Dear Mr. Dad: This is my second marriage, and I’m totally committed to my new wife. But even though I hate to admit it, her two kids from her previous marriage are driving me crazy.
They play one of us against the other, and my wife – being their mom – usually takes their side in any disagreement. How can we keep our marriage stable and still come to some agreement on disciplining the kids?
A: For some couples, second marriages are a breeze. But most experience all sorts of problems in merging two different households with different traditions and ways of life. When kids are involved, the potential problems multiply exponentially.
In fact, it may be even harder on kids than on the adults. At least adults have some control over the situation. Kids have almost none.
Some children resent their parents’ remarriages, while others may feel bewildered by new expectations. And they react just like anyone else who has to copes with an uncertain and frightening situation: They do whatever they can to regain some control.
Sometimes that plays out as deliberately pushing their parents’/stepparents’ buttons, or, as you’ve seen, pitting the two off each other. None of this, however, relieves them of the obligation to respect the new stepparent.
The place to start is with a behind-closed-doors meeting with your wife. Talk about your expectations and hers.
What kind of behavior is acceptable? What isn’t?
The kids are less likely to resent taking direction (and discipline) from mom than from you. Several important things to keep in mind, though.
•Biological parents tend to under-discipline their kids – especially in the eyes of stepparents. That’s often the result of a perfectly well-intentioned desire to reduce the stress in the kids’ lives (after all, they’ve been through enough already, haven’t they?).
•At some point, you have to step in. It’s tempting to try to leave everything up to the biological parent, but that’s not an effective long-term solution.
•Keep your expectations reasonable. Creating a well-oiled family machine will not happen overnight – if it does at all. •Know your place. You want the kids to like and respect you but you’re not their father. To the extent possible, try to present a united front and to make sure that everyone knows what happens if they either follow or break them.