I have remarried, and now feel like I am in the middle of a war. I love my husband and my kids, but I am constantly in the middle of their disputes. Who do I have more of a responsibility to–my kids or my husband? Is there anything I can do to make them all get along?
The good news and the bad news is that this is a common problem for blended families. The most important question isn’t, “Who do I have a greater responsibility to?” The real question is, “How do I love my husband and kids in ways that honor their unique needs and at the same time maintain appropriate boundaries?”
If you and your husband didn’t have any pre-marital counseling, then the non-negotiable first step is for you to get some “post” pre-marital counseling. Pre-marital counseling is an essential component for successful marriages. Given the increased complexity of second marriages and the significantly higher potential for marital failure, especially when there are children involved, it is absolutely essential that folks entering into a second marriage get some help in understanding the unique lay-of-the-land for a second marriage. Our sense is that many of your issues will be resolved as you move through this process.
We’ve worked with many situations similar to yours where the husband wasn’t prepared to deal with the unique challenges of moving into an existing relational system. It’s a fairly predictable scenario. If he hasn’t had good pre-marital preparation, he probably won’t understand the unique challenges of children adapting to a “new” father. When he starts to feel out of control, he is likely to overreact and become more controlling. When the wife sees this, she may try to protect her kids and overcompensate for the husband’s rigidity and critical spirit by becoming lax. She may also triangulate by speaking to the husband for the children and speaking to the kids on behalf of the dad.
It sounds like your husband needs more awareness of who the kids are as unique individuals and where they are developmentally. This would help him be more sensitive to what a confusing and emotionally challenging transition this is for them. Perhaps you could benefit from learning how to set clearer boundaries with your husband and with your kids.
As you both work together to develop a new family identity, please be encouraged by the fact that there are thousands of couples who have walked this road before you and come out on the other side a healthy and whole family.