Inconsistent Parenting in Remarriage

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“My husband avoids disciplining his children, but is strict with mine. The double standard is driving us apart. What can we do?”

Many men find themselves spending much more time with their stepchildren than with their biological children, simply because of their custody agreements. Fathers see their biological children’s stay with them as visits, rather than “living with them,” so they treat them like VIP guests and set fewer limits and looser behavioral expectations. Fathers may also allow their biological children free rein in the household in compensation for how little time they spend together, without regard for the opinions of their wives or stepchildren.

Fathers who do this hold a double standard. You may discover, after discussion, that you share family values and parenting styles, in theory. In practice, your husband applies the agreed-upon standard to you and your children, but not to himself and his own. This may leave you confused, frustrated, or resentful, and at a loss for how to explain the situation to your children.

These double standards foster mistrust and divide the entire family. A wedge is driven between the couple, as a result of ignoring issues deeper than mere differences in parenting styles. His children end up confused over the power gap between them and their step-siblings. Your children feel unimportant and betrayed by their stepfather, and grow to resent their step-siblings.

Here is how to deal with such double standards, and restore closeness to your relationship:

  • Communicate your concerns to your husband. Empathize with him; validate his predicament by acknowledging that he may not have his children as often as he would like. This will prevent him from feeling attacked and becoming defensive.
  • Encourage your husband to set aside time alone with his biological children, to nurture the bond between them.
  • Evaluate whether your ’emotional divorce’ is complete. Lingering feelings about the previous relationship may be in the way of emotional intimacy in your present marriage. even things like anger towards your ex, or guilt toward the children for changing the family, can damage all of you.
  • Talk daily for 15-45 minutes. Make sure that you have each other’s undivided attention. Use this time to voice feelings, opinions, and thoughts about your day at work, the children, and whatever else needs to be addressed. This practice will increase emotional intimacy, reduce resentment, and clarify misunderstandings before they grow out of proportion.
  • Schedule and plan activities for a weekly date night, as a couple. Your life is very busy. Approach it with excitement, not as a chore. Focus on your couple relationship during your date. Do not discuss children; they monopolize enough of your time as it is.
  • Develop a unified parenting style. While it’s okay to feel differently about biological children and step children, they need to be treated the same.
  • Allow about 18 months to establish a close relationship with your stepchildren. Remember, your marriage is a significant life transition that requires major adjustment from all of you—one which may be filled with anxiety, fear, and hope.
  • Seek therapy with a therapist trained and experienced in stepfamily work.

Improving your relationship by following the suggestions above will help you and your husband develop deeper emotional intimacy, which will help strengthen your relationship. The daily talk and date night, in particular, ensure that issues come to light early on, and are not given the time to develop into something that drives the couple or family apart.

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