“My kids are really struggling since I got remarried. My husband’s sons visit on weekends and since our wedding they are much more aggressive and cruel toward my kids. They tease and threaten them all the time,” stepmom Kimberly shared.
“I had no idea getting remarried would place my kids in such a stressful situation,” she continued. “I feel so guilty that a remarriage has affected my kids negatively. To make matters worse my husband doesn’t see the problem. He says I’m being overly protective.”
Most people believe kids from two households will easily blend after a parent’s remarriage. Sometimes they do. However, many parents experience a tremendous sense of guilt, shame and fear regarding how the remarriage is affecting their own kids.
“My eight-year-old stepson is spoiled and gets nasty when things don’t go his way,” stepdad Christopher expressed. “I’ve seen him intentionally throw a toy right at my daughters face. My wife doesn’t know what to do, so she gives him a warning and then makes excuses. My daughter is becoming very fearful of him, and I’m growing to dislike this kid—a lot.”
As the children become older the situations frequently become more complex.
“My teen stepdaughter is trying to self-destruct by hanging out with boys who use her, and doing drugs. Her mom behaves the same way. My husband refuses to admit that his “little princess” is going down a bad path. When I mention the problem, I end up looking like a wicked stepmom,” Mallory lamented.
“Now my twelve-year-old daughter wants to dress and wear makeup like her stepsister. She has started to mimic the same disrespectful attitude, and we fight all the time. My stepdaughter has definitely been a bad influence on my child. Sometimes I’m furious with myself for exposing her to all this.”
What’s a parent to do?
- Protect your child. If your child is truly in danger, you are the person who should shelter him/her. That’s your job as a parent. It doesn’t mean marching to an attorney for a divorce. It does mean getting your child out of harm’s way (such as a grandparent, or aunt) until you can obtain an honest unbiased assessment of the situation.
- Admit your part. Did you rush into this marriage without receiving help on how to manage stepfamily complexities? Before the remarriage did you ignore the issues associated with your spouse’s kids? Was your spouse lenient with his/her kids before the marriage? If so, why did you ignore it? Did you think you could control the stepkids, or what they experience in the other home? The purpose of asking these questions isn’t to place a burden of guilt and shame, but a means toward addressing the complications that should have been explored before the marriage. Now they must be tackled afterwards, if the marriage is going to survive.
- Seek the right professional. Parents are so emotionally attached to their child, especially after a death or divorce, that they often cannot see the situation clearly. Notice how the parents in each of these three scenarios respond when confronted. They cannot fathom that their child could be the one at fault. This is why it’s crucial to obtain a third party who can give impartial and balanced wise counsel. This person should assess: Are you over protective, or is the child really in danger? Are the situations simply normal sibling rivalry or abuse? Does the stepchild need professional help or is it a phase? What are ways the parent can overcome parenting out of guilt, and implement consequences for their child? NOTE: Many people run to a pastor for help, and that’s great. But MOST pastors do not have the training or knowledge on how to handle the unique and complex issues associated with stepfamilies.
- Set a boundary with your spouse. This is not a stepchild problem; it’s a marriage problem that must be addressed. Clearly lay out specific steps that must be taken, and the consequence that will follow. “Michael, I love you and I want to remain married. But I will not allow your child to harm my child. We need professional help. If you refuse to come with me to learn what needs to happen to heal this, I’ll to go alone. Please understand if you are unwilling to work on this, there will be painful consequences. I truly love you, and honor my vows. But that isn’t going to stop me from taking the necessary steps if I need to remove my child from this home in order to keep him/her safe.
- Pray- The Holy Spirit is able and willing to give you the mind of Christ. It’s a promise from God’s word. Feelings aren’t wrong. But left untamed they can run amok and transition into disastrous decisions. Call on God to align your thoughts with His trustworthy guidance and wisdom.
The situations mentioned here are ones I consistently deal with in life coaching sessions. They are complex, but not hopeless. If BOTH spouses are teachable and willing to do the hard work, the marriage can survive and thrive.
Copyright © 2016 Laura Petherbridge. All rights reserved.
Laura Petherbridge is an international author and speaker who serves couples and single adults with topics on stepfamilies, relationships, divorce prevention, and divorce recovery. She is the author of When “I Do” Becomes “I Don’t”—Practical Steps for Healing During Separation and Divorce, The Smart Stepmom, co-authored with Ron Deal, 101 Tips for the Smart Stepmom and Quiet Moments for the Stepmom Soul. Her website is www.TheSmartStepmom.com