Q: I'm married for the second time, with a total of four children — two from my first marriage and two from this one. Unfortunately, my wife clearly favors her own kids over my two older ones, and she's become unfairly critical and overbearing. Is this unusual in blended families? What can I do about it?
Jim: Many stepfamilies deal with divided loyalties and conflicts. In some ways it's only natural for a biological parent to feel protective of his or her offspring. But while the problem is common, it's not necessarily easy to resolve. It requires cooperation and deliberate hard work on the part of everyone concerned.
In view of the circumstances, I strongly recommend that you and your wife seek professional help ASAP from a trained therapist who is skilled in working with stepfamilies. Your older children have already been impacted by the breakup of your first marriage. The last thing they need is additional stress and pressure on the home front.
Perhaps the most important goal to set for therapy will be that of strengthening your marriage. In any family, whether intact or blended, the marital relationship needs to take priority. It's fairly apparent that you and your wife aren't on the same page — at least where the kids are concerned — and if you can't find a way to heal this rift, your children are ultimately going to suffer. You need to invest time and energy into getting your "couple" relationship back on track, while clarifying the complex roles and expectations within your blended family.
Start by calling our counseling department for a free consultation; the number is 855-771-HELP (4357). Our counselor will be able to give you some initial feedback and then provide you with a list of licensed marriage and family specialists in your local area for long-term assistance.
Q: I have a fairly sarcastic sense of humor — it's what I grew up with and how I express myself. It's all a joke and I don't mean any harm by it. But my wife says this is going to be damaging to our kids, especially as they move into the teen years. What do you think?
Danny Huerta, Vice President, Parenting & Youth: I'd tend to agree with your wife and say, "Be careful." By definition, sarcasm can be funny but also caustic — i.e., burning and corrosive. As with any caustic substance, it must be used sparingly and judiciously to avoid destructive results.
The risk is especially high when you're dealing with teenagers. Sarcasm can lead to hurt feelings (especially if your child has a sensitive personality), and a teen's world is already filled with sources of potential wounds at school, on the playing field and especially through social media. Home should be a refuge from that kind of treatment — a safe haven from hurt and a place to be encouraged and built up.
Occasional playful sarcasm is OK if you maintain boundaries. Give your children the right to tell you when it bothers them. If they ask you to stop, respect their wishes. And don't be too proud to apologize, even if it seems like no big deal to you. Parenting is just as much about your own growth as it is about your children's.
Finally, remember that you reap what you sow. You may call your "style" sarcastic, but when the tables are turned and it comes back at you from your teen, you'll probably call it "disrespectful" behavior. Mutual respect is critical in any relationship, and especially between parents and kids. It goes both ways, but modeling that respect starts with you. And if it's time for self-assessment and change — your whole family will benefit.
For more helpful tips, see FocusOnTheFamily.com/parenting.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.