Q.My 18-year-old daughter and my 16-year-old son are really good kids, but my soon-to-be husband lives with us and he says that "kids are just kids" and that they have no rights to anything in their home.
Now that my daughter is in college, he says that she can't come home on weekends and that my son has to leave home at 18 the way he did. (Actually, he was kicked out.)
When my boyfriend's 6-year-old visits us however, no rules apply, because he loves her, he says, and wants her to feel comfortable in "our" home. Fine. But shouldn't my children feel comfortable, too? I wouldn't want to have them hanging around when they're 30, but this house has been their home since they were born and I want them to know that it always will be.
My boyfriend says that I'm wrong. But am I?
A.No, he's wrong and you're right.
Grown children should be able to go home for weekends and even for months at a time -- as long as they act like grown-ups -- and parents and stepparents should rejoice in their good fortune. These visits can get a little chaotic, but if everyone is cooperative, well-mannered and tolerant, they rejuvenate the whole family.
When young adults return to their childhood home, they are returning to their sanctuary -- the place where they feel loved and safe and cosseted again. From there they can go forth, refreshed and ready to face the world.
At the same time, the visits give parents a sweet remembrance of times past, a chance to clear up misunderstandings that might be hanging around and a time to connect with their children on an adult level. Each visit makes this tough transition a little easier and helps both parents and children feel comfortable in their new roles.
Your boyfriend missed out on this rich experience -- and probably many others -- but he shouldn't pass his own hurts on to your children. And that is just what he is doing.
This doesn't bode well for your future together, since couples are usually more kind and accommodating to each other in the moonlight-and-roses time before marriage than they are afterward.
Don't paper over your differences. You owe it to yourself to resolve them now, and you especially owe it to your children.
As a single parent you may think that you have given priority to them long enough, and that it is your turn now, but no, not yet. At 16 and 18 your children are at one of the big crossroads of life. If you let your boyfriend push them out of their nest too soon, they will lose the support they still need from you. This will be hard on them, and on you, because you will feel guilty and angry, both with yourself and your boyfriend.
You and your guy need to see a marriage counselor, and if he won't go with you, then go alone.
The two of you also need to go to some parenting classes, so you can learn how to deal with a new stepdaughter and he can learn to set boundaries for his daughter, based on her age and not her relationship with him. If you can agree on the rules for each other's children, and administer them evenhandedly, you will begin to appreciate them more and to respect their rights. This will help your marriage succeed.
There will still be tough times ahead, as there are in any marriage, and there will be more of them for you and your boyfriend than for a childless couple, if only because you'll be weaving five people together, instead of two.
To make it a bit easier, read "Making Your Second Marriage a First-Class Success" by Doug and Naomi Moseley, which has a fine chapter on stepparenting, and "You're a Stepparent . . . Now What?" by Joseph Cerquone.
When parents and stepparents reach out for help in the early years, they usually don't need quite so much of it later.
Questions? Send to Box 15310, Washington D.C. 20003, or to firstname.lastname@example.org