Now that I've found the man I want to marry, how can I help him connect with my three-year-old daughter? He loves her and is genuinely excited about becoming a dad to her (she's never had a relationship with her biological father). The problem is that he doesn't understand what toddlers are like, never having had any children of his own. He seems to think that because my daughter can say a couple of sentences and answer simple questions that she should be more responsible than she is. If she cries or whines, he gets upset with her. Since he wasn't around to watch her grow from birth to age three, it's hard for me to explain this stage of her development and maturity in terms he can grasp. Any advice?
Believe it or not, this is a fairly common problem. Couples in your position – couples who are on the verge of forming a blended family – face it all the time. But that's not to say that it's "no big deal" or that you'd be justified in passing it off as a minor bump in the road. On the contrary, it's a very serious issue and you're absolutely right to be concerned about it. It can be resolved, but not without a lot of hard work and personal investment on your part and on the part of your fiancé.
What you need to understand right off is that this is not primarily a parenting issue, nor is it simply a question of your fiancé's relationship with your daughter. At the most basic level, it's a potential marital problem. If you're going to make this marriage work, both of you have to face the fact that it's going to be about something bigger than just the two of you. It will also be about your child and the family unit you're creating together. Again, this can be done successfully, but it usually isn't a quick and easy process. It requires preparation, education, and a determination to keep trying when things don't fall into place at the very first go.
We recommend that you and your fiancé begin by getting some intensive pre-marital counseling from a blended family specialist. Focus on the Family's Counseling Department can provide you with a list of trained and licensed therapists working in this field.
This may sound harsh, but the therapist will probably tell your fiancé that he has a lot to learn. Perhaps you're already feeling this way yourself, but you've been reticent to say so. All the more reason to bring an objective, professionally trained third party into the picture. Somehow or other the man you're planning to marry needs to come to the realization that his expectations are off-base – that toddlers are capable neither of rational thought nor of assuming "responsibility" as we normally understand it.
No doubt you've discovered through personal experience that, in dealing with a three-year-old, it's vital to look past an outward behavior and develop an ability to discern its underlying causes. The best parents of toddlers are those who choose to model calm, unconditional love in spite of a child's imperfections. If your fiancé can't grasp this, he's going to have to do some serious work on himself before he can become a good stepfather. In a blended family situation, it will be his job as the non-biological parent to focus on connecting with the child rather than correcting her. That's a long-term process, and it has to develop in "slow cook" mode.
You can help your fiancé get moving in the right direction by providing him with opportunities to get better acquainted with your daughter, not only as she is in her present three-year-old form, but as she was during the early years of her development. One way to do this is to break out your old photo albums or home videos and share your child's history with this man who has an interest in becoming her father. Give him the background information he needs in order to gain a clearer understanding of her personality and an ability to view her whining and fussing through the eyes of compassion.
As we see it, any sensible man in your fiancé's position should welcome this kind of input with open arms. He should also be eager to find out what he can learn from a professional therapist about the challenge of forming a blended family. To say it another way, he's the one who ought to be asking the questions we're attempting to answer for you here. If he isn't interested in taking these steps, then we can only repeat what we've already said – it's possible that you may have a serious marital issue on your hands. We'd advise you to deal with it before moving forward in your relationship.
Below is a list of resources on blended families that you may find helpful. If you think it might also be worth your while to discuss your concerns with a member of our Counseling staff, please feel free to give us a call. Our counselors are all trained and licensed in the field of clinical psychology, and they can also provide you with references to reputable Christian therapists and blended family specialists practicing in your area.
Remarriage & Blended Families (resource list)
Parenting In Blended Families