Trading Spaces, Sharing Parents: Helping Your Child Adjust to Visitation

Your experiences with a new stepfamily are probably difficult, but the changes and transitions are just as difficult for your child. One particular problem you may have encountered is visitation: sharing parents. Your child may be feeling like a visitor in your new home, especially if your new spouse's children live with you and your child does not.

Here is a kid-friendly vignette to illustrate:

Austin and his dad had always been very close. Even after the divorce, Austin saw a lot of his dad. Dad took an apartment very near the house where Austin, his sister and their mom still lived. Not only did Austin, his sister and their dad see each other at least one day each weekend, Dad also saw Austin during the week.

Then Austin 's dad started dating. After a while, he met a woman whom he eventually decided he wanted to marry. Dad moved into her house the day after the wedding. She had two kids, Austin 's new stepbrothers. Austin didn't suppose it made much difference either way, but soon enough, he saw that it did.

For one thing, his dad had less time to spend with him. He still saw a lot of his dad, but not as much as before. Dad was busy with his new family. Austin began to resent his new stepbrothers: it was their fault his dad didn't have as much time for him. They got to be with his dad everyday, and that didn't seem fair at all. He didn't like sharing his dad: they had him to themselves all week!

In a situation like this, several things might help your child to feel more comfortable with visitations, and can help alleviate some of the tensions:

  • Encourage your child to talk with you about his feelings. You might be inviting your stepchildren along, thinking it would be more fun for your child, but he might want just the opposite: some alone time with you.
  • Remind your child that you are all a family now, and that his new stepsiblings are not competing with him for your time and attention. Let him know that you might be going out of your way with his stepsiblings because you're doing your best to get to know them and make friends with them.
  • Validate your child's concerns: yes, it's true that your new stepchildren are with you when he is not, but that isn't their fault. In fact, it's not anyone's fault. Remind your child that his new stepsiblings are not deliberately trying to "hog" your time, or horn in on your relationship.

The sooner your child understands that his new stepsiblings are not out to "steal you away" from him or monopolize your time, the sooner he can get adjusted to the way things are.

Adapted from Jigsaw Puzzle Family: The Stepkids' Guide to Fitting It Together, by Cynthia MacGregor. Available at online and local bookstores or directly from Impact Publishers, Inc., PO Box 6016, Atascadero, CA 93423-6016, 1-800-246-7228.

Reviewed by athealth on February 8, 2014.