Dear Dr. Weiss-Wisdom,

My wife and I have been married for two years. She has children from a previous marriage. Since, I don’t have any children, I was hoping to be a father figure to her kids. But it just hasn’t worked out that way. They reject any of my attempts to discipline them and that’s probably because my wife doesn’t support me. Instead she protects them and says I’m too hard on them. When the kids are with their Dad we get along great. It’s like we fall in love all over again. But when the kids are around, she and I feel alienated from each other. She focuses on the kids and I am odd man out. She complains that I do it to myself because I withdraw which is probably a little true but I do it in self-defense. I’m tired of feeling disrespected and not in charge of my own house when the kids are here. I can deal with my disappointment with the kids but I’m worried about whether my marriage can weather these difficulties. Can marriages in blended families work even if the stepfather doesn’t have much of a relationship with the kids? Thank you.
Dear Disappointed Stepdad,
Yes, a marriage can work in a blended family even if the stepfather doesn’t have a close relationship with the children. One of the most important factors that determine whether stepchildren like their stepparent is whether the marriage seems to make their parent happy or not. Because step-families are complex and take time to blend, focusing on the quality of your marriage is the best place to start. It would help if you and your wife could agree on your expectations for the role you will have in the family. The most satisfied stepparents often take the role of a ‘friend’ or aunt/uncle figure to the stepchildren. Just so that you don’t feel so alone, common complaints of stepfathers include:
• Not being appreciated or respected for their contributions to the family;
• Being a third wheel;
• Having to compete with the kids for attention;
• Tension when the kids are there;
• A lack of privacy;
• Not having authority in your own home;
• Having your wife always stepping into the middle of your relationship with the kids and not letting you solve your disagreements without her intervention.
Most blended family experts agree that the marriage is the foundation of the family. Modeling a healthy and happy marriage is a gift to children. That could be your contribution for now. Meanwhile, it’s really the biological parent’s responsibility to take care of, and discipline their children; but it’s important for you to feel that your wife is respecting your needs. Ideally, you and your wife confer behind the scenes about how things will be managed in your shared household; then she implements the consequences to the kids for any rules that are broken. The reality is that loyalty conflicts are common in blended families and step-relatives do not have to love each other.
The key is developing respect and acceptance for one another. If you and your wife take the pressure off of you having to have a close relationship with the kids, it will give everyone some breathing room, and everyone knows that we all need oxygen to grow.

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Diana Weiss-Wisdom is a licensed psychologist (psy#12476) in private practice in Rancho Santa Fe. (858) 259-0146.