Your Questions Answered: Age Differences

28 10 2009

Dear Jacque, I just finished reading your book and I thought maybe you could help me with a couple of things. I am on the path to becoming a stepmom – I found my soul mate and we live together. He is divorced and has joint custody of his fifteen year old son and unfortunately no contact with his 19-year-old daughter. We are not yet engaged, but we do plan to marry. I am trying not to guess when he will propose! Our relationship with his son has its ups and downs, it is going well now but we know there will be challenges in the future and we are prepared to do our best to keep communication with him free and safe.

His daughter is also an issue but we try to be as positive as we can about it. They were very close for most of her life – only after she met me did she divorce herself from her dad. She says that she won’t talk to him “as long as he is with that woman.”  She ‘allowed’ him to come to her birthday dinner, but only upon the condition that I not attend. He sends her messages occasionally that he still loves her and that he misses having her in his life, but there is not yet progress. Eventually, but the wait is hard on him.

What I am looking for is help with your ‘Rule of 20.’ My situation is a little different from what I can find in advice books. I am career minded, though right now I feel as if my work is in creating our family so I don’t actually work. I am also half the age of my significant other, 24 to his 52. It works because he thinks he is 12. 

I think we are doing a good job with his son, and the best we can with his daughter, but do you know of anywhere that I can look to learn about being in a relationship with such a drastic age difference? Advice, stories, message boards, books – I have always thought that the more you know about something the more successful you are apt to be. I value the ideas in your book and I look forward to your reply.

Dear Reader,

I’m so glad you’re out there reading books about stepmotherhood and learning about how stepfamilies work. It will serve you well if you become a stepmother! You mentioned that your relationship with your stepson is good. I’m glad about that, although I have to warn you that often the day of a marriage marks a change in the behavior of a lot of stepchildren. So heads up!

Now for the hard part. I fear that you will never have a good relationship with your stepdaughter. If you were older, you would probably have difficulty with her as it is but the fact that you are not very much older than her makes you a peer in her mind and not an authority figure. That doesn’t bode well. You didn’t mention the relationship this girl has with her mother so I can’t say if those dynamics are influencing this but it sounds like she does not approve of you because you’re so young and might also feel that you are replacing her in her father’s affections.

Since there are 28 years between you and your boyfriend’s ages I suspect that this stepdaughter is extremely uncomfortable with your relationship with her father. Your language about her was very respectful, which is great, but I urge you to think about your own relationship with your dad. It’s a sacred relationship in some ways and so your job as a possible stepmother is to help her feel safe and not threatened by you. Saying things like, “Your father is your father and he will always love you and need you in his life,” can help even though she’s 19.

Dad can also reassure his daughter that he will always love her and be her dad no matter what. He can tell her that he loves you and that you will be a part of his life and he wants her to accept you.

Stepmotherhood is challenging and when there is such a drastic age difference between stepmom and dad, it can make things even more difficult. Most likely the children will never accept you as any kind of authority figure so it would be better for you to approach them as a friend. The best thing you can do is make sure that you and he have a strong foundation for your relationship–a lot in common, communication skills, and of course, fun times.

Ultimately, you also must consider this difficult question: If your boyfriend never reconciles with his daughter because of his relationship with you, how will that pain he feels about that affect your relationship? As we know remarriages have a higher rate of divorce than first marriages and many people say that they divorced due to issues around the kids.

One idea that might help is for dad to have an open discussion with his kids about their inheritance. It’s not a topic many people like to discuss but if he is completely open with them about how he plans to provide for them when he’s gone, it can help ease their relationships with you.

I hope this hasn’t been to much of a downer! I’m so glad you’re employing the Rule of 20. Now check out what your other 19 people say. Best of luck to you!




2 responses

29 10 2009

I can’t tell how glad I am to find this post. Desperately seeking for support and advice! I have been researching for a very long time because I am in a very similar situation. I am 26 with a promising career ahead and the divorced dad I live with is 50 with 4 kids (14,16,19,20) – alternating weekends visitation. And the issues mentioned here could be a deal breaker for me if I don’t find a way to sort things out.
I am very expressive with the fact that I don’t like his kids. I have a hard time controlling my negative emotions about them! They are selfish spoiled and manipulated by their biomom. We are civil but we never exchange more than a few words over a whole weekend. I admit there is jealousy involved, bc I want have children too, with HIM, and a good life! But at the moment I get the impression that he is very conflicted and reluctant to believe in a future with me bc of the kids (he can’t move, and is worried about expenses all the time despite a well-paying job). There is no one I can talk to. I am so happy to be with him, he is the man I can imagine the rest of my life with — if ONLY there are NO STEPKIDS involved.
Please help! Any advice highly appreciated!

I think this is a very typical case that deserves a lot more attention. Quite typically a younger woman will enter the picture after a divorce. And quite typically there will kids from the first marriage. So on top of all the age-gap challenges is the stepmother issue.

29 10 2009
Emily Bouchard

Wow! These posts are remarkable, as are the young women who are stepping into the world of stepparenthood! I was 18 years younger than my husband and his daughters were 15 and 17 at the time — and I thought that was challenging!!!

One thing that occurs to me, along with what Jacque wrote about respect and understanding, is that it probably won’t work to attempt to be a “mother” to teens when you are so very close to their ages.
Here’s what you may consider focusing on instead:
Being a committed listener.
Being a great role model.
Showing the children what it means and feels like to have a healthy, loving relationship with a spouse.
Having clear agreements about how you want to relate as individuals living together under one roof (without the words or expectation of “family” or “parent/child”) — where qualities like respect, boundaries, and being a team that works well together are what you can focus on.
Giving respect instead of expecting it — you’ve got to earn it and you’re way behind the eight ball with that one. Sorry ladies, but with your youth and their close age, you are their peers much more so than an adult to be automatically respected…and your very presence and love with their fathers may feel incredibly disrespectful to the teens and their values and sensibilities.
You’ll also face the very real possibility of “double standards” which teens cannot stand. Their fathers would probably not jump up and down for joy if they came home with a new boyfriend or girlfriend who was twice their age. No way! so, then why is your relationship okay?! That’s what these kids will be struggling with and what you’ll likely hit up against.
There’s so much more here.
And it reminds me why I call anyone who steps into the role of a “step” a StepHero! You go where most would fear to tread!!

Wishing you and your new families all the best,
Emily Bouchard

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