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A Biological Parent Pitfall: Always Playing Defense


by Ron L. Deal


            Feelings of guilt and fear cause some biological parents to become paralyzed and others to defend their children.  If someone were to ask your spouse, “Are you able to approach your partner with concerns and discipline suggestions about his/her children?” how would they respond?   Is your first response to constructive suggestions defensiveness or are you willing to listen objectively?  I would never presume that your spouse will be right about every concern or proposal; the issue is one of consideration.  Are you able to hear his/her point of view or do you assume criticism? 


            Getting caught in the defensive trap is easy, in particular when you feel sorry for your children. You may feel they have been cheated out of a happy home. Laura’s husband grieves that his children did not grow up the same wonderful family that he himself enjoyed.  This remorse ignites a strong protectiveness against further hurt. 


            Healthy parenting in a biological first-marriage family includes two adults who occasionally coach one another on how to be better parents.  God’s original design was for parenting to be a two-person team.  This allows each parent to approach the other with suggestions on how to best manage the children; when parent's take turns doing this a stronger parental team is created.  Your spouse is a helper placed beside you for your benefit.  If you are always defensive you will miss out on the opportunity to grow and improve your parenting, and your children suffer. 


            The process of coaching one another should be approached gently “I can see your frustration with Rebecca.  I am on your side and would like to help if I can.  I have some thoughts about what’s going on, let me know when you are ready to hear them.”  If you choose to humbly listen, over time you can become a strong parenting team. 




Ron L. Deal is President and Founder of Smart Stepfamilies.  He is a national conference speaker, licensed family therapist, and author of The Smart Stepfamily: Seven Steps to a Healthy Family.


Nov ‘08



Comments ( 4 )
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#4: by TL on 04.16.2012 @ 08:12am CDT

# 3 tla...OM lord I feel you on all of that, I am going thru the EXACT same thing, how do we overcome these issues? And why does a step parent feel like the way they were raised is how YOUR child should be raised? I raised my daughter alone for 13 1/2 years...she is now 14, and she is a great kid, but I SOOOO agree with you
#3: by TLA on 11.27.2008 @ 08:52pm CST

I am very defensive when my husband makes suggestions about my teenage daughters behavior or makes discipline suggestions. Part of it is, he has a much stricter expectation than I do about things that I feel are trivial (ie chores, picking up after oneself,) He expects jobs to be done exactly the way he would do them... also if one thing is left laying in the room, he wants to know who left it and why it wasn't picked up. I feel that he should relax a bit about that stuff. The other reason I am defensive is the because of the way he goes about it. He says to me "You better tell her that if she doesn't straighten up then... blah bhlab blah..... " He TELLS me what I "better tell her", and that creates resentment within me. If he could approach me like it was said in this article... by saying " I notice your frustration.... I have some ideas about how that might be helped" I would be much more receptive to his ideas.
#2: by Maria on 11.04.2008 @ 08:56am CST

I learned early on that the guilt over divorce is a real problem when it comes to discipline. My husband sees his "grown" 17 & 21 children as damaged beyond real relief and that their bad behavior is a direct result of the divorce. He divorced 7 years ago.
There is a tremendous amount of guilt placed on him in relation to our family's financial situation...of course the "real mom" doesn't contribute much but often suggests that we don't do enough for these kids. Then there is the guilt associated with making it seem that they have been cheated out of having a mother that will be engaged in their school activities and different events with their friends.
(These "children" have done this to themselves. I tried at for 2 years but was treated so hatefully, I had to quit for my own self preservation.)
I suppose my point is that there is no place to run from the guilt. The children know what is going on and that if they "play" it right they will get their way because the kids can push the responsibility for their bad behavior on to someone else. The thing you have to realize is that until your husband realizes that his children's actions are not HIS actions and that they make poor choices all by themselves. Until this happens, there will always be an excuse for the bad behavior and different level of discipline.
#1: by TGB on 11.03.2008 @ 07:19pm CST

After 7 years, it is still a very frustrating situation because my husband talks to and parents my children MUCH the opposite of his own child-my children are of the age that is is apparent and my 15yo is starting the express her feelings about it and defend herself in situations when they bump heads. I warned him of this several years ago-the guilt he lives under is ridiculous but apparently is common with alot of men-there is no reason for the guilt yet it has tapered everything about him and how he treats my two different from his only child-Any thoughts?

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