Step-Family Differences

What can I do if her step mother parents differently than me?

Question

My husband and I divorced four years ago.  Now he is remarried, and his new wife allows my 10-year-old daughter to watch movies, wear clothes, etc. that I don’t approve of.  What is the best way to handle this?  I don’t want my daughter to feel caught in the middle.

Answer

One of the many painful and difficult consequences of divorce is that parents no longer have 100% influence in their child’s life.  We’re sad to say that  this is a loss you will continue to grapple with, grieve over and need to ask God’s wisdom in coping with.  We wish there was a “best” way to handle your concerns but given the uniqueness of all the parties involved what has been helpful in one situation isn’t always helpful in another.

The best starting place is for you to set up a meeting with both your former husband and the new step mom and try to get on the same page for parenting.  We’ve seen some situations where this is worked well and others where it hasn’t.  A lot depends on the existing relationship between the three of you.  Given the nature of your relationship it may be necessary to bring in a third party.  Are there any friends at your church that both you and your ex-husband would trust to be objective?  Do you know of anyone who has gone through the Peacemaker program and has training in this kind of situation?  Would your pastor be willing to help?

If you are able to meet the issues you addressed in your question should be discussed and perhaps those can be resolved. It will be important for you to come with a prioritized list of concerns rather than a laundry list and to ask them to do the same.  This shows respect for their concerns and will make them more open to respecting your concerns.

Before you meet we strongly encourage you to immerse this time in prayer.  Ask some of your close women friends to covenant with you to pray before, during and after you meet.  James 5:16 tells us that, “The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and wonderful results.”  We’ve seen some situations that seemed “impossible” turn around and those involved attribute the changes to the power of prayer.

The bigger issue will be to find ways to deal with the inevitable differences that will emerge in the years ahead.   If they refuse to meet with you and/or with a third party you might try writing a letter explaining your specific concerns, what you’d like to see happen, your desire to work together in the best interest of your daughter and invite them to share their perspective.  Some parents have found this to be helpful but be sure to have a couple of friends read your letter before to you send it to make sure the wording is gracious and honoring.

Another option that others have found helpful is to seek out a mature and Christ-like high school girl in your church who might be willing to meet with your daughter for friendship and discipleship.  In addition to this ask God to help you discern teachable moments when you can help her (not lecture her) think through some of the consequences of certain lifestyle choices.

In the spirit of Philippians 4:8 you will be wise to spend more time talking about what is healthy and less time warning her about what is unhealthy.  Don’t put your ex-husband or her step mom down and thus put her in the middle of what is for her an already difficult situation.  Expose her to friends of your own who are good examples of the difference Jesus Christ can make in a life.

 One of the most important developmental steps is for a young person to learn how to make wise choices around morals.  If over time what she hears from you and sees in you is a consistent reflection of our Lord it is much more likely that she will get the message and choose to live her life the same way.

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