Dear Dr. Laura,
So where do I start? I've been married to a man with 2 children from the first wife for 32 years - so we have seen/dealt with much. And I, the "wicked stepmom" have had the most to "deal with." Plus we had children…
As Princess Diana said of her situation (though different, it led to the demise of the marriage) - "There were three of us in this marriage." Yes, the first wife is always somewhere and the second wife/marriage is often undermined, criticized, talked about in "behind the scenes" as it were. She is motivated by defeat/jealousy/failure/hatred/immaturity/other female emotions. RARE are there friendships between first and second wives -- unless there is a third wife. And who needs one of those? - Certainly not the children.
The influences and values of the other household are often problematic --especially if the father/husband is trying to keep peace with both women (fat chance). And now the influence of the older daughter upon my daughters is problematic for me.
And then there's money. Dad often allows many feelings of regret (guilt or false guilt?) to lead him to bad decisions of financial support - even situations with serious financial repercussions.
No matter how much you do, what your motivations are, the kids do not ever understand/agree with the separation/divorce/break up of their family. They feel (rather rightly) gypped. I once encouraged my husband to tell his kids that he was sorry they had to grow up in a single-parent-household; that he was sorry it hadn't worked out with their mother, but that he hoped they would be able to make just one, permanent marriage for themselves because that is clearly the best/most desirable way. He's never done it.
And we had a "fairly good" stepfamily situation.
With much love and gratitude,