationships. Your ex may be telling your children that she is not comfortable with your relationship and they feel alience to their mother.

Your children may not feel the need to have a step mother around and step mother have a bad name look at childrens stories. Your daughters may still be reacting to who they think their step mom will be and what she will be like.

Keep doing what you are doing and things will change with time. Your daughters will see that their step mom will not take you a way from them. I also wonder if you need to have individual time with your daughters. I think daughters can be a bit posessive of their fathers and sons their mothers.

  • Too many changes at once can unsettle children. Blended
    families have the highest success rate if the couple waits two years or more
    after a divorce to remarry, instead of piling one drastic family change onto
  • Don't expect to fall in love with your partner's children overnight.
    Get to know them. Love and affection take time to develop.


  • Find ways to experience "real life" together. Taking both
    sets of kids to a theme park every time you get together is a lot of fun, but it
    isn't reflective of everyday life. Try to get the kids used to your partner and
    his or her children in daily life situations.
  • Make parenting changes before you marry. Agree with your
    new partner how you intend to parent together, and then make any necessary
    adjustments to your parenting styles before you remarry. It'll make for
    a smoother transition and your kids won't become angry at your new spouse for
    initiating changes.
  • Don't allow ultimatums. Your kids or new partner may put
    you in a situation where you feel you have to choose between them. Remind them
    that you want both sets of people in your life.
  • Insist on respect. You can't insist people like each other
    but you can insist that they treat one another with respect.
  • Limit your expectations. You may give a lot of time,
    energy, love, and affection to your new partner's kids that will not be returned
    immediately. Think of it as making small investments that may one day yield a
    lot of interest.

Given the right support, kids should gradually adjust to the prospect of
marriage and being part of a new family. It is your job to communicate openly,
meet their needs for security, and give them plenty of time to make a successful

Customer: replied 5 years ago.
One last question; how should I address their silence toward her? I feel that if I discipline them over it, it could potentially make it worse. I feel that it is somewhat disrespectful at times, but how can I condeem them when she doesn't speak now unless spoken to. However, if I don't address it I'm accused of ignoring it and not doing anything to address the problem.
Expert:  Penny Rayas, MFT replied 5 years ago.
I think you are right disciplining them over the silence would be worse. I think you can ask them why they are silent at times when she is there. Tell them that there will be no punishment. You just want to understand it. I think if you undestand how they feel maybe you can help smooth things out. I also think that family therapy would help in the future it the problems continue after a few more years. My feeling is that things will get better on their own. Your girlfriend can tell them girls that she feels disrespected if she does.
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