Dear Mrs. Bluth,
I am writing to you because I don’t know how to handle this very delicate and disturbing situation and I need your help. My brother just recently remarried a woman with three children. His wife, my sister-in-law, passed away two years ago leaving him with two young daughters. My sister-in-law was a loving and devoted mother and wife and it took much cajoling and persuading from the whole family for him to look for a new woman to love and care for his sweet and adorable little girls, eight and ten.
When he introduced “Leah” to us, we were thrilled. She seemed the perfect person for him. We couldn’t believe his good fortune and even after meeting her three children, two girls and a boy, who appeared sullen and stand-offish, we attributed this to the fact that they were shy and confused about my brother’s role in their lives, since they had a father, because their mother divorced him. We felt that because all the girls were almost the same age, this would be a wonderful opportunity for them to be friends and the changes for them would be less dramatic. It seems I couldn’t have been more wrong.
They had a short courtship till my brother proposed and they got married three months after having met. My nieces were so excited that they were getting such a wonderful step-mom and two great friends as step-sisters. So everything moved along smoothly. During the three-month courtship, my brother and future sister-in-law rented a larger house so that they could start their life together in neutral territory. It is now six months after the wedding and I thought it high time to invite my two nieces for Shabbos, because they were so close to my own daughters. This is where I got the shock of my life!
The girls arrived shabbily dressed and unkempt. Overlooking this, I thought it was just an oversight, but unpacking their overnight bags, I couldn’t believe the rumpled and in some places, soiled clothes they came with, not suited at all for Shabbos. I said nothing and hugged and kissed them to make them feel welcome and at home. Soon the truth came out. As I put them to bed Friday night, the oldest one whispered in my ear if I would be willing to let them both live with me. She poured out her heart while trying to hold back the tears and told me that as soon as the wedding was over, something strange happened to Leah.
Gone was the sweet and caring ‘mommy’ she had proffered to us and in her place emerged the horrible, cold and mean step-mother from all those fairy tales! When they moved into the new house, Leah’s children got there own rooms while my nieces were given a small room to share. Her kids got new clothes and shoes for school while my nieces got none. Leah had no time to attend to my nieces so they often went out looking unkempt and uncared for. I asked why they didn’t tell their father, she said she tried but he didn’t seem to see a problem and besides, he seemed so happy with her, they didn’t want to upset him. I hugged her close and said I would try to get to the bottom of things and see if I could help. With great sadness and little hope the child said she still wanted to stay with me and my family.
I tried to speak to my brother, but he told me that the older girl was just jealous of her step-siblings and no matter what was said or done for her it just wasn’t good enough. He also said I shouldn’t meddle and that time would straighten everything out. Will it, Mrs. Bluth? Will time really, magically straighten everything out? Please tell me what to do. I cannot get my niece’s pinched and saddened face out of my thoughts and wonder what their poor departed mother must be seeing from her place in Shamayim! Please reply post haste.
I can feel the desperation in your heart to aid your two young nieces, but sadly, there is a limited play list of things you can do to aid them if their father does not see with the same eyes as yours. It is also very difficult for me to advise you on any course of action here, without speaking to the children and hearing from them their truth without any outside observations or conclusions.
Blending two families is often very hard on young children. They feel they are neglected, their biological parent must now share his or her attention with the children of the new spouse and hurt feelings, neglected feeling and sadness often abound until some form of normalcy sets in. I would advise you to proceed with caution and not take all that you see at face value. However, if you notice things are amiss for a longer period of time, or if the children display a change in character, mood or temper, then I think it is time for you to readdress this with your brother, whether he sees your efforts as meddling or intrusive. The children come first, even if he’s thrilled with his new wife, the children aren’t, and this needs to be addressed.
Make yourself as available to the kids as much as possible, so their transition and fears will lessen, but don’t feed into the gloom and sadness over their mother’s replacement because she isn’t their mother. A new normal will eventually evolve and, hopefully, they will learn to accept her just as she will learn to care for them. Should I be wrong, then let me know and we will proceed from there. Till then, give them the security, love and compassion they need to help them get past this turbulent time.