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Helping Your Stepchild Feel At Home
Stepfamily Advice

By Lisa Cohn

Dear Lisa:

My new husband and I have 3 children between us. I have a 13-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter. He has a 9-year-old daughter.

We live in a small, 3-bedroom house. My daughter has the smallest of the rooms. When his daughter started coming to our house for visits, the girls got along great. They put up the tent and camped out in the living room. Now that has gotten old, and we are running into an issue about where everyone should sleep. My daughter is getting very defensive about sharing her room, her bed, etc... There have been times when my husband slept on the sofa, his daughter in my daughter's bed and my daughter with me.

We are looking to get a bigger place so the girls have two beds in one room, but not sure how to fix this for now. I understand that for nine or so years my daughter had her own stuff, and now she feels forced to share
her "space" every other weekend. I don't want his daughter to feel like an outsider, but part of a family.

Any ideas??

Anne E.

Dear Anne:

This is a tricky issue. In the beginning, future stepsiblings often get along very well, says Susan Wisdom, a licensed professional counselor and co-author of “Stepcoupling.” But once their parents get married, reality sets in and “there’s no way out,” she says. Suddenly, former friends may view each other as intruders—especially when they have to share space.

Ideally, it’s best for stepsiblings to have their own rooms, especially when they’re teenagers, says Wisdom. If space is limited, be sure to set aside physical space for each child’s clothing and books and places to do homework and talk privately on the phone, she says. For now, Wisdom suggests, you might provide a fold-up cot for your stepdaughter in your daughter’s room.

Wisdom notes that such stepfamily situations can be especially challenging for adults. It’s common for parents to feel protective of their biological children and to harbor resentment.

“As a stepcouple, work on developing a team and united front,” she says.

“Watch for stuff like ‘Your daughter gets more than my daughter,’ or ‘It's not fair that my daughter loses her bed when your daughter visits,’” Wisdom says. As a couple, you might want to invite the children to help solve the problem—unless there’s too much hostility among them. “Have family meeting and ask the kids, “’What can we do to make everyone happier?’” says Wisdom.

Anne, in my own stepfamily, we played a lot of “musical beds” when the children were young. The kids liked sleeping with their biological parents once a week. I think the solution you have come up with (you sleeping with your daughter, and your stepdaughter in your daughter’s bed) isn’t a bad one—as long as everyone feels good about it and understands it’s temporary.

In our book, we describe one stepfamily with a small house and four kids. The kids rotate bedrooms every six months or so. This way, everyone gets to sleep in the biggest bedroom. You mentioned that your daughter has the smallest room. Could she and your stepdaughter move into a bigger room every few months? In a bigger room, it’s possible they could create more of their own separate spaces or even put up a divider in the middle of the room.

Anne, remember: It’s important to be creative in a stepfamily and to encourage all family members to solve such problems together. Experts and stepfamily members often say that kids raised in successful stepfamilies grow up to be more tolerant and flexible—in part because they learned how to cope with such situations! (For more information about that topic, click on www.stepfamilyadvice.com/articles.htm and read “The Good News About Stepfamilies.”)

Please let me know how you work this out this tough situation.

Best,

Lisa

Award-winning writer Lisa Cohn is co-author of "One Family, Two Family, New Family: Stories and Advice for Stepfamilies" and co-host of Stepfamily Talk Radio. For more information, visit www.stepfamilyadvice.com and www.stepfamilytalkradio.com.

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