Ask Someone Else's Mom by Susan Writer

Sibling Rivalry in Blended Family Raises Red Flag

DEAR SOMEONE ELSE’S MOM: I now live with my daughter, new husband (DH) and his son (SS) during the week. My fit, 15-year-old daughter did gymnastics before and now is on a swim squad. My SS is almost a year older but more into computer games. 

A month ago, I heard a commotion in the living room. I found my dear daughter straddling her stepbrother, pinning his hands to the floor, after a wrestle for the remote-control. After stern questioning it seemed my daughter was there first and SS tried to take over. I sent them each in opposite directions to cool off.

SS seems a bit intimidated by my daughter now. I explained it to my DH and asked him to tell his son about fairness. The next day however I found DH and SS in the backyard doing some strength exercises. The message seemed to be, you can't be weaker than a girl, reinforcing gender stereotypes.

So, after a couple of weeks of training DH prompts SS to arm-wrestle my daughter. I stepped in to avoid embarrassment. “No arm-wrestling at the dinner table.” I know DH was trying to build his son’s self-esteem, but I also knew SS couldn’t compete with my fit daughter in upper body strength, and he would end up feeling more ashamed. She later bragged to me she would’ve beat him and flexed her impressive arm muscle. “I know sweetie,” I said proudly.

So now I have my daughter keen to compete with her stepbrother and DH trying to train him up for this too. I saw SS manage some pull-ups. My daughter went out after they left and churned out three times as many. DH should realize that girls can sometimes be stronger. I wonder what’s the best strategy from here? Keep them apart, let them compete, or tell her to let him have a win? --- MODERN BRADY

DEAR MODERN BRADY: To the options you propose, I’d add a “none of the above” selection. There’s much more at stake here than establishing who’s top dog in the physical strength department.

Right now, rather than functioning as a cohesive unit, you’ve established two distinct, competitive teams; and nobody’s likely to win in that scenario.

Your blended family is still a new one, and now’s the time to lay down some ground rules for how it’s going to work. Let each kid shine in their respective interests, and also encourage them to respect and support one another.

As to you and your husband, it sounds like your parenting styles may benefit from a little adjusting to accommodate the fact that you’re now both responsible for raising a kid not only of each gender, but with widely differing abilities and pursuits ─ and that’s a balancing act in any family.

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