Q: After years of being a single parent, I recently married a wonderful man. He's kind but firm with my three children and plans to adopt them. But my preschool-age son has had a hard time warming up to his new stepfather. Help!
Jim: Having struggled as a young stepson myself, it's easy for me to see this situation through your preschooler's eyes. A new man has suddenly moved in, taking up a lot of his mother's time and attention that once belonged to him. To make things worse, she's actually been kissing and hugging this guy -- gross! And to top it all off, the new man is now telling the boy what to do and even disciplining him for misbehavior.
The problem can be even more challenging if you've struggled with consistency in setting limits with your kids. Many tired and busy single moms tend to be somewhat lenient with inappropriate behavior. If your new husband is a firm disciplinarian, your son probably won't like it.
I'd encourage your husband to spend lots of special one-on-one time with your son. Sincere demonstrations of warmth and love are critical for your son right now. I'd also suggest that Dad go out of his way to praise your boy when he behaves well instead of simply disciplining him when he acts up. In other words, he needs to make intentional efforts to "catch the boy being good." At the same time, you'll want to reinforce the process by firming up your own disciplinary techniques. Don't put your husband in the position of having to play the "bad cop" all the time. Do what you can to take up some of the slack and give Dad a chance to appear in a more positive light.
Our counseling team would also be happy to offer further assistance. Please call them at 855-771-HELP (4357).
Q: I'm a single woman, mutually attracted with a man who's eight years younger than I am. Other guys I've dated have been closer to my own age, so this feels a bit strange. Do you have advice?
Dr. Greg Smalley, Vice President, Marriage & Family Formation: This scenario isn't as unusual as it might have been in the past. And you left out a key piece of information -- you didn't say how old you (and he) actually are. It obviously makes a difference if you're 26 and he's 18, versus 34 and 26... or both in your forties.
That said, certain dynamics can make these situations unique in their challenges. Like every other relationship, the most important consideration is the character of the man and woman involved.
One obvious area you'll want to evaluate is his level of maturity and stability, especially if he's in his 20s or younger. Men generally take more time to identify their purpose and place in the world and aren't always inclined to settle down or prepared to support a family. Look closely at how he handles his finances, stress, commitments to job, church, friends, family, etc.
It's just as important to take an honest look at your own motives and to be aware of possible blind spots. Women tend to be the more nurturing of the sexes, while some guys are just looking for a perpetual mother. Such pairings typically have disastrous results -- the woman takes on every responsibility and eventually loses respect for (and resents) the "little boy" she married who never grew up.
Meanwhile, seek input from trusted friends and family who know you both.
With all that in mind, I'd say move ahead. But be sure to ask yourself these and other questions early and often to ensure you're both like-minded and in a similar, healthy place.
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.
INTERNATIONAL COPYRIGHT SECURED. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.