Over-Stepping As a Step-Parent

A Dad's Point of View by Bruce SallanAs I begin writing this column, I find it ironic how little I’ve written about conflicts in my home between my wife, my boys, and me over our blended family.  My wife “inherited” my two boys and my two dogs when she agreed to marry me. Having not had kids, she never expected to be a step-mom, let alone to two boys living at home full-time.

Oddly enough, I never expected to marry again and certainly if I did, I only expected to marry a divorced mother.  So, my wife and I defied our respective assumptions, expectations, and even dating history when we got together.  To be clear, up front, I lucked out and got the better of this deal, without a doubt.  Since my wife rarely reads my columns, this is only written because it’s the truth and something of which I am proud.

But, and isn’t there always a “but,” we’ve recently confronted what I suspect is a familiar scenario in many blended families. Without revealing all the details, I will just declare that a recent incident between my older son and my wife resulted in an explosion of sorts, from her, out of frustration, anger, and maybe a feeling of impotence.

The fact that this hasn’t happened before was the more striking realization to me. When I further reflected on the details, I realized that it was overdue, that my son and I handled it as well as we could, and that my wife was a true heroine by not “exploding” earlier or more often.

Like many families, we have our ups and downs and have gone, on a regular and irregular basis, to a therapist.  We have been blessed to find a good therapist.  Yes, I mean “blessed,” because I believe they are rare.  And, we’re further blessed that he serves our whole family, as each one of us likes, relates, and respects him.  He has succeeded in making each of us believe that he hears our point-of-view and that he doesn’t take sides.  The only “side” he takes is the “right” one.  I believe that with all my heart and soul or I’d not put my family’s emotional health in his hands.

One of the things he had advised my wife was that she should largely stay out of the day-to-day parenting, given that I am the stay-at-home-parent.  He further said this because she is not only relatively new to their lives, but has joined our family after my sons and I have gone through many turbulent times, of which she can never fully understand.

My wife has taken that advisement mostly to heart.  Consequently, we’ve split the parental responsibilities to reflect our respective interests, availability, and our boy’s needs.  I say “our boys” because, thank God, my wife now does think of them as her boys, too.  She should, as they are.  For those readers unaware of my story, you should know that my boy’s biological mom is not in the picture at all and lives hundreds of miles away.

My younger son David, in fact, truly sees Lauren as his mother and she has earned that respect and status in his life. David’s older brother, Will, has more of a memory of his biological mother and met Lauren when he was older and, consequently, he’s been more resistant to her effort to ingratiate herself with him.  Plus, frankly, he’s the more tempestuous of our two boys.  He’s the proverbial “squeaky wheel.”

The division of labor is basically as follows. I do the day-to-day shuttling of the boys to school, doctor’s appointments, houses of friends, lessons and such, etc. while Lauren has taken on the task of teaching them manners, chosen the chores they’re to do, and supervises their implementation and execution to her exacting standards.  When one of the boys requires discipline or consequences, I am the “bad guy,” though I often will discuss what to do, privately, with Lauren.

It was working pretty well until the day Lauren “discovered” a transgression that had become a repeated pattern with Will.  Again, the details are completely irrelevant but that transgression resulted in her explosion, mentioned earlier.  What Will and I both saw was an adult that was really mad, with plenty of cause, and really not behaving at her best, which included her rare use of expletives.

For me, I got to see a reflection of the all-too-frequent times that I had done the same thing to both my sons.  The shock of that event silenced both me and Will, who normally is quite vocal in fighting back and/or defending himself, usually ending up backing himself into a corner with poor counter-punches or getting caught in a flagrant lie.  This time, silence served him and me very well.

Later that evening, Lauren apologized to both of us. Her apology was not for reacting to what Will had done, but in the manner in which she reacted.  Will was wrong, knew he was wrong, but her reaction had violated our “rules” that had been well established by us, with the guidance of our therapist.

Her apology meant a great deal to me because it came so quickly, wasn’t preceded by my asking for it, and it was clearly sincere.  We discussed the problem that had precipitated the outburst and decided another therapy session was in order, as well as further decisions on “consequences” for Will.

I know this is a scenario that takes places in homes everywhere.  That it takes place is not the question, but how it is handled is everything. I am grateful for how we all handled it and I hope to learn, get better at our respective roles, and grow from the experience.

1 thought on “Over-Stepping As a Step-Parent

  1. First off, thank you for your comment. Your perspective and input has given me insite about different ways of handling my step-father role as well. I have recently moved in with my partner who has a 4 year old boy. And even though there is only one child, at times it still does seem challenging and roles are constantly being discussed and thought over constantly. One reason why I’m wiring is because recenty my partner has recently confronted me about how’s she feels things have been transpiring in the dynamics in our new family. I’m come across as more direct and rule oriented while she tends to be quite flexible and allowing. It’s obvious that we both have different ways of teaching and expressing ourselves and our expectations. My real concern though is where does my roles have the largest impact on both persons and what are my boundaries? I want both these realatonships to flurish and be healthy. Thanks for your time.

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