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Step parent conflict

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Step parent conflict

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I have two children 15-18. I married four years ago and the children have been living with us for 18 months. My Husband - their step parent - critiques the children a lot, the kids have over heard him talking poorly about them and stating that we would be happier if the kids were not with us.

Some months all is very good , but every three months a huge issue starts out of nothing and it becomes pretty horrible to be in the house.I married deeply in love but am struggling to see a future with my husband. He has mentioned his desire for the eldest one to find a home and not live with us after she’s 18.

No matter how much I love this person, I feel I’ll fail my children if I stay.I guess I’m just searching for reassurance as I’m so scared of making the wrong decision

Dear @Noname1,

It sounds very challenging to be caught between your kids and your husband in that way. Thank you for taking the time to tell us about it. I think one of the things that makes dealing with conflicts between family members so tough is the lack of control. When our own behaviour is an issue we have more ability to change it, but it’s harder when other people’s actions are causing issues.

You sound like a caring parent who wants the best for your kids. It’s pretty common to worry about making a wrong decision - if only we had a way to know for certain which decision would be best for us! These are big decisions so I can understand not wanting to make the wrong choice.

Do you think your husband realises how distressing this has been for you, and how seriously you are taking it? Since there are periods of calm in between tough times, he may be underestimating how important this is. If you think this is the case, and you haven’t already been direct about how much this is impacting your relationship, I would suggest letting him know. Not as an ultimatum, but because if you do decide to stay, he needs to know that your children’s wellbeing and happiness are the biggest priority for you.

I’m wondering if you and your husband have ever had a conversation about his role as a step-parent? If not, it can be helpful to know if the two of you have the same understanding about what is expected of him (and of the kids and of you) within the family. If you do have different expectations of each other and don’t realise this, it’s pretty common for this to lead to repeated conflict or problems.

Since your children are teenagers he may not have necessarily thought about whether he’d have a role in parenting them until you all started living together.
Based on your follow-up post it sounds like he isn’t willing to attend couples counselling. It’s really common for people to be reluctant to attend counselling - whether it’s because he doesn’t think it will help, is afraid of being blamed, or doesn’t recognise its relevance to him. Hopefully he will be more willing for just the two of you to talk about what is happening.

The point of talking isn’t to work out who is ‘to blame’ for what’s happening, but to work together to come up with a plan for how things can be better. Sometimes this can be a useful discussion for the family as a whole, but right now I’d suggest it’s important to see if your husband is willing to problem-solve with you in this way. This is a pretty important thing for couples to be able to do together.

As part of this, it can help to talk about what’s happening in those months when things are ‘all good’ that enable them to be good.

Of course, it’s possible he won’t be willing to talk about these things at all, or won’t be willing to compromise in any way. If this is the case, that’s important for you to know, as it can help you understand how he’s likely to respond to disagreements you have in the future.

I’m not sure if you’ve had a chance to speak with Parent Line yet - I hope they were helpful if you have spoken with them.

If you’re finding that talking with your husband doesn’t help (or if you don’t feel able to talk to him about these things, or if you’d also like some additional support), then speaking to counsellor yourself may be helpful - counselling can be really useful when dealing with difficult life situations and decisions, as it provides space to work through emotions and consider available options. No one can decide for you or tell you whether it will be best to stay or go, but it can help you feel clear about your choices and give you strategies to help with stress.

It can be pretty overwhelming to be dealing with family conflict and facing a difficult decision. Try to remember to take little moments for yourself to do things which help you relax or feel happy (hobbies, listening to music - whatever works best for you when you’re feeling stressed.


Best wishes,


Linda is a psychologist experienced in working with people across the lifespan, including teenagers and their families ,in a variety of settings, and is ReachOut's Clinical Lead.


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