Heart to Heart by Esther Fenty

My partner’s children won’t accept I’m marrying their father

After many years of raising my two children on my own, I have met a wonderful man that I plan to marry next year. He’s everything I prayed for and more. The reason I’m writing you is because of my partner’s children. He has two teenagers, like me, but whereas my son and daughter have been very welcoming of my fiancé, his children have not. Whenever I visit my fiancé’s home at weekends (they live with their mother during the week), or we go out as a group, his children can just about bring themselves to say Hello to me, and hardly say anything to me whilst I’m with them. They just about speak to my children, and when they do, it’s to say they don’t want their dad to marry me because they are fearful ‘I’ll take him away from them’. I’m worried that if this is what they are like before the wedding, what will they be like when my fiancé and I get married? What can/should I be doing to get my soon-to-be step-children on side?

Jennifer, Bristol

Esther Fenty says

Even some adults find it hard to accept the new partner of a widowed parent! It is therefore not unusual for teenagers to feel this way. Admittedly, both your children and those of your fiancé have had the experience of seeing their parents separated. That your children are able to handle the situation of having a future stepparent in a more mature manner, and are willing to share you with someone else, may be down to a number of factors: security, confidence in their relationship with both set of parents, how the break-up was initially handled, or the resilient nature of your children. Your future stepchildren may have been affected by previous experience, or could be echoing the feelings of other people.

Although wanting to be liked and accepted by your future stepchildren, you may have to face the fact that, despite your overtures of love and affection, the feelings may not be reciprocated. In particular, after years of inculcation through literature, the image of the wicked stepmother may be hard to erase. Relationships take time to build, and it is not clear how long you have known each other. Therefore, give them time, and also try to understand the situation from their perspective.

It is said that the fear of pain is worse than the pain itself. Their fear of losing their father, however irrational it may seem, indicates that there may still be unresolved issues of loss and grief on their part. Their fears – although seemingly irrational – are real, and need to be addressed.

They might be concerned about some practical issues; for example, instead of having their father to themselves all weekend, as they have been accustomed to, they will have to share him with three other people who see him all week. They might be dreading the idea of unfamiliar territory if he moves to your house or a new house. They might feel like you are intruding into their space if you move to live in his house

One way forward might be to ask their father (without upbraiding them) to affirm his love for them, and to assure them that nothing will take him away from them. In addition to group outings, plan some time that they can be alone with their father at weekends.

Be yourself with them; they’ll see through anything else. Show them that you love them and love their father. Treat them fairly, as you would your own children. Do not let their attitude spoil your relationship with their father.

How can I cope with my husband’s dementia?
I’ve been married for 30 years, and my husband has recently being diagnosed with early onset dementia. My husband had become very forgetful and, at times, aggressive and I thought it best that he go to the doctor. Being diagnosed with dementia was the last thing he or I expected. I’m not sure what to do. He has a good job, is active in our church, and father to our adult children. I’m a professional woman, who’s also active in the church, and I don’t know what I should be doing to prepare myself to cope with the situation, as the doctors have said he’ll get worse, not better.
Hazel, London

Esther Fenty says
There is no doubt that this diagnosis will be life changing for your husband, as well as for the family. However, you will not be unusual, as the Alzheimer’s Society estimates that there are more than 820,000 people living with dementia in the UK.

Although your husband will share symptoms in common with many people with early onset dementia, he will also show some individual differences; for example, the rate at which the dementia progresses.

Educate yourself by gaining information from organisations like the Alzheimer’s Society or Dementia UK. Depending on his job and health, consultation about reduction of hours or final retirement on the grounds of ill health can be discussed with the medical profession and his employers. The observation skills that you used previously will become more crucial in the future.

Work with the health professionals who will be assessing your husband regularly, and liaise with agencies for support both in and outside the home.
Explain to the leadership of the church, friends and family on a need-to-know basis, so you can get support and so that people will understand and accept the changes in behaviour.

At the same time, ensure that you have rest and time for yourself, so that you can contribute to your husband’s care. Continue in prayer (including with prayer partners) for yourself and family.

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