Even adult stepchildren can be difficult

CAN THIS MARRIAGE BE SAVED?

September 11, 1994|By From Ladies' Home Journal Los Angeles Times Syndicate

It doesn't look as if Alicia, 30, and Chris, 46, will celebrate their first anniversary next month: Their marriage, the second for both, is being torn apart, says Alicia, and the blame lies with Chris' "hateful" older sons -- Greg, 24, and Andy, 22 -- from his first marriage.

"I feel so paranoid, I think I'm losing my mind," Alicia says, "but I swear that Greg, who still lives at home, and Andy, who's in his senior year at college, are plotting to destroy us. Why else would they do the things they've done?"

When she first met Chris' sons, they were distant, but Alicia assumed they'd feel uncomfortable at first with anyone who was marrying their father.

Though she's tried not to let the young men's actions affect her, it's hard to ignore what's been happening: For example, she discovered on their wedding day that her wristwatch was missing. The watch was an engagement present from Chris. (When she told her husband about it, he shrugged his shoulders and insisted she'd misplaced it.) Or when they arrived home after their honeymoon, they found that their bed had been slept in and Alicia's wedding gown had been tried on and dumped in a corner of the closet.

On top of this, Alicia has been playing housekeeper to unemployed Greg and his girlfriend, Diane. "They mess up the house and don't lift a finger to clean it," Alicia says. She tries to talk to Chris about it, but he tunes her out. "Before I know it, I'm so mad, I'm throwing dishes!"

Chris is convinced his wife is turning into the same kind of screaming shrew his first wife was. "I love her," he says, "but she's trying to start trouble between me and my boys." The way he sees it, Alicia is too sensitive. While he admits that what the children are doing isn't nice, "I don't let it get to me. Why does it bother her so much?"

Chris says there's a good reason why he doesn't talk to Alicia: "Our conversations go nowhere. She doesn't talk, she attacks. And she goes off the deep end."

When parents remarry

"Alicia and Chris are struggling with common stepfamily problems -- even though Chris' children are now adults -- and they must deal with them immediately," says marriage counselor Paul Moschetta, of New York City and Huntington, N.Y.

While Greg and Andy's actions are hostile and outrageous, it's not unusual for adult children to be angry and suspicious of a parent's remarriage. They may wonder: What will my relationship with this new person be like? How will my relationship with my parent change? Does this new person really love my parent? Besides these emotional issues, there are the touchy topics of money and inheritance as well as family items of sentimental value: To whom do they belong?

The first task in dealing with older stepchildren issues is to acknowledge that problems are real. Alicia, for instance, is not paranoid or oversensitive, as Chris suggests. Once he validates her feelings and demands that his sons treat her with respect, Alicia will be better able to control her outbursts and sort out what is worth being angry about and what she can let slide. This won't be easy, since Chris has a pattern of running from conflict and placating his children. If you're in a similar situation, these points may help:

* Talk with your grown children about how the remarriage will affect everything -- from inheritance and money issues to where you will eat Christmas dinner.

* Acknowledge their feelings. While you can certainly hope your children will come to love your new spouse, you can't expect that of them. You can insist, however, that they treat her with respect.

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