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Ask Dr. Zoe – My Husband Is a Strict Stepfather

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‘Stuck in the Middle’ Asked:

I have four children from a previous marriage and I recently got married to a wonderful man with no children. He’s very strict with my kids. They liked him at first, but now that we’re married and have been living together for 4 months, they don’t like him anymore and there is a lot of conflicts. We argue mostly about kid stuff. His controlling behavior comes from a good heart and he just wants to take over the father role with my kids. He has very clear ideas about how the kids should behave and how they should dress. He’s very big on respect. I’m feeling very torn between my children and my husband. Where do I draw the line?

Dr. Zoe Answered:

Blending families can be the toughest thing! The problem isn’t his rules. The issue is that he hasn’t developed a relationship with the kids in order to be able to get the respect that he wants for his rules.

“Kids don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Your kids know that you love and care for them, so they care about what you want and your rules. Now, the rules have changed. They don’t feel like this is coming from you, because it isn’t. It’s from him and he doesn’t have a history of care and love for them that would make them easily fall in line.

Blending families can be the toughest thing! “Kids don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”  – Dr. Zoe Shaw

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Blending Families is About Building Relationships

If he wants to take on the father role, which could be an awesome thing, he has to do the hard work of developing a caring relationship with each of them. He needs to take the kids out individually, become interested in their things—develop hobbies with them and develop a relationship that shows he cares about them—not just that he demands respect.

If he doesn’t really want to do those things, then he should take a step back and let you do the parenting and come to you with the issues he has, instead. You can’t really have it both ways in a healthy dynamic.

This is simple, but not easy to implement if your husband isn’t on board. And the reason why you are probably having conflict is because you know these things and he isn’t agreeing with you.

The tricky part about blended families is that you have an obligation to your new husband to be a supportive wife, which can sometimes be in direct conflict with your obligation to your children.

Support Your Spouse Through This Transition

It may be helpful to sit down with your husband and praise him for his effort and desire to parent your children. Let him know that you see his good intention and heart. Explain to him that you’ve been seeking out information and learning more about step-parenting and that these issues you two are having with the kids are really very common.

Share this article and ask him if he would be willing to read some books with you. A good start is The Smart Stepdad by Ron Deal. Another good one that gets right to the point is Step-Parenting: 50 One-Minute DOs and DONTs for Stepdads & Stepmoms by Randall Hicks.

If you know of any stepdad who is killing it (or at least getting it right a lot of the time), try to connect him with your husband. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

In the midst of this parenting transition, make sure that you and your husband are getting regular (at least weekly) time with just the two of you to re-affirm your relationship and commitment to each other. It is also equally important that you are getting alone time with your children without your spouse to assure them that their direct connection with you has not disappeared.

If your husband is not on board with any of this and the tension is continuing to mount, it is very important that you seek some help in the form of family counseling. Please do this sooner rather than later. Children are much more forgiving of parenting mistakes than they are of a stepparent’s mistakes. It all goes back to that care thing.

I know this is not how you imagined being a newlywed, especially since your kids were on board in the beginning. All is not lost. Blending takes time. You’ve got this!

Here is a list of the resources I recommended above:

The Effective Stepfather: A Check-List to Live By
The Smart Stepdad by Ron Deal
Step-Parenting: 50 One-Minute DOs and DONTs for Stepdads & Stepmoms by Randall Hicks

Do you have your own burning question for Dr. Zoe? Submit it here.

You’ll enjoy this podcast episode from This Grit and Grace Life podcast: A Therapist’s Practical Advice for Blended Families with Dr. Zoe Shaw – 050!


For more articles on motherhood and blended families, start here:

5 Ways Blended Families Can Be Happy and Healthy
Stepmother: The Most Difficult Job in a Family
Ask Dr. Zoe – Dealing with Blended Families and Different Household Rules
Here Are the 10 Commandments to Be a Great Bonus Mom

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Dr. Zoe is a licensed psychotherapist and relationship expert who recently jumped out of a perfectly good plane just for the experience.

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