Real Simple’s Modern Manners columnist on bonding with your significant other's children.

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Jamie Chung

Q. For the last three years, I have seriously dated my boyfriend. He now lives with me and my son (from a previous relationship). He also has two kids, who live with his ex-wife. His daughter, who is 17, is gracious, but his 14-year-old son doesn’t speak to me at all. I generally let him be, but is there something I should do to break the ice with him? Or should I leave him alone until he is ready?

K. M.

A. I appreciate your hesitation here. You sense that the best approach might be to let this boy find his own way to accept you, in his own time. Indeed it might be, and you’re right not to take his chilly attitude too personally. Divorce is hard on kids, and their emotions can be confusing to everyone, themselves included.

This is really your boyfriend’s situation to deal with—especially since, in all likelihood, the issue is between him and his child. If nothing else, he should insist that his son treat you with common courtesy: saying hello, thank you, good-bye, and the like. If he is not enforcing that behavior, you can request that he do so.

Once his son is exchanging basic niceties with you, you could seek out advice on building a relationship. Read a book on the subject. (Suzen J. Ziegahn’s 7 Steps to Bonding With Your Stepchild ($7, has much to offer, even though you’re technically not the boy’s stepparent.) And if things don’t seem to improve, consider family counseling. In the meantime, though, it sounds as if you’re being as sensitive as you can. Hopefully your boyfriend’s son will reciprocate by letting down his guard.

Catherine Newman

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