Dear Lauren,

I was recently married to a woman who has three sons. I married with the full intention and desire to help parent and raise the boys. Now I am finding that I meet a lot of resistance from my wife. Every time I tell the boys to do or not do something, she runs interference, contradicts me in front of them, and minimizes me as a person and a parent.

Fed Up

Dear Fed Up -

Blending parenting styles can be a challenging task, especially if one is joining a pre-existing family. Family dynamics, routines, and expectations are already in place. As the newest one to the family system, you can easily be perceived as the outsider messing up the family system because ... well, to a certain extent you are. By simply adding another person to the mix, in this case a step-father, the family system must evolve. It will, undoubtedly, be a more complex system. Ideally, the trajectory will be forward and upward so that everyone feels fulfilled and satisfied. But there will be some bumps along the way.

Needless to say, this takes a lot of work. Much of it takes place between the husband and wife behind closed doors. They have to calmly and respectfully discuss parenting styles, goals, and roles. The transition to shared parenting and a more integrated family system can't happen without the biological parent's support -- or the step-parent's willingness to defer to the biological parent, bide his time, and transition slowly. The change won't happen overnight.

There are likely many other issues which may be complicating the transition. Some common ones for children, as a result of a new marriage, are: moving to a new area; not being near family and friends; hearing conflicting negative talk from the other biological parent about the new step-parent; guilty feelings, feeling like they're betraying biological parent; resentment toward new step-parent for 'changing things;' resentment toward step-parent for 'taking away' all his mom's attention. Having a new person, not of your choosing, coming into your home, taking up your parent's time, and having authority over you is no small transition for a child. By necessity, the transition must be loving, supportive, and gradual.

It is important that the children feel like the parents have a firm handle on the transition, that the parents are united, that they as kids are respected, and that the pathways for communication are open. What does this look like? Parents meeting behind closed doors to discuss parenting issues. Some issues might include how to handle chores, what are reasonable consequences for various infractions, and how to deliver them. Parents must be united on this. If there is a disagreement, then work to find the pathway for an agreeable transition needs to be developed. The good of the children is the guiding principle. For instance, if the biological parent allows the children to watch hours of TV, more than the new step-parent is comfortable, it's a good idea to discuss the issue of TV watching and do research.. If the new parent speaks in a tone that is harsher than is helpful, it's a good idea to discuss the idea and research alternatives. The biological parent has the lead, but without a willingness to compromise and integrate the new step-parent, the step-parent will remain on the outside and, in all likelihood, begin to develop resentment. The new step-parent has an authority by simply virtue of position, but without respecting the biological parent's lead and connection, he risks a power struggle with both his spouse and his step-children.

If you have already tried talking to your wife about your concerns, I recommend getting the help of a therapist to help your sort out these parenting issues. When there are conflicts in blending families, the issues are often emotionally charged and visceral. I also recommend reading books and articles on successfully blending families and being a step-father. Author Ron Taffel is always an excellent source of information on parenting. The task of blending a family can take a high toll on the marriage. Stepcoupling: Creating and Sustaining a Strong Marriage in Today's Blended Family, by Susan Wisdom and Jennifer Green, can begin to offer some insights on how to work together to blend successfully.

Best Regards,


About Author / Additional Info:
Lauren Trecosta is a Licensed Professional Counselor specializing in virtual Individual, Relationship and Group counseling through the utilization of SKYPE webcam and teleconferencing. In-Office sessions are available on a limited basis.