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Surprise Custody of Stepchildren

It can happen. You marry your Sweetie aware that there are children in the picture but way in the distance, perhaps a little blur on the horizon. Though you know your partner has kids, you've downplayed their importance. After all, they aren't going to live with you. Maybe they live far away, and maybe there are regular, short visits. But basically, your house is your own.

Then suddenly, boom! For whatever reason (death in the family, Junior not doing well in school, bioparent flips out, or bioparent moves and kid wants to stay in neighborhood), Junior is moving in! I know, you're feeling panicked, and guilty for feeling panicked. You should be thrilled, right?

Your biggest struggle may be the fight to remain gracious. The child may be very upset, and you won't help move things into a rosy future if she overhears you yelling at your spouse in the kitchen about how you don't want to be living with her daughter.

I Kid You Not!

Surprise custody often happens at adolescence when suddenly cute little Johnny towers and booms over his mother, or Janey is busting out of her brassiere—and her room at night. The overwhelmed parent, throwing up his or her hands, sends the overgrown child to live with the other bioparent. The rebellious child, who may have been romanticizing the idea of life with the noncustodial parent, is often all too ready to go.

I Kid You Not!

Kids are smart; they can pick up on when they aren't wanted. If this is the case, talk with the child. Assure him that though this is a circumstance nobody asked for, you're a family and families stick together. Problems get solved by talking about them and working on them. You are all in this project together.

Tea and Sympathy

When a child is uprooted, not by their doing, they need sympathy and concern, and so do you. You have to adjust at the same time you are helping the child adjust. Your life has suddenly been turned topsy turvey, and no, it doesn't matter if there are other children in the household. It's a different mix now.

The bioparent should play a big role in the adjustment, reassuring the child that she is wanted and welcomed, and being actively involved in her life. No ducking out now!

Chill with the Guilt

You feel guilty that you feel resentful. Who wouldn't? Your life is being disrupted. You are being called upon to handle more responsibilities. It's normal to feel betrayed, like, “Whoa, this isn't what I signed up for!” Be aware that you are in an adjustment period, and it may take you and the child some time. As the emergency stepparent, take care to nurture yourself; chill out, honey. Take lots of walks and rack up a big phone bill calling your friends out of state.


Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Stepparenting © 1998 by Ericka Lutz. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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