Ask Amy: Baby steps needed for children to bond

August 17, 2011

DEAR AMY: My boyfriend and I have been together for about a year. My husband passed away three years ago. I have two children, ages 7 and 10, and he has a 5-year-old son.

Last fall, we started getting the kids together more often, attending family functions together, etc. Unfortunately, the children do not like each other.

My daughter has gone so far as to say that she hates my boyfriend’s son. She experiences anxiety when he is around because all of the children fight and argue.

If my son is fighting with my daughter, as siblings do, my boyfriend’s son will jump in and side with my son, which usually involves saying negative things to my daughter.

We have been trying to help the children get along better, but we have not been very successful.

They have been through enough with losing their dad and I don’t want to force them to endure an uncomfortable situation. Also, I have developed somewhat of a “distaste” for my boyfriend’s son.

I don’t feel like we should pursue this relationship, given my negative feelings toward his son and my daughter’s anxiety when the child is around.

Should we press on? Should I discontinue this relationship for the sake of the kids? -- Torn

DEAR TORN: Everything you do should be for the sake of your family.

This includes demonstrating to your children that they can survive their anxieties, with your positive, consistent and compassionate support.

You and your guy could ease some of the pressure by getting the children together in various combinations to see if they experience some small successes that you can all build upon.

You should try to spend some time with your boyfriend’s son (without your kids present), engaging in a low-key activity. You need to get to know him in an atmosphere where he’s not hyped up and being naughty. He is very young and possibly anxious, unsure and hurting too.

If any of the kids are playing a sport after school, the other children can attend a game, giving them some indirect contact.

Any time they are all together should be structured, inclusive and well-supervised by you and your boyfriend (don’t pull them into crowded extended family events).

Most important for all of you is for the adults to agree to the parenting basics and for you to be mutually supportive.

You and your kids would also benefit from some family therapy to ease your transition. You’ve all been through a lot.

DEAR AMY: “Clarence” and I are “second-time-arounders,” having both had long-term marriages-with-children that broke up.

We have been together for 14 years and consider ourselves as committed as any married couple, although we have not gone through the legal process. At 70, we are conflicted about whether it is worth it to get married.

Our children seem content with our status, our wills are set to favor the children of each former marriage, and we trust each other. Are we missing something? Are there other factors we should consider? -- Second Time Is Better

DEAR SECOND: See a lawyer to explore the legal aspects of your status and review your wills. If one of you passed away and left all of his or her money to their own children, would the other partner have resources, such as a home to live in, income, etc.?

Could each partner make medical decisions for the other? Might you be denied access to your loved one because you are not married?

The privileges of common-law marriage vary depending on where you live. I agree that the most important aspect is your emotional commitment, but there are definitely legal aspects to your status that you must investigate.

DEAR AMY: “Foster Mom” was worried that her in-law would follow through on her intention to have a kitten declawed. There are products available to mitigate scratching and clawing without putting a cat through this procedure. -- Cat Lover

DEAR LOVER: Many readers have suggested these products. Thank you all -- and thanks for the many cat photos that have crowded my inbox.

Write to Amy Dickinson at askamy@tribune.com or Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60611.

2011 by the Chicago Tribune

Distributed by Tribune Media Services

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