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Hopeless in KY (submitted 10/13/10)

 

Name: Hopeless in KY
Home: 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.


 

 

 
Comments ( 2 )
 
Add your Comment
 
#2: by Kathy on 03.03.2011 @ 05:04pm CST

I cannot tell you how much your "How to Cook a Stepfamilies" article and the "Shared Stories" are helping me. I came across your website yesterday at a time when I really needed it. I will continue to read the shared stories and will be implementing several of the suggestions. I will also be going tonight to get a couple of the books mentioned. But, I would also like to appeal for more immediate advice. My situation is starting to make me physically ill-I internalize everything.

My first marriage was dissolved over 5 1/2 yrs ago. My husband's first marriage was dissolved a little over 5 yrs ago. My husband and I have been together 4 1/2 yrs-married 1 1/2 of those yrs. We have 4 daughters between the two of us. Mine are 17 and 13, his are 21 and 16.

From the beginning, our relationship and the acceptance within the others’ daughters' hearts has been a roller coaster. To help explain my situation, I need to begin by revealing that my husband is retired (by way of 100% disabled) military. He is an adult-onset-type I-brittle diabetic. He is also an alcoholic (trying to recover-but not well). My ex-husband I get along very well, in fact he is renting a house that I own so that our oldest (17) can graduate from the school system she has gone to her whole life-a town 30 miles away. My current husband’s ex-wife is the complete opposite. I didn't realize that one person could possess so much hatred and meanness. Truly-until exposed to her, I didn't have experience dealing with such negativity. I also did not have experience with alcoholism. I am smart enough to realize that what I hear from my husband is very one-sided and after having to deal with alcoholism for even this short time, there is more to every story I have been told. However, having dealt with his ex-wife, much of what he tells me is not exaggerated.

My youngest (13) lives with us, the oldest, as mentioned lives with her father. My husband lost custody of his two daughters in his divorce, largely due to his alcoholism. His oldest (21) is on her own and his youngest (16) lives with her mom in the same town that we live in. When we first met, his oldest seemed more or less resolved to her dad having a new relationship. His youngest, while respectful, was distant. My girls were the same, respectful, but distant. There came a point in our relationship, about 1 ½ yrs into it, that my girls were still distant. I had gotten tired of the negative and undeserved comments. I finally told them that their feelings toward my then boyfriend were fine, I was not demanding they change them; however, they were to respect him and realize that he would be a part of our lives. Eventually, his youngest daughter came around. She would tell me she loves me. She would spend a lot of time with us. The three younger girls got along great. Things were great. All four girls had agreed to be Maids-of-Honor in our wedding. Low and behold, the day before the wedding, his oldest backs out. She still attended the wedding, but did not stand-up with us.

In 2007, I almost lost my husband due to his drinking, which complicated his diabetes. He was in ICU for 15 days and in the hospital a total of 21. It was during that time, that I realized he was an alcoholic. As I said, I did not have experience with this previously. It was also during this time, that his mother cornered me and laid the blame on me for the hospitalization and stress that he was under. My emotions were raw at that point and to this day, we do not have a good relationship. She has apologized to me through her son, but not to me. We are civil during the few times we are together, but that’s all. My husband finally went into in-patient treatment in 2008. Without that, we would not be married. The kicker is, shortly after we were married, he “fell off the wagon”. After this last time in January or February (I can’t remember any more), when my youngest came home from school and had to call 911, I told him either he goes back to treatment or I would move out. He is now in an intensive-outpatient program.

I could go on and on with stories, as I know each of your readers could. But, I will get to the most recent issue causing my roller coaster to be at the bottom of the hill. Last year, his oldest needed financial information from me to apply for financial aid for college. Having dealt with her mother for over 4 years, I was reluctant to just hand over my tax forms. Based on my decision, both of his daughters wrote him out of their life. My husband’s father passed away in October of last year. While unfortunate, this event brought his oldest daughter back into his life, which is wonderful. But, since the oldest is back in his life, his ex-wife has manipulated the youngest to now not speak with her sister. My husband had sent one last email in an attempt to connect with his youngest daughter. It worked. Just this week, they were able to get together.

I am truly happy for him. I would be even happier if he would have shared this with me. The fact that he was communicating at all with his youngest came up in passing. This communication began over 2 weeks ago. I am completely honest with my husband, despite his numerous lies to me. I have been open about my discontent with his daughters’ attitudes. I equally share frustration when my daughters act up. When I went on Facebook (that has been our only means of knowing what has been happening in his youngest daughter’s life) just this week, I see that my husband has been regularly communicating with a lot of people-most of whom I don’t know. These two actions make it seem like he has another life.

I am completely comfortable with the Slow-Cooker style-I couldn’t handle much more than that right now. I really appreciated the advice on not having to do everything together, being able to spend time alone with our girls respectively. This advice is in line with the “detachment” theory I have learned in Al-Anon. What I am struggling with is the recent “other life” that I feel is developing. I feel that by not informing me, something is being hidden. Why? Am I being unrealistic? How much of the “alone” time is acceptable? Isn’t there a possibility of the parents having the wedge drive them farther apart, considering the children are already a tinderbox? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
#1: by Nicole Smith on 11.03.2010 @ 01:36pm CDT

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.

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