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Q: My husband and I have three kids from his previous marriage and two from mine. He favors his kids and he accuses me of favoring mine. We fight about it a lot. Please help!
Juli: Playing favorites among children can be an issue in any family, but it’s especially difficult in blended families. It’s unrealistic to think that you’ll have the same feelings of affection and connection with stepchildren as you do with your biological children, particularly early in the “blending” process.
To the extent that you and your husband are divided on this issue, the problem will grow worse. You’ll begin to view his children as causing division and he’ll feel the same way about yours. It’s critical that you begin to work as a team, learning to love and understand all the children. Sometimes a forced role reversal can help. For example, you might focus on praising his children and he focus on praising yours.
Your feelings do not have to determine your behavior. You may feel more connected to your kids, but that doesn’t mean you’re destined to act out those feelings through favoritism. Part of maturity is learning to act on principle rather than always responding to emotion. It might be helpful for you and your husband to write out principles that you want to guide your parenting. For example, “Every child in our family is worthy of love,” or, “Every child in our family deserves to be heard and understood.”
Working through the complications of step-parenting takes a lot of effort and determination. But the results will be worth it. For more tips on how to blend your families together, visit www.smartstepfamilies.com.
Q: My wife and I sent our last child off to college this fall. I’m worried that we won’t be able to reconnect now that the kids are out of the house. Do you have any suggestions?
Jim: You’ve invested many years together as partners in parenting. But it’s probably been a while since you and your wife have been able to relate to each another as best friends. Author Alyson Weasley has developed a list of 10 suggestions to help make this happen.
1) Recognize that friendship takes a lot of work -- and time. Even without the kids at home, you’ll still lead busy lives. Establish a few hours each week to spend quality time together.
2) Find out what your spouse is passionate about, whether it’s theater or sports or gardening. Then join her in it, even if it’s not your cup of tea.
3) Find some things that you and your spouse both enjoy, as well.
4) Use conflict to sharpen and purify your friendship. Honest disagreement is essential for healthy communication.
5) Care for one another. You’d put an arm around a childhood friend during tough times. Do the same for your spouse!
6) Be accountable and honest about your own hang-ups and struggles. Don’t hide them from your spouse.
7) Establish daily habits together. Pray or take a walk. Just a few minutes of uninterrupted time with the one you love can work wonders.
8) Affirm one another every day. Make an effort to highlight your spouse’s strengths.
9) Be transparent. If you’re feeling angry or sad or depressed, don’t be afraid to say so.
10) Communicate, communicate, communicate! Relationship experts agree that regular communication between spouses can build a friendship that weathers the storms of life.
Maintaining marital friendship takes a lot of work, but it’s worth the effort. It will help you and your wife develop deeper intimacy as you move into the “empty nest” years.
Jim Daly is president of Focus on the Family, host of the Focus on the Family radio program, and a husband and father of two. Dr. Juli Slattery is a licensed psychologist, co-host of Focus on the Family, author of several books, and a wife and mother of three.
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