“My kids are really struggling since I got remarried. My husband’s sons visit every other week, and since our wedding, they’re much more aggressive and nastier toward my kids. They tease and threaten them all the time,” stepmom Kimberly shared. “My first husband died three years ago, and I was very careful not to introduce my children to another man until I was certain the relationship was serious. I had no idea getting remarried would place my kids in such a stressful situation,” she continued. “I feel so guilty that my chance at happiness again has negatively affected my kids. To make matters worse, my husband doesn’t see a problem. He says I’m being overly protective.”
“My 8-year-old stepson is spoiled and becomes cruel when things don’t go his way,” stepdad Michael expressed. “I’ve seen him intentionally throw a toy right at my daughter’s face. My wife gives him a warning but never follows through and then makes excuses. My daughter is becoming fearful of him, and I’m growing to dislike this kid.”
“My teenaged stepdaughter has started to dress and behave in a manner that suggests she’s hanging with the wrong crowd. My husband refuses to admit that his child is going down a bad path. When I calmly suggest that she needs help, he gets mad at me and I end up looking like a wicked stepmom,” Madison lamented. “My 12-year-old daughter adores her and wants to dress and wear makeup just like her older 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 of this.”
What’s a parent to do?
Protect Your Child
If your child is in danger, you must shelter the child from harm. That doesn’t mean filing for a divorce. It means shielding your child for a short time until you can obtain an unbiased assessment of the situation. In extreme situations that might mean temporarily removing the child from the home when the stepchild is present.
Admit Your Part
A person can’t heal what he or she refuses to confess. The goal isn’t to exacerbate the parent’s guilt, but rather to dig up and examine the root of the problem.
Did you rush into a remarriage without understanding the complexities of a stepfamily? Was your spouse lenient with his or her kids before the marriage? If so, why did you ignore it? Learning why we ignore red flags can help to prevent us from doing it again.
Speak Softly with Your Spouse
If the marriage is going to survive, honesty must thrive. Parents are so emotionally attached to and defensive of their child, especially after a death or divorce, that they often can’t see the situation clearly. Notice how the parent responds in each of these three scenarios. They can’t fathom that their child could be the one at fault. The natural defense is to blame the spouse or the stepchild. And sometimes the new husband or wife is nitpicking the stepchild. In a calm manner, the couple must discuss the issue, making certain that both parties have a teachable attitude.
Call Upon a Third-Party Professional
The couple often needs a third party who can give impartial and balanced counsel. This professional should assess: Is the parent overprotective, or is the child really in danger? Are the situations normal sibling rivalry or abusive? Does the stepchild need professional help or is it a phase? Is the parent’s guilt sabotaging the ability to see the situation accurately? Is the stepparent being hypercritical or is the stepchild truly in trouble?
Seek Wise Counsel
Many people choose their pastor for marriage assistance, But most pastors, although well-intentioned, don’t understand the unique dynamics of stepfamily living. These situations require a person who is well-educated on the intricacies of a second marriage. The advice that succeeds to heal a first marriage can severely damage a second marriage.
The child has another influential parent who lives in a separate home. This added voice inserts an influence and an undercurrent into the parenting structure that is vastly different than a first marriage.
Set a Loving Boundary with Your Spouse
When the situations are severe it must be addressed immediately. “Husband, I love you and I want to remain married, but I will not allow your child to harm my child. We need professional help to resolve this problem. If you refuse to come with me to get that help, I’m left with no other option than to go alone. Please understand that your unwillingness to work on this situation could lead to some unpleasant consequences. I truly love you, but that isn’t going to stop me from getting the help necessary to find out if I need to remove my child from this home in order to keep him safe. Please work on this with me.”
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, however, when allowed to run amok they can lead to damaging decisions. Call on God to align your thoughts with His trustworthy guidance and wisdom.
The situations mentioned in this article are the most common issues facing stepfamilies. They’re extremely complex but not hopeless. If both spouses are teachable and willing to do the hard work to change, the marriage can survive and thrive.
This article is adapted from HomeLife Magazine.
How Many People Are Part of a Stepfamily?
According to a nationwide Pew Research Center survey done in 2011, more than four in 10 American adults have at least one step relative in their family, either a stepparent, a step or half-sibling, or a stepchild.
In the survey, 36 percent of those under age 30 said during the time they were growing up their parents were either divorced, separated, or were never married. This compares with 21 percent of those ages 30-49, and only 10 percent of those ages 50 and older.
People with steprelatives are just as likely as others to say that family is the most important element of their life.
However, they typically feel a stronger sense of obligation to their biological family members (be it a parent, a child, or a sibling) than to their steprelatives.