My situation, I’m sure, is not uncommon. I’ve been in a relationship with my wife for over 5 years. Her only child, her son, is 7 years old and I’m the only “Dad” he’s ever known. He knows his biological father, but only knows him as “Papi” and doesn’t know that he is his biological father and I am his Step Father. That’s Mom’s choice. Also, she refuses to let me adopt my step-son even though his biological father never visits, only calls around holidays, and pays no child support. Anyway, I digress…
My problem is that even though I am the only father the child has ever known, my wife more or less gives me no fatherly rights. She is a stay-at-home Mom that sometimes works as a substitute teacher, and I’m a full-time working dad that provides everything the family needs and wants. Yet, I can make rules for the house and not be allowed to enforce them. You see -my stepson has a problem following directions. That problem is that he either (a) can’t or (b) refuses to follow directions. Simple stuff. “Son, eat over your plate”, “Son, no running in the house”, “Son, pick up all your toys in the yard”. But when 7 year old son that I’ve been telling to eat over his plate every night for 5 years spills a spoonful of peas on the floor because he’s sitting in his seat like Ceasar, I’m not allowed to say anything. Worse yet, if I DO say something, I’m chastised by his mother. She refuses to correct him, NEVER disciplines him (time out, sit in the corner, take his toys away –nothing!) and if I bring up disciplining him, I’m accused of only wanting to spank him.
Like I said, the kid is 7 years old and he’s NOT stupid. He sees what is going on between Momma and Dad when Dad tried to correct son for doing something he’s not supposed to. Son plays Momma against Dad and provokes an argument between them. Momma doesn’t notice this because son is her angel and is beyond doing anything wrong.
We live overseas. It’s getting to the point know where I’m SO fed up with all of it that I’m ready to put them both on a plane and send them home. I’ve tried everything I can think of but my patience is wearing thin.
Please… any advice you can give is greatly appreciated. – Chris
Many years ago I took a cross-country road trip with my soon-to-be wife and her (then) three year old daughter. I already knew she was a smart little girl, but by the second day I started to realize how cunning a three year old could be. She was getting hungry every few hours so we were stopping at drive-throughs frequently. it didn’t take long for me to notice what was really going on; She wasn’t eating the food –just playing with the toys she got in the kid’s meals. She had only been alive for 42 months but she already knew how to get what she wanted.
You’ve identified one of the common challenges most Stepdads encounter. This situation is widespread and ultimately lays the groundwork for the failure of many relationships. It’s avoidable -but most couples fail to address the issue before marriage. Prevention is the best option because it save you a great deal of work later. Addressing the issue after marriage is a bit like having to fix your car after you’ve started your road trip because you failed to tune it up before you started your journey. It’s an avoidable malfunction. This means you have to take a step back and work as a team to deal with it. It’s time to set standards. To better understand the challenge watch this video.
This became an issue because you and your wife missed an important step when you were planning your Your son knows what he wants. I know it’s frustrating but it’s important to understand the problem isn’t caused by him. His parents don’t have a unified plan to raise him and that’s giving him the power to manipulate the situation. Children will impulsively try to get what they want. If he sees a way to work the system he’ll do it. He’s smart enough to know how to find the weak link and break through. It’s the parents’ job to maintain standards for their kids. Standards are important to his development. In fact, consistency is vital! I’ll give you some important information about that a little later -but first…
A Little Background
More than 60% of Stepdads say disagreements over how to raise the kids is one of the major problems they’ve faced in their relationships. It’s amazing that only 8% of Stepdads don’t take an active role in parenting, but more than half of Stepdads say their parenting role isn’t defined. These guys aren’t following a plan or a set of instructions. They don’t have agreements with the mother about how the child will be raised, so they’re flying blind. That’s like taking long journey without a map or directions. If you don’t know where you’re going, how do you expect to get there? The only way to resolve this issue is to come to an agreement with your wife and stick to it.
Who’s The Boss
So you’re starting to feel your wife’s the one at the wheel on this long journey and you’re starting to feel undervalued. Don’t take it personally. Moms feel a high sense of possession over their kids. This possessiveness is natural and probably instinctual: She carried the child for most of a year and gave it life. The moment it was born she already had a bond with the child. Dads can feel a strong bond too.. but not like mothers. Most moms feel they re the primary parent- and this isn’t just in the case of Stepdads. Biological fathers face the same challenge. She may not say it but to her –it’s her child first. Husband’s have to be dad without making waves with the mother. This is even more challenging for Stepdads They joined the game late. The rules had already been established. To make any changes means changing the status quo.
The most-effective parenting teams have equally-committed co-captains: Mom and dad work together to achieve the goals they’ve set for their family. Kids need nurturing and guidance -but there has to be a balance between the two. Mothers fill the nurturing role. Father provide the other half. Dads are in a position to instill respect for authority and help kids develop self-discipline. If they don’t learn when they’re young they’re less-likely to learn it then they’re older. Undisciplined kids learn to argue and negotiate instead of learning to obey. Kids without discipline struggle as they grow and the parents pay a price for their lax parenting.
Moms who let their kids get away with things don’t love their kids less. They’re just expressing their love by being lenient. Your wife cares about her child. You care about your child too. Use your mutual love of the child to his advantage.
Your love of your boy is your motivation for wanting to implement more consistent parenting. Children without consistency in their lives struggle as they get older. He needs consistency in his upbringing. Child Psychologists and Parenting professionals will tell you how important consistency is. The University of Alabama says consistency is a vital ingredient when raising children.
“Consistency means that rules and expectations are the same from one time to another. Consistency makes the child’s world predictable and less confusing. It frees their minds of worry about what might happen and teaches them accountability for their actions.”
So discipline and consistency go hand-in-hand and are often the same thing. If you are consistent and hold your child to a set and agreed upon standard there will rarely be a reason for punishment. Simply keep him in line, making corrections as he grows. He’ll be happier and less confused as he matures and develops. But how do you make the change?
So now you understand why she acts the way she does. How do you change that? Before we start, understand that personality is the ultimate variable in communication. Personality is affected by mood so it’s inconsistent. Because of this it’s impossible to offer a one size fits all solution. It will take some diplomacy to start this conversation and keep it going with your wife.
You may not need to approach the issue as if you’re picking up on the earlier discussion -in fact it may be best not to. You can start the conversation by telling her you missed an important step when you were planning to become a family. Tell her you want to be stronger as a couple for your son. Ask for he help. This assures the conversation starts positively (focusing on your son), not negatively (on your relationship). Tell her you need her help to be a better parent. When you ask someone’s opinion opens them up to communication. It helps them let down their guard because they see you value what they have to say. Tell her about the missed step and the good article you read about the importance of consistency in parenting. Explain your want to give your son every advantage to have the best chance at happiness and success as he grows. You want to work together to give him consistent parenting. Then let her talk. Wait to see where the conversation goes. Be diplomatic and steer the conversation always towards the positive. Focus on your son’s best interest. This isn’t an argument. It’s a discussion about how you can work together for your son. Working as a couple helps improve consistency.
A Few Benefits of Consistency
- Consistency helps children develop a sense of responsibility because they know what is expected of them.
- Having a regular routine with consistent waking times, bedtimes, schedules, meal times and school expectations will help create a more peaceful home life.
- Starting consistent parenting early pays big rewards later. Expect a reduction in temper outbursts when the kids are young. Expect less arguing and negotiating as kids get older.
- Children who’ve had a consistent home life have a stronger bond with their family and are more likely to visit after they’ve grown up and moved out.
Why It Matters
The tone you set when kids are young determines how much peace you have when they’re older. Kids who have consistent rules and predictable consequences are less likely to test their parents’ resolve or push the limits. Consistency reduces the likelihood kids will misbehave because they understand that “no” means “no”. Without boundaries kids will push the limits and test your resolve.
Make sure she understands your concerns are based on your desire for your child to be happy and well-adjusted. You care about him and want him to do well. Once she understands your motivation put together a parenting plan you can both agree on. For more on this, see the “Drill Down” section of this article. Once you’ve agreed it’s vital that you both stick to the plan. This will be difficult for her because she’ll need to train herself to change the way she deals with the boy.
Without your wife on board or you won’t resolve this issue. You can’t become a parenting team without a partner. Parenting from different playbooks is like playing tennis with someone who came to juggle. There will be plenty of action but nothing good will come of it. You need to have agreement and she must be completely committed. If you try to set standards on your own you are doomed to failure before you begin. You must work together to get worthwhile results.
No one walks down the aisle thinking it probably won’t work –but Stepdads probably should. Most of these relationships will end in divorce. In fact Stepdads are twice as likely to leave, compared to biological fathers. Very few of these relationships fail because someone fell out of love. Most will fail because the Stepdad becomes overwhelmed. You’re in a dangerous place in your relationship. If things don’t change you’ll probably join the long list couples who couldn’t make it work.
Working on this issue means you’re putting your relationship first. Again, it’s not about your kid, it’s about your relationship. You’re willing to do the hard work necessary Because of this you’re more likely to stay married. Here’s some important information to help you understand what you’re dealing with. Check out the graph below to see how common these issues are. These are the results from one question in the 2013 Stepdadding Poll.
I want to share the reasons so many Stepdads walk away to demonstrate how important these issues become -including the one you’re struggling with. It’s vital to the success of your relationship to overcome these challenges before they make you want to leave too. You’re not just laying out a plan to help your child, you’re working to strengthen your marriage.
Take the time to resolve this now. It’s something that will continue to be a point of frustration for you. Not talking about it will only allow a wall to grow between you and your wife. If it’s not resolved you’ll start to feel undermined and appreciated. At some time you’ll have to decide if you’re willing to say in a frustrating relationship where you feel you’re opinion isn’t respected.
If you fail to resolve these issues, the next step is to get the book The Stepdad’s Guide – Resolving Family Conflict. If you and your wife can have a civil conversation, resolving disagreements shouldn’t be overly challenging. The steps are outlined in the book. It includes a section that helps you target other challenge areas so you can avoid future problems. If you’re not able to resolve the issue using the book there’s a bigger issue. There’s a breakdown in communication that needs to be fixed. Seek a qualified marriage and family therapist and work to improve your communication style as a couple. Communication is like any other skill: The more you work at it the better you get at it.
Resolving conflict in your relationship is the greatest thing parents can do for their kids. Parents who learn to work well together create a better home for their children and demonstrate what a healthy relationship looks. Kids pattern their decisions and behaviors after their parents, so are more likely to chose a similar relationship when their older. Most importantly, a healthy relationship with your wife is one of the best ways to assure your child has a head start on a well-adjusted and positive future.