Q: I'm a newly married stepmom trying to build family connections -- but my husband's kids aren't exactly warming up to me. What can I do?
Jim: Being a stepmom may be one of the toughest jobs a woman can have. It can take a long time for kids to adjust to a new stepparent, no matter why the previous marriage ended. And in the meantime, home life can be pretty uncomfortable. But your relationship with your stepkids can thrive if you make respect your primary goal.
Stepmoms often respond to tension by trying even harder to create a loving mother/child relationship. That's understandable, but it usually doesn't work. If your stepchild feels pressured to love you as much as their biological mother, it'll drive them further away. That's just not a relationship they're ready for.
Authors Kathi Lipp and Carol Boley, who have both walked this challenging road, suggest a practical new approach in their book, "But I'm Not a Wicked Stepmother!" Instead of attempting to take on the full role of "mom" right away, interact with the kids more like a loving aunt or even a camp counselor. That will usually minimize the pressure everyone feels to create an intimate mother/child bond. Make mutual respect the primary goal, and the loving relationship you're hoping for will have a chance to develop more naturally.
Meanwhile, you and your husband can smooth the path by working as a united team. Discuss and set household guidelines together, and model respect toward every member of the blended family equally.
If you could use some more help adjusting to your role as a stepmom, visit FocusOnTheFamily.com.
Q: How do I deal with a chronically late spouse? He's late for everything, except work. That makes me late, too, when we're going somewhere together. It reflects poorly on me, and I think it's disrespectful to others.
Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: To some extent, punctuality can be more critical in some situations than in others. "On time" can mean one thing at the office or in the classroom, but in less formal settings there's a lot more room for interpretation.
You need to begin with an honest conversation with your husband. Compare and contrast your personal definitions of the phrase "on time." Remember to use "I based" language as much as possible. Instead of blaming and accusing, say something like, "Here's what I'm aiming for when I think in terms of getting somewhere within a reasonable time frame. And this is how I feel when we're late. Can you see where I'm coming from? What do you think we should do about it?"
If you determine that your spouse's chronic lateness is connected to irresponsibility, passive-aggressive behavior or a conscious intent to offend, then some accountability may be justified. But if it's simply part of his personality, you may need to exercise grace. Remember, different people approach life differently. Some are highly organized, while others aren't. Some operate on a schedule, while others live so intensely "in the moment" that they have no sense of time and pay no attention to the ticking of the clock.
If differences of this kind are the sources of the conflict between you, you may have to figure out a way to accept the situation and move on. If you can't accept it -- even though you're convinced that there's no ill will on your spouse's part -- you may need to examine yourself to find out why his lateness bothers you so much. If worse comes to worst, it might be necessary to take two cars when you're trying to make it to a party or dinner date on time.
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.
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