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Ex-etiquette: Partners with children come as a package deal

Jann Blackstone, Tribune News Service on

Published in Family Living

Q. I've been with my husband for four years, but married for only one. We've combined our families -- but there's a problem. I have two daughters and he has three daughters, plus a son that was born to his ex-wife as a result of her cheating. They attempted reconciliation and my husband chose to raise the boy as his own, but they eventually divorced. The boy is now 6 years old.

My problem is that I'm having extreme difficulty accepting this boy into my life. When he visits I feel like we're watching my husband's ex-wife's son. To make matters worse, now I am having trouble accepting any of my husband's children. My husband is very angry with me and I can feel him pulling away. I feel like a terrible person and I don't want another divorce. What's good ex-etiquette?

A. So often people make a commitment to one another while secretly harboring resentments thinking that once they make that commitment it will work itself out. Rarely do resentments or animosities work themselves out. They usually get bigger and more apparent when not addressed and are either at the root of a miserable relationship or the reason for a break-up. I can't imagine that these are new feelings. You should have addressed all this prior to getting married.

With that in mind, I'm not surprised your husband is pulling away. He's probably very disappointed. But, in your defense, it's not always easy to build a bond with a stepchild. They can have attitudes we dislike, hold allegiances to others we do not care for, and can be a constant reminder that our partner was once intimate with someone else. However, that's the challenge you accept when you marry someone with children. You do not get to pick and choose -- "I like this one, but not that one."

Partners with children come as a package deal. If your husband regards this child as his son, then he is, not only psychologically and emotionally, but legally. The laws states unless there is a specific judgment made by the court, if a child is born when someone is married, the mother's husband is the father of the child.

It sounds like your husband is a stand-up guy. He put this little boy first and did not blame him for his mother's indiscretion. That's exemplary. Your attitude is not. If you don't change it the animosity you harbor for this child will eventually color every aspect of your relationship and it will be difficult to stay together.

This is what I suggest you do. It sounds simple, but it's not. (I speak from experience.) Every time a negative thought comes into your mind about this child, immediately change it to a positive one. Instead of dwelling on the fact that he's not biologically your husband's child, look for something positive he brings to your family.


If you hold to this mindset, eventually you'll find that you no longer resent him because you harbor no ill thoughts about him. How long will this take? Could be days, could be years. Becoming a bonusfamily doesn't happen overnight, but when your stepkids get to be older and one night when no one else is around, they tell you how much they appreciate all you've done for them, it will be all worth it.

You can be someone this child holds in high regard and goes to for advice and comfort or you can be someone who causes him additional pain. Make the right choice. That's good ex-etiquette.

(Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of "Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation," and the founder of Bonus Families, Email her at the Ex-Etiquette website at

(c)2020 Jann Blackstone

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.



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