Step-Parent Problems: When Kids Don’t Bond

By Sabrina Beasley McDonald
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Step Parenting Problems man and son sitting together
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My son, Ben, didn't accept his new dad at first. It was one of our first step-parent problems. Jealousy, pride and stubbornness kept them from bonding.

After three years of widowhood, I married Robbie, my knight in shining armor. I was thrilled to finally have a loving companion and a daddy for my two kids under 5.

I just knew he was going to fill all our gaps — the love gap, the discipline gap, the play-with-the-kids gap, the romance gap and more.

It wasn’t long before I discovered I had married a human, not a fairy tale, and he had his own gaps. He didn’t meet my incredibly high expectations, and I didn’t meet his.

One of our first step-parent problems

The first shock came when my son, Ben, didn’t accept his new dad right away. I didn’t know boys that young could have alpha-male struggles. But there it was — jealousy, pride and stubbornness from both my son and my husband. The first year was a battle of territory — over me, the remote, dinner, favorite chair … everything.

I didn’t know what to do. All I wanted was a family who loved and enjoyed one other, and I wasn’t seeing it. Had I made a mistake? Should I have waited longer to marry? Was my son solely at fault, or was my husband partly to blame?

I worried myself sick seeking to fix the problem. My new life wasn’t perfect, and I wanted perfect! “God, I don’t know how to pray,” I said on my knees. “I don’t know how to fix Robbie or Ben or how to mend their relationship.”

Then I sensed the gentle voice of the Holy Spirit whisper to my heart: You don’t have to fix anything. That’s My job. All you have to do is show them grace and wait on Me.

Grace is something I want for myself, of course. I know I’m going to mess up. I need patience, do-overs, forgiveness. But grace was the last thing on my mind when Ben raged with tears or Robbie blew his top. What I wanted in those moments was control.

But control doesn’t come with the stepfamily package. My only choice (if I wanted sanity) was to leave it up to God. So during the inevitable conflicts, I learned to take a deep breath, say to myself, No one is perfect and then deal with the issue.

A new mindset

Humans are going to err. That’s the genesis for all step-parent problems. It’s practically the definition of humanity. I had to accept that, lower my expectations and allow for those mistakes.

My new grace mindset also helped my kids (Ephesians 2:8-9). Ben was justifiably upset one day and tattled on his new dad. “Ben, you’re right. Daddy was wrong, and he made a mistake,” I said. “But when you get mad and fly off the handle, don’t you want the person to forgive you?”

“Yes,” he said.

“Then do you think you can forgive Daddy?”

“I guess so,” he said with a hint of humility.

Another time, he thought Robbie’s discipline was too harsh. “Dad isn’t your enemy,” I explained. “His discipline is necessary to help you grow into a man of character.” The next day, Ben was back to normal, and more importantly, he seemed closer to his dad.

We’re now heading into our sixth year as a stepfamily. We have had other step-parent problems, but I look back at the discord that made me cry buckets of tears, and I can’t believe the change in Robbie and Ben’s relationship. Just the other day, I cried very different tears when I was putting Ben to bed and he said to me, “Mom, when I grow up, I want to be just like Dad.”

© Sabrina Beasley McDonald. All rights reserved. Used with permission. This article first appeared in the December 2019/January 2020 issue of Focus on the Family magazine under the title “When Mr. Right Isn’t Mr. Perfect.”


Understand How to Respect and Love your Son Well

Why doesn’t my son listen to me? Have you ever asked that question? The truth is, how you see your son and talk to him has a significant effect on how he thinks and acts. That’s why we want to help you. In fact, we’ve created a free five-part video series called “Recognizing Your Son’s Need for Respect” that will help you understand how showing respect, rather than shaming and badgering, will serve to motivate and guide your son.
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