More on Blended Families — “My Child and My Spouse Don’t Get Along!”


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A comment on my recent blog “How to Have a (Happier) Blended Family” caught my attention because it deals with a typical complaint: being stuck in the middle.

In her comment, Laura asks, “We are going on an extended family camping trip together next week. I don’t want to be in the middle of this battle [between my boyfriend and my 13 year old] and want them to work it out: what suggestions can I give each of them & myself throughout that week?”

The important thing to keep in mind, regardless of what you’re working on as a family, is to focus on the behavior and not the attitude, as James Lehman recommends. It’s not plausible to make someone feel a certain way about something or someone else. Making demands on a child’s emotional experience is a losing battle.

I think another important thing to remember is that children don’t have a sophisticated way of expressing their own discomfort about a situation. In many areas, kids are powerless and don’t get to decide a lot of what their life looks like, including a new member of the family in the form of a step-parent. Who mom or dad chooses to be with is exactly one of those things that kids don’t have any control over. Keep in mind that we’re not expecting the child to admire, approve of, or appreciate the step-parent, but to follow the rules of how others in the home are to be treated — even if they’re disliked.

Laura and anybody else in this situation would want to focus on teaching their child problem-solving skills.  In Laura’s case, she can communicate to her daughter that it’s an expectation that they do things together as a family and that’s not negotiable. I would also suggest that Laura challenge her daughter on what she can  do to help get through the camping trip.

As a parent “caught in the middle” I think it’s important to be firm that you want compliance on this issue, but open to helping your child figure out what can happen to make getting along or being pleasant easier.   Let your child know it’s not okay to be rude or abusive because they don’t like someone.  There should be consequences if they overstep the line.  Ask them what can they can do differently in the situation, and how can they express their frustration or annoyance in appropriate ways.

Not only is it necessary and healthy for the adults to be able to share their worries, concerns, fears, and challenges with one another, it’s also important for the children concerned to be able to do that with their biological parent as well.  Still, your child should be held accountable for talking appropriately to all family members and spending time with the family, regardless of their feelings.

The adjustment period for a fledgling family will require work on everyone’s behalf and it will be a process of learning and growth. Know that getting along and co-existing as a blended family can get easier with the right tools.  Taking a positive stance that everyone is doing the best they can in managing their feelings, perceptions, and thoughts can carry you a long way on this bumpy journey.

Related content:
Stepchildren Making You Crazy? 5 Ways to Manage Conflict in Blended Families

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As a parent coach, Tina Wakefield coached parents on techniques from the Total Transformation, as well as Empowering Parents' other programs, for over 8 years. Tina is also a mother and stepmother.

Comments (6)
  • Miss Ryoko

    I'm experiencing this issue on a regular basis. I'm the parent of two teenagers. My son (now 20, so he's no longer a teen) is very respectful and gets along well with my fiance. My 16 year old daughter, on the other hand, does not. At first it was she because she wanted, and believed, that her father and I should stay together. My divorce was very acrimonious at best. It was obvious that she not only saw my fiance as an obstacle between myself and her father, but I had been informed that because her father hated him (and was very vocal about it, not even trying to hide this from our daughter) she was made to feel that she should hate him, too (it's important to note that my fiance is my ex-husband's former best friend).

    At first she was openly hostile towards Scott. She would leave the room when he came in, even just walk away when he spoke or even refuse to come into the house if he was there. It didn't matter that he treated me with love, respect, and genuine courtesy. Even when he went out of his way to be nice to her, she still didn't want to have anything to do with him. I never tried to force my daughter into liking him, but I encouraged her to give him a chance. I did, however, let her know that she had to at least show him respect as an adult, and he even tried to assuage her fears and tell her that he wasn't going to try to be her father, as she already had one.

    I thought things would get better as they got to know each other. In some respects it has, as she no longer just walks out of the room when he comes in, but it's not going so well. It's gotten to the point that I always feel that I'm stuck in the middle, and even though it's not said, I constantly feel that I have to choose one side or the other. Scott doesn't have children of his own, but he has strong views when it comes to parenting, to which we have an understanding that being the Mom, it is my job to discipline and correct unwanted behavior. Even though they're not openly hostile towards each other, it's getting harder and harder to play the referee. It's gotten to the point that they only acknowledge the worst of each other and ignore the positives. There are days when I just want to walk away, even if it means letting go of the only man who's shown me nothing but the best of life and love.

    I feel that no matter what I do, I will never be able to do right by either one of them. I know I can't make everyone happy, but I at least figured they would both share a common goal of mutual respect for both their feelings as well as my own. I don't know what to do.

    • Same here
      My 16 year old is acting out with my husband . He wants her to move out after high school. He acts like a child in my opinion when it comes to the situation. Makes me want to walk away he has two children from previous relationships. He hasn’t raisedMore his kids in the home with him and he is so strict and mean. I get tired of trying to figure out if my daughter spoke to him everyday.
    • DeniseR_ParentalSupport

      Miss Ryoko

      Many parents in blended families describe similar concerns

      of having to play referee, so, you’re not alone in that regard. It can be tough

      to feel like you are caught in the middle and have to pick sides. Being a

      parent in a blended family myself, I get how unpleasant that can be. One thing

      to keep in mind is you are not responsible for making sure your fiancé and

      daughter like each other or get along. That’s their relationship and it’s up to

      them to determine what that is going to be. Simply put, you don’t have to play

      referee. Instead, focus on whether or not your daughter is behaving

      respectfully towards him, as Kim Abraham and Marney Studaker-Cordner advise in

      the article You and

      your fiancé may also find it helpful to talk with a marriage or family

      counselor. Many people in your situation have found it helpful to talk with a

      neutral third party who is able to work directly with the two of you to come up

      with a plan for addressing these challenges. The 211 Helpline, a nationwide

      health and human services referral service, would be able to give you

      information on support services in your area. You can reach the Helpline 24

      hours a day by calling 1-800-276-6222 or by going to We appreciate you writing in and

      sharing your story. Be sure to check back to let us know how things are going.

      Best of luck to you and your family moving forward.

  • jenny
    as per the difficulties of a blended family: is it wrong to have the children on separate weekends? My son lives with us full time and visits his dad every other weekend. He and my husband's daughter don't get along at all. She visits on alternating weekends. SheMore is a troubled kid who lies, is disrespectful, agitating to others, and does poorly in school. I don't like her influence in the home around my son, and he can't stand being around her.He has asked to not be home on the weekends she visits, because he feels tormented by her bossy agrivating behavior. He often hides in his room to get away from her. Having them on alternating weekends has worked out well for both kids emotionally, but my husband thinks we should make them be together regardless.
  • radmom
    I wanted to comment on the mom going on an extended family camping trip with her boyfriend. In today's society, marriage is not treated with respect. Having a significant other living with the family when the couple is not married is very confusing to the children involved, especially childrenMore with behavior problems. The children will get the idea that it is ok to be with someone fully without the commitment of marriage. I don't know if the boyfriend involved is living in or not. Children pick up a lot more from parents and other adults than we think they do, and these attitudes and values they carry with them into adulthood. So, setting a good example for children is so important. We can't expect our children to behave appropriately without taking a good look at the behaviors we are teaching them.
  • brewsterk

    How do you deal with your spouse when he wants your child to move out? My oldest daughter is 16, and has acted out in near constant defiance and deception for the last few monthss. She's never fully accepted my husband; and she has said outright that she'll never accept his authority over her. We even tried making the discipline come from me, but she absolutely refuses to follow the rules and is emboldened to do so by her biological father.

    I am always in the middle, even though we've made it clear to my daughter that we are done with her behavior. She texts on my cell phone when I'm not around, then lies to our face about it. She 'borrows' her sister's things and doesn't ask;getting indignant if she's told no, and is starting to influence my youngest son to the same type of behavior.

    I want it to stop, but everytime we put our foot down, she refuses to comply or to even consider doing what we've told her to do. Help!

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