What should I do about conflicts between my child and my new spouse? I was remarried last summer, and though my 10-year-old daughter was warm and friendly towards my husband during the three years we were dating, her attitude has changed drastically since the wedding. Now they fight constantly and I'm always caught in the middle. Despite my constant reassurances, my daughter fears that I love my husband more than I love her. She also misses sleeping in my bed. Do you have any advice or encouragement for me?
The issues you're describing are common to many blended families. Unfortunately, divided loyalties, jealousy, and role-confusion are par for the course when a parent remarries. If you want peace in your household, you're going to have to work hard at establishing some firm ground rules with your daughter. Above all, you need to help her understand that while your love for her hasn't changed, the dynamics of your relationship have.
From what you've told us we can only conclude that, up till now, you've been treating your daughter more like your peer than your child. This often occurs in single-parent families. It's easy for a single mom to look to her child as a friend and confidant – a source of emotional support to fill the void left by the absent spouse.
The fact that your daughter has been sleeping in your bed every night is a symptom of this problem. The "family bed" advocates will disagree, but we're convinced that there are psychological implications to this. You're now experiencing the fallout. It's going to be tough, but you need to re-establish healthy boundaries with your daughter. You have to rediscover what it means to interact with her as her parent, not her buddy. She won't like this one bit, but it's the only way to make your new family arrangement work.
At the same time, your husband is going to have to find a way to establish a more positive relationship with your daughter. He's the grownup, and he needs to put his pride and hurt feelings aside. His present assignment is to build a working alliance with your daughter. And that's going to require patience as well as firmness.
It's very important to keep in mind that your husband should not be the primary disciplinarian at this stage of the game. That job should fall on your shoulders. It's part of the process of establishing new family roles and rules. Your child needs to know that the changes now underway are ones you are initiating and fully support. If your child believes that the step-parent is the cause of it, you are likely to see even more resistance. We realize it may be difficult and painful for you, but you've got to back him up when your daughter acts out. If you allow her to manipulate your feelings and guilt you into giving in, there's a good chance you'll end up in divorce court somewhere down the road.
If you'd like to discuss your child's situation further, feel free to call Focus on the Family's Counseling department. They'd be pleased to assist you in any way they can.
Remarriage & Blended Families (resource list)
Parenting in Blended Families