Dear Dr. Bill,
I am the father of 4 boys, ranging in age from 21 months to 13 years. All are my biological children, but the eldest two came from my first marriage. At first, my 2nd wife seemed to accept these older boys as her own, and treated all four of our sons equally. But over time that has changed, and I often find her attitude overbearing and overcritical — especially with the older boys.
She demands that I back her form of discipline, but that’s hard to do when I think my kids are being treated unfairly. Every day it seems our household is in conflict. And if something doesn’t change soon, I fear my family will fragment to the point that I’ll have to choose between my older boys and my wife. What do you think I should do?
Unfortunately what you’re describing is fairly common in blended families. Many step-families deal with divided loyalties and conflicts over disciplinary issues. It’s natural for a biological parent to feel protective of their offspring when they feel that their new spouse is being unreasonable or harsh.
Unfortunately, it sounds like things have reached the breaking point in your family. You and your wife should seek professional help from a therapist who is skilled in working with stepfamilies. Your kids are already facing challenges in life because of your first divorce—the last thing you want to do is subject them to another fractured relationship.
One of the goals in therapy will be to strengthen the relationship between you and your wife, as that is obviously suffering. Your counselor will assist you to get your “couple” relationship back on track, and show you how to clarify all the many roles and expectations in your blended family of six.
Also, let me recommend an excellent book that will provide you with some practical help immediately. It’s called “The Smart Stepfamily,” and is written by my friend Ron Deal, a family therapist and step-family expert.
Thanks for writing Andy. If you have a question for me about family issues or Christian living, click the “Questions” link on the Culture Connection page.