How do I mediate problems between my son and his stepfather? I remarried about four years ago and everything seemed to be going well until recently. The trouble seems to have begun about the time my son reached puberty and became interested in girls. Since then, the conflict has developed into open hostility. There have even been a few shouting matches. I don't know what to do at this point. How do I choose between these two men in my life?
What you're describing is fairly common in step-families. Conflict will often erupt between a child and a step-parent when the child enters adolescence. It's normal for kids to start asserting more independence when they reach the teen years. This in turn can sometimes bring on a period of rebellion. Due to divided loyalties and confused roles, the process is much more complicated in step-families.
Perhaps the first thing you need to realize is that it's a mistake to think in terms of "choosing" between your husband and your son. Rather than framing this as an "either-or" situation, we suggest you approach it as a "both-and." Don't take sides. Instead, try to rise above the conflict and help each party see things from the other's perspective.
Meanwhile, there's another important principle to keep in mind. In every stepfamily situation, the husband and wife need to make their marriage a priority. If you allow parenting conflicts to pull you apart, it won't just hurt your relationship with one another. It's also the worst thing you can do for your kids.
So make up your minds as parents to act as a unified team. Sit down with your son and let him know exactly what you expect of him. Discuss the rules he'll be expected to follow and agree on the consequences he'll face if he breaks those rules. Remember, too, that as the biological parent you should be taking the lead when it comes to discipline. If you're always assuming the role of the "good cop," you're forcing your husband to play the "bad cop." That arrangement is sure to drive a permanent wedge between him and your son.
If you have further questions, feel free to call Focus on the Family's Counseling department. Our trained and licensed counselors would be happy to discuss your situation with you over the phone. They can also refer you to family therapists in your area who specialize in dealing with step-family issues.
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The Smart Step-Family: Seven Steps to a Healthy Family
Remarriage & Blended Families (resource list)
Parenting in Blended Families