My current wife is biased against my children from my first marriage. We have four kids altogether – two from my first marriage and two from this one – but she clearly favors her own. At first she seemed to accept the older kids, but lately her attitude towards them has become unfairly critical and overbearing. Does this kind of thing happen often in blended families? What can I do about it?
What you're describing is actually quite common in blended families. Many step-families deal with divided loyalties and conflicts over disciplinary issues. It's only natural for a biological parent to feel protective of his or her offspring when the new spouse seems unreasonable or harsh.
But while the problem is common, it isn't necessarily easy to resolve. It requires intentionality, cooperation, and hard work on the part of everyone concerned. In your case, it sounds like the relationship between your wife and your older kids is under a great deal of strain. In view of the circumstances, we recommend that you and your wife seek professional help from a trained therapist who is skilled in working with step-families. We also believe that you should locate such a therapist right away. Your children are already facing challenges in life as a result of the breakup of your first marriage. The last thing you want to do is subject them to additional stress and pressure on the home front.
Among the goals you will want to set for yourselves in therapy, perhaps the most important will be that of strengthening your marriage. In any family, whether intact or blended, the marital relationship needs to take priority. Your question indicates that you and your wife aren't seeing eye-to-eye, at least where the children are concerned, and if you can't find a way to heal this rift your kids are ultimately going to suffer. In therapy, your counselor will help you to get your "couple" relationship back on track and show you how to clarify the complex roles and expectations within your blended family. Start by calling Focus on the Family's Counseling department for a free over-the-phone consultation. During that conversation, our staff member will be able to provide you with a list of licensed Christian marriage and family specialists in your local area.
If a title is currently unavailable through Focus on the Family, we encourage you to use another retailer.
The Smart Step-Family: Seven Steps to a Healthy Family
Remarriage & Blended Families (resource list)
Parenting In Blended Families