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Smart Stepfamilies

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Esther Daniel, from Nigeria (submitted Nov '09)


Name: Esther Daniel

Home: Nigeria

I got married to my husband three and half years ago. He has a 20 year old daughter and i came into the marriage with a 6 year old boy. The challenges we are facing are causing dispair and hopelessness for me and are interfering with my faith. I feel my husband is over protective to his daughter and several times steps over my toes in his quest to be protective over the daughter and he justifies this by saying he should act as the (father, mother, sister and brother) of the daughter since she was an only child and her ailment as a toddler is what brought him to Christ.

The mother died a year before we got to know each other. My husband says the daughter should only do house chores when she feels like, she cant be commanded to, ahe says thats why he employs maids, to take care of her every need. He told me even the mother was not allowed to send her on any errands. I often feel he compromises our relationship too much. He says the daughter can get whatever she wants and tells her that he is available to provide to her anything she wants as long as its what money can buy and that there is no "No" in their financial vocabullary. The daughter has never accepted me and has even commented once that if her mother was alive i wouldnt be in her dad's life. This came about because she beat the brother for touching her cup and i said "she had an attitude problem". Both she and the father took offence to that statement and i was reminded (by both), that whatever her father and mother had not said to her in the past i cant say to her.

The father feels i strongly hate his daughter which is not so but i dont tolerate her excesses. She doesnt keep a clean environment and when i make comment of that its not accepted by the father and is seen as hate. She is allowed to take anything from the house, i mean anything, without mentioning to anybody and when i object to that its perceived i'm doing so because she is not from my womb. I don't know how to cope with this, i was under the impression i was getting into a marriage where there is order and the ranking will be God first then me, then the kids in my husband's life but it is not so. We dont have much challenges with the boy because he doesnt know our step-relationships and i allow my husband to discipline him anytime, and he does! Please help me, this has brought so much strain on our marriage.

Esther-- Laura Petherbridge and I discuss this very dynamic in The Smart Stepmom book. At the risk of oversimplying our discussion, here are some key points to consider:

  • There are many reasons why fathers become "paralyzed": guilt, fear, not knowing the best parenting strategy, or not wanting to be controlled by their wives (for more, here's an online article on paralyzed parenting);
  • Be sure to approach your husband with humility about his parenting. Don't be quick to throw the darts of blame. First try to listen to his struggle with fear, guilt, etc. and support him in facing those dynamics. For example, you might say, "I know in the past I have been very critical of your parenting. I apologize. I certainly don't have all the answers and I've never been through what you and she have been through. It seems to me that your fear that she might feel more pain in her life really effects you deeply. I  would like to understand that better. Can you tell me more about that?" This may open a dialogue that will help you know what is paralyzing him. Perhaps then you can have a stronger voice with him.
  • Articulate your desires for his daughter, not so much your criticism. Saying, "Your daughter is irresponsible" is confrontive and accusing. Rather, say what your desire is for her, "I'm trying to figure out how to help your daughter be more responsible. How can we better prepare her for life?" The former statement will illicit defensiveness from your husband for sure; the latter may invite a cooperation.
  • Accept what you cannot change. Like it or not, your husband's standards for his children will be the standard. Don't fall into the trap of trying to change the standard without (or against) him. You can't. Change what you can and let go of the rest. Of course, this also includes letting a child "reach the end of their foolishness". You don't have to rescue a child you aren't allowed to discipline--and indeed you can't rescue that child. Let the child--and your husband--experience the consequences that come with being catered to.

May God give you the strength you need to bear-up under this situation.  RLD



Comments ( 1 )
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#1: by karen on 02.19.2010 @ 08:17am CST

I feel for you deeply in what I know must feel like the betrayal of your husband/wife bond. I was formerly engaged to someone who has a 17 y/o daughter who truly would walk behind her kissing the ground she walks over. I disengaged from him and gave the ring back but I am still in the relationship, observing, cautiously watching to see what knowledge time may give me. I have two young sons and I have opened my home and their hearts to this man. I am worried for them if I decide I must end this; I am worried for me if I decide to stay and end up in your situation feeling the pain of rejection and betrayal on a regular basis. I don't think this is what God intends for my marriage partner. This man has so many good qualities and logically it is hard to terminate the relationship based on him 'loving his daughter too much'. But its really more than that - its like you said - not putting God first and not putting marraige at least on an equal place in his heart with his children. She is an only child and I have two boys and have never had a minute of trouble balancing a relationship with him and being a mother. God bless and praying for you.

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