Name: Hopeless in KY
I remarried 18 months ago. My new husband is a non-believer. (What was I thinking?) I waited until my boys were almost on their own, 18 & 22 years old. My boys and I have been on our own since 2001 and I have been the only home for them. Their father is not engaged with them at this time. My new husband has two children that are 21 and 23. They weren't living with us until we got married. My husband does not want to be a step father or even have my kids at our home. When they are home he wants them to do yard work or take care of things around the house. I want my kids to be responsible, and respectful. His children don't do anything around the house and are not expected to. I have a real problem taking care of his children....cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping for two adults that nothing is required of while my children are treated as hired help. My husband and I had a huge fight 2 weeks ago over his 23 year old son stealing a plate from a local restaurant. When I found out I said I was going to take it back and I was told it was not my place. I told him that taking it back was what I would do if my own son had stolen something. My husband said I was not to treat them as my children. His son also has his girlfriend come and spend the night. I have asked that they not sleep together. Had I known this is what it was going to be like I would have lived under a bridge instead of being married. Is there any hope for this to work?
Response to Hopeless from Ron Deal:
More Separate than Together
Dear "Hopeless in KY":
It is clear that your husband does not share your dream of bonding your family members. He does not want you to parent his children and he does not want to parent yours. I wish I could say that there is a way for you to single-handedly overcome this inertia, but I don't believe there is. You cannot will someone to open their heart and love...or take the risks necessary for intimacy. I expect your family will stay more separate than together.
So, where does this leave you? I suggest you:
1) Change your expectations of what is realistic in your home. For example, strive to have a good dyadic relationship with your husband, but let go of any expectation that he and your children will bond, or that you and his children will bond (and that you'll have any influence in their life), or that the stepsiblings will find any reason for togetherness. Your "family" is essentially a marriage that functions separate from any parenting of the children. Your relationship with your kids and he with his will be completely disconnected from your marriage. You must find a way to live with that? (Keep praying that this will change, but don't be surprised if it doesn't.)
2) Stop trying to parent his kids. He has made it clear that you have no voice with them, and unless he begins to encourage his children to respect your values and boundaries, you won't. So, as Laura Petherbridge and I discussed in our book The Smart Stepmom, you need to "politely resign" from "mothering" activities. For example, you might take this posture with your husband. "You know that I don't like your son's girlfriend spending the night. I used to discourage him from doing this because I think it's sinful and harmful to their relationship. You've made it clear that it is not my place to speak to him about this, so I won't. I will tell you, however, that it feels disrespectful to me that you would ignore my feelings about this. I don't appreciate that. As for your son, he is yours to manage as you see fit. Also, I will be reasonable about the caretaking tasks I do for him, but I won't be responsible for him. If I am making dinner, I'll make enough for him, too. But don't ask me to do his laundry, get him out of bed in the morning, or pay for him to be irresponsible. You don't want me to have a role in his life, so I won't." This should be said calmly, but assertively. It's not a threat, it's just defining the relationship.
3) Find a way to have grace in this situation. If not careful, you will grow in resentment toward your husband's children--and your husband--and grow more distant, critical, and/or bitter. This will only make things worse.
Your power in this desperate situation is still doing good without being a door mat. When you can show kindness to his children, it softens their heart. When you go the extra mile, it shows your husband you can be trusted with his kids. All of this will be increasingly difficult for you if things do not improve. I regret that for you. Find some friends that you can lean on. Pray constantly for the strength to endure and walk this out with the Lord.
May God bless you and give you strength.
Response from Nancy:
Have you tried counseling? I would suggest calling (Christian) counselors in your town and asking them if they counsel stepfamilies and remarried couples frequently. Maybe your church would have a few suggestions on counselors. You guys need outside help. and I think that you each need to see a counselor about these frustrations and then see the counselor together. It sounds like you are both frustrated with each other. And don't be afraid to try out several counselors if the first one seems like they can't help. My husband and I have seen 5 counselors. it wasn't until the 5th one that we really found help and hope. Good luck!
Response from Nicole:
My heart breaks for Hopeless in Kentucky, mostly because my story is similar to hers only my husband is a Christian and my children are 7, 9, 11 and his is 14. At first I was annoyed with your response to her. Where was the get him into counseling, or get him to read one of our books, or even, leave him? Where is the indignation over what she is going through?
But then, I recalled several things that I have read recently.
First--nothing is impossible with God. I pray everyday that God will soften my husband's heart towards my kids and my attempts to make us a family." It has been four years and my husband just as stubbornly refuses today to be a family, as he did after we married. I still pray. I still have hope.
Second--love and commitment are choices and I choose to love and be committed to my husband.
Third--the only person I can change is myself. I pray for God to help me respond to anger with kindness. I pray for God to help me respond to jealousy with affection. I pray for God to help me respond to hurt with love. I cannot change my husband, I can only change the way I respond to him.
Fourth--I must look to God for my happiness and fulfillment and not my husband.
So in the end, your comments were right on. The only person we can change is ourselves and if we choose to love and be committed to our husband's then that is where we need to start.
Response from Christina:
Ouch! Ron - your response to Hopeless in KY seemed...well...very un-encouraging. I agree that we have to be realistic and in the backs of
our minds must realize that things may not change or may take a while to change. But, where was the encouragement and hope for change or the
reminder to pray with trust in our God, who can change hearts and situations? I do see that you recommend praying that things will change,
but follow it up with a very pessimistic and discouraging-sounding "but don't be surprised if it doesn't"... I don't know - I have had the
sometimes difficult experience of being a stepmom and it is not always the greatest. But, I have seen God work changes. So, can we balance realism
with a bit of hopeful expectation and an exhortation to pray to a powerful, active God?...
Response from Ron Deal to Christina:
Christina-- your passionate reminder is excellent and I appreciate it. Though it sounded as if I did, I never count out God's power to change hearts and family situations. At the same time, experience tells me that someone in "Hopeless" situation needs to be given realistic expectations so she can get busy coping with it. If and when God steps in, she will be pleasantly surprised by the miracle he has enacted. Until then, she needs to know how to live. There came a time when God stepped in and delivered Israel from the hand of Egypt. But there were dozens of previous generations (400 years!) that never saw His powerful hand. Walking in faith even when God doesn't save the day is a challenge many of us face every day.
Response from Gloria:
I read this story yesterday and it has been on my heart and mind ever since. I have been praying for Hopeless. I know how she feels.
Ron's and Nicole's feelings and responses mirror mine. Like Nicole, I was annoyed with Ron's response when I first read it because of my anger with my own similar situation--but no more. Ron is right on. And like Nicole, I have been married to a Christian man for four years. My three children are in their 20’s and out on their own. My husband has made it clear that I have no say-so with what his four teenage boys say and do, so they basically have a "Disneyland experience" the whole time they are in our home. They are extremely messy and do as little as possible to help out around the house. They know that I have no power of them and they take full advantage of the situation. If I allow myself, I will become enraged and frustrated, which I spew all over my husband. This only makes things worse and he draws his boundary line even deeper. The boys love when this happens.
Thank you, Nicole, for your four points. I can see how they would help a lot. Your third point--the only person I can change is myself--is very important to me. A friend taught me to ask God to show me places where I need to change, and often He does. I also have a Christian counselor who I see when things get tough.
Reading and re-reading Successful Stepfamily resources are very helpful (I have them all!). Daily Bible reading has become vital to how I handle things at home. I also have well-worn copies of "Love and Respect" by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs (teaches me how to really love my husband) and "Captivating" by John and Stasi Eldredge (reminds me to seek my self-worth from God). "Living in A Step-family Without Getting Stepped On" by Dr. Kevin Lehman is another book I read on a regular basis.
When I start to get angry, I remind myself that I am responsible for my own happiness. My husband has admitted to me that he deals with a lot of guilt over his divorce and just wants his boys to be happy. Their happiness is very important to him, so I have gotten rid of any expectations that I placed on him to make me happy, too. I make a conscious decision not to allow my stepsons to take away my joy, no matter how hard they try. I also ask myself if what is going on is a battle worth fighting. If not, I let it go and move on. If it is a battle worth fighting, then I can only decide what I will or will not do. For example, if I come home from work and the boys have made a big mess in the kitchen and they are all lying around playing video games, then I only cook enough for myself and my husband. The boys have to fix their own dinner, which is usually cold cereal or PB&J. Teenage boys love to eat so they don't like this rule. My husband usually supports rules like this as long as I don't get angry at his boys.
I also do what I can to serve God and improve myself. I have been working with my church's high school youth group for over 25 years and really love the teenagers (ironic, huh?). I am also taking online college courses and going for my MBA. I have a home office where I can get away to paint, quilt, read, and do my schoolwork.
I have accepted that our families will never blend, and that’s OK. I have also defined the “Promised Land” as the day that all of my stepsons have moved out of our home. That's 4 1/2 more years.