I recently married a widow who has 8 and 10-year-old daughters. My wife has acknowledged that because of their fathers’ death and her need to work two jobs, many of their well-meaning relatives have spoiled them. How can I most effectively build trust as we seek to establish this “new” family together?
In a national survey, dealing with children was the most common argument starter in second marriages. If you and your wife had good premarital counseling then you’ve already discussed the potential mine-field of step-parenting. If not then the first step is for the two of you to get on the same page regarding the challenges and opportunities of creating a new family together.
Spoiling a child leads to both short and long-term consequences. Research tells us that spoiled kids often become troubled teenagers, never really grow up, and have an increased vulnerability to emotional problems. They are more likely to be self-indulgent and self-centered, become disrespectful, entitled, bossy with their peers and with others. Children who aren’t taught about boundaries and how to accept limits at home often have a much more difficult time accepting limits outside the home.
The first step is for you to pursue excellence in your primary responsibility of being a good and godly husband, of loving your wife “as Christ loves the church” and of letting the girls know that they are precious in your sight. Then daily asking God for wisdom in understanding them, discovering their uniqueness, and building a safe and trusting relationship with them. Be present and listen. Remember that to a child there is no such thing as small talk.
You and your wife can provide stability by agreeing on expectations and holding to them. Many couples start by agreeing on some basic rules for all family members. Consistency and unity are essential. You can target some key concerns or problem-behaviors and address some of the easier one first.
But remember that your first task is love them and to model for them the difference that Christ can make in a life, a marriage, and in a family. As they see you live out I Corinthians 13 they’ll know that they are safe, valued and cared for.