ASK ALICE — Advice for All
How to Train a Good Stepfather
I am a divorced mother of three who recently married a divorced man who has no children. My children, ages 12, 8 and 6, live with us. Their father is not very involved in their lives, having remarried and moved away. My children are sad, hurt, and angry at his leaving them. My remarriage has been a challenge for my children and me because my husband is not used to having children around and is often at a loss as to how to deal with them.
My husband is a good man, but he gets angry when the children are disrespectful, and he seems to resent that I am so focused on them. The tension in our home is high. I want my marriage to work, but my first loyalty is to my children.
Having gone through one difficult divorce, I don’t want another one, and I don’t want to damage my children any further. Do you have any thoughts on how to improve our situation?
Being a stepparent is often difficult for a lot of reasons. In your situation, your children’s father is not available to co-parent, and your husband is stepping into a role that he has no familiarity with. Your children’s ability to trust another person in authority is complicated. They may even feel a level of responsibility for your marriage ending. Both you and your husband need to keep that in mind as you deal with them.
Encourage your husband to develop a relationship with each one of your children, discovering what each enjoys and participating in activities with them. This way his relationship with them will be separate from yours. He could take one to an athletic event, one to the theater, one on a shopping trip. This provides an opportunity for them to see his interest and commitment to being part of their lives.
Having him discipline them, however, is not a good idea. It will add to their resentment of him.
Your goal is to help create in them a positive attachment to your husband and make your home peaceful and loving.
Be careful with the way you discipline your children. Their acting out is understandable since they are distressed about their father’s leaving and your ‘replacing’ their father with someone else. Instead of being harsh and adding to their emotional pain when they misbehave, let them experience a chance to make up for their problematic behavior in a way that helps them “save face.” Ask them to help you with a task you both agree on.
Have empathy for your children’s loss, support them emotionally, and help them adjust to a different life. In the process you will also be helping your husband experience a calmer home that gives him a positive role as well.