Q: We are a struggling blended family. My husband has three children (ages 7, 12, 17) from a previous marriage. Their mother focuses on the easiest way of parenting. She allows unlimited electronics, showers the kids with presents and does not discipline effectively. It’s obvious she wants to be the kids’ friend. We are the opposite. The problem is that the kids oppose us at every step, and they only come to see us because they have to. When the kids are with us, we deal with extreme behavior problems, entitlement and disrespect. My husband and I are on the same page, but we are reluctant to implement and enforce discipline, because nothing we do is supported by the mother. We want to do what is best and what will hopefully be accepted by the children (even if only in the long run). Is it possible for this to work?
A: The good news — and it really is good news — is that your husband is supportive of your expectations and your attempts to discipline. In many cases, the father in a blended family is a pushover/wimp/enabler/milquetoast and the stepmom is pulling her hair because he is afraid to do anything that might upset his kids during visitation. Any remarried dad who stands firmly with his wife (stepmom) where his kids are concerned deserves a medal of honor. Your husband has his priorities in proper order.
This is a difficult situation. More accurately, it’s maddening, infuriating and often provokes fantasies involving bizarre forms of retribution. Fantasies are fine, by the way. They act as a safety valve. Just don’t act on them.
First, do not allow the ex’s parenting to influence yours. Don’t, for example, begin competing with her for the kids’ affections. If you do, it’s downhill from there, because the only way to compete with her is to go over to the dark side. When the children are with you, do what you know is the right thing to do concerning any given issue.
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Second, train yourselves to stop thinking about the ex-wife’s deficiencies and dysfunctions. That’s only going to drive you nuts and increases the likelihood that you will begin taking out your frustrations on one another. Block her out of your heads. Keep in mind that she is doing the only thing she knows how to do, however pitiful and counterproductive. If she was capable of being an authority figure, she and your husband might still be married. In a sense, you should count your lucky stars that she’s a parenting basket case.
Third, kids are oriented toward instant gratification; therefore, at these ages the children like mom more. As children mature, however, they develop the ability to see down the road and begin to delay gratification. At that point, there is some likelihood that the kids will begin to appreciate what you and their father have tried to do for them.
There are, of course, no guarantees. Then again, I’ve gotten better and better at fortune telling over the years.
Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his website, Rosemond.com.
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