I read an article today that was posted a few years ago about relating to stepchildren from the point of view of a stepmother. Here is the link, if you want to check it out. However, I think it's a bunch of hooey, and contains some of the worst advice I've seen in a long time.
The author starts the article by assuming several bits of information. The first very important assumption is that all stepchildren are legally children. This is far from correct. You may be marrying into a much bigger mess than you accounted for if you are taking on stepchildren who are already teenagers, and sadly, sometimes when you are taking on adult stepchildren. Guilt is a powerful motivator, and when children learn they can push Daddy with guilt, suddenly that manipulative 20 year old may as well be 6 years old with two missing front teeth, wearing a tutu and ballet shoes.
The author's advice to stay positive is all well and good, but I would strongly recommend a stiff dose of reality. If you are dating a man with manipulative children, and you think it will get better after the marriage, you're wrong. Thinking positive will be your enemy when you look back at the last seven years of hell and second divorce your stepchildren made your life, and you wish you could give your younger-yet-more-ignorant self a taste of the reality you've lived with, when you know you wouldn't make that choice again. If you're still willing to ride it out after looking at the reality and accepting it exactly as it comes, you must really love him, and I really hope that you can make it work. Not everyone can.
Back to that ridiculous article. The author goes on to tell you to put yourself second. This is terrible advice that will end with you bowing to the ever-growing list of demands your selfish stepchild places upon you.
If I could give one piece of advice it would be this: make sure the child or children's mother will enforce respect and shared discipline, and make sure your new husband isn't operating solely out of guilt for leaving a relationship he wasn't happy in. Those two things are the key to success for any step parent. If your decisions are respected and upheld in the home, and all parents are working together as a discipline team, you'll be successful. If not, you'll end up with kids who don't respect anyone's authority, including whoever thought it was a good idea to tell that kid that he or she didn't have to respect the other parenting team. FAIL. Successful people respect their authority: parents, police, bosses. People who don't respect authority end up unemployed and in jail.
The next mistake is forgiving and forgetting. Forgive, but do not forget, because stepmothers who forget end up having their jewelry stolen twice instead of once, their cars wrecked twice instead of once, and their husbands just keep feeling that guilty need to choose them over you. Twice.
Five - Unconditional love my ass. As I've said before, you meet a pain in the ass child at the mall who is screaming at its mom, you don't automatically love that child. You can't. You think it's a pain in the ass. You can learn to love his kids, but it's really hard to learn to love someone who is hateful all the time. Trying to waste your energy on loving people like that unconditionally will just make you feel like a failure. Instead, understand that you had no part in the initial raising of that child, do you best to accept that the child or children for exactly what and who they are, and treat him/her/them fairly. Sometimes, love is a luxury you just don't get to give. Sometimes, it's hard to even like them, and that's when you should take a walk and think a bit about this being your life until he/she/they is/are 18. Or 20. Or whenever Dad forces a move-out or move-on. Number six in that article is spot on. You aren't their mom. You can't take mom's place, you may not be able to love them unconditionally, but you can do your best, and try to learn to love them every day. That's called building a real relationship instead of relying on unrealistic ideals.
I confess that I 100% agree with number 7 and mostly with number 8 (unless it's to your best friend, and you desperately need advice, or just a little venting to stay sane and you know it's absolutely private), and always about number 9 (getting a counselor). Don't badmouth their biological mother in front of them, or in your bedroom where they might hear, or in a text message they might sneakily read, even if you think you can get away with it. This also goes for their father, even if you are fighting. If they say mean things about either one, respond with one of my favorites, "Well, you know he/she is only human, just like the rest of us, and nobody is perfect, but he/she loves you and does the best he/she can for you, etc." I find that one particularly successful, personally.
I'd love to say that your marital problems aren't the fault of your stepkids, but we know the statistics. How many second marriages fail, and how many of those are because of children from prior relationships? Just remember that you chose to stay, and it's always your choice to continue to stay and put up with this stuff. I also don't believe you should attend all school functions, especially when older children have made it clear that you aren't welcome. Don't put yourself in a position to be attacked emotionally, because it is likely that Dad will just remind you that you weren't invited, and will not support you if the child is unpleasant.
As for number 15, spot on. Not only should you not expect the kids to like you, expect them to actively dislike you, at least until you die, and then they can say sad things about how much they always liked you to their father, when they don't have to follow up.