Hello! My husband and I have been married for a year and together for five. My children from a previous relationship are 13 and 12. We have a wonderful home life, kids like and look up to their step-dad which I’m lucky for. There’s just one thing missing. He will not EVER say anything to them when they are acting up, whether I’m home or not. I came home today and the kids had gotten in a fight while he was relaxing on the couch. They were out of control and he just sat there. I said: “Did you say anything to them at all?” His response: “That’s just what they do.” He’s very intelligent, reasonable and helpful beyond me sure around our home, but he can’t for the life of him back me up or say a word to them when they are acting out. Am I asking too much? I just want back up. Simple…or so I thought. -Kimberly
It’s normal for you think the challenge you’re dealing with is his lack of involvement in raising the kids. It’s not. You’ve made the same mistake most remarried moms do: You didn’t discuss and define his role.
When couples don’t take the time to talk about the role the mother expects the Stepdad to play, both move forward with an assumption of what the role should be. Usually the two visions don’t match. She thinks he’ll be one way and he acts a different way. She is disappointed and he’s left frustrated that she complains about his parenting style.
Even when a couple has discussed the Stepdad’s role, they haven’t gone deep enough in defining it. She may say “I want you to be like a dad to them.” We all have different experiences growing up, so two people rarely have the same vision of what “dad” means. Maybe one of you feels dads should be firm, the other feels a dad should be laid back. Maybe one feels a dad should hug the kids a lot and the other feels too much affection is bad. Even parents in traditional families rarely agree completely on parenting style. It shouldn’t be a surprise a Stepdad would struggle to understand his wife’s needs. Even with the best of intentions, a Stepdad is likely to fail to meet his wife’s expectations. It’s important that he take time to talk about what’s expected of him.
You can better define the meaning of “dad” by starting to did deeper… ask questions like:
1) What kinds of things does a dad do?
2) Is he responsible for punishment?
3)What kind of punishment and for what kinds of things?
… and so on.
The more detail you go to, the better he will understand your needs and expectations.
New couples usually assume too much. It’s an easy mistake to make. You love each other, so you both assume you know what the other wants. The intention is good. The results are bad.
You say he’s a good guy and a smart man. You’re probably a good couple. Unfortunately things will steadily get worse unless a change is made. Your expectations aren’t being met and he may begin to feel unappreciated. Nearly 67% of all former Stepdads say feeling unappreciated was the primary factor in their marriage ending. The more frustrated you get the more he will withdraw. Eventually you’ll feel more like roommates than lovers.
Treat the Cause, Not the Symptom
Don’t panic! There’s still time to turn it around. Set aside an afternoon together to talk about improving your teamwork. Even better, take a weekend away if you can. I call this a Parenting Summit. Take this time to talk about your expectations and needs. Most guys are open to hearing what will make their wife happy. Good men thrive on pleasing our wives. A happy wife makes our lives more peaceful. A happy wife is more affectionate. Everybody wins when the wife is happy! Approach him lovingly. Tell him you want to work better together and he’ll be willing to listen.
I lay out the agenda for the Parenting Summit in my book The Stepdad’s Guide -Resolving Family Conflict. Follow the steps and you’ll do great. You’ll be treating the cause instead of the symptom. You will strengthen your communication as a couple. You’ll prevent future problems and you’ll become closer as a family. I’m sending you a copy of the book to use as your guide. Follow the suggestions and you’ll get back on track fast.