There's a lot of advice out there about how to cope with a partner's children - helpful tips about strategies to use, how to work as a team when parenting in a blended family, as well as some great insights about what the complexities are for everyone in this new family formation. Because children don't tend to read blogs or self-help books, most of this great information is pitched at adults - i.e. parents and step-parents. Unfortunately, as a friend of mine (who has experienced living in a blended family) recently pointed out, this can mean that inadvertantly we may reinforce the idea that the children are the problem, and that strategies must be enforced by parents to 'fix' that child, without comprehending what's going on from the child's perspective.
You chose your new partner; your children didn't. They may feel all sorts of emotions in response - e.g. anger, sadness, conflicted loyalties between you and their other parent. They may also NOT feel any of the things you expected - perhaps they feel relieved (especially if there was a lot of fighting between you and your ex before you made the decision to end your relationship), curious about your new partner, scared that s/he may not like them. They might show you about their feelings by how they behave more than what they say, expecially if they are younger. It's impossible to know what your children will be thinking or feeling without talking to them! It can be challenging to do this in a way that allows them to have their own experience, which may or may not have anything in common with the assumptions you might have made about how they were likely to react! It can also be quite confronting when your children's views differ from your own in a way that may threaten your own sense of the situation (or how you wish things were).
Sometimes your children won't tell you what they really feel or think, because they don't want to upset you, or they're scared that that they might get into trouble. There are some great books out there for kids about what happens when parents separate, and about being in a blended family - available through most good-quality bookstores. Reading a book together can open up a conversation that may be hard to have otherwise. Older children may feel more comfortable talking to another relative or adult family friend - let them know this is OK. Counselling cah help too - equipping children as well as adults with strategies to cope with difficult feelings and ensure their needs are met. Perhaps some of them may even write their own self-help book or blog to help other children in a similiar situation!
Till next post, Vivienne