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Sunday, 25 March 2001


Written by  Dr. Louise Klein

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QDear WholeFamily Counselor,

I have been remarried for almost two years. We both have teenagers. I am very easy going, but when it comes to bathing, it is a must. My kids have to shower and wash their hair everyday, yet when my husband's kids are over, two girls, 13 and 16, he does not make them bathe every day or wash their hair. This upsets me so much. I would think they would want to do this. He says it is not important to him, but it is to me. My husband gets upset if the kids do not rinse out their dishes before putting them in the dishwasher. I do not understand this. To me clean kids are a much larger issue. I have mentioned it to him, but I do not want to nag.

Also, we are building a new home. My kids live with us all the time, his do not, but they think they should each have their own room. We have given them a room together, as they are only over four days a month overnight. I have also taken them for new bedding, lamps, things to dress up a new room and still they complain. My husband will not put his foot down, they complain to me, and he lets it go. My kids also go to their dad's, yet they do not expect the same things there as they do not live there, nor do I expect my ex-husband to provide the same exact things at his house when he is paying child support. I get so angry. My husband is a wonderful man, but I feel as if I am being manipulated as well as trying 200% and never being appreciated. What game plan for these issues would you suggest?

ADear "Bathing",

Your letter could serve as a textbook study for the adjustment issues of a stepfamily. It's not easy, is it? Years two to three in a remarriage are often a crunch time. The honeymoon is over for all of you and now you're down to the daily grind of several distinct personalities trying to co-exist together. The good news is that it is possible for your situation to get better.

The first thing that you need to do is to remind yourself that his children are his responsibility. You may not agree with the way that some things are handled, but you can only intervene on a limited basis. Remember that you are dealing with teenagers; it's kind of like the "terrible two's" but more verbal!

I would bet that his daughters know that not bathing totally pushes your buttons and therefore they are almost defiant in their insistence that they don't need a bath. As difficult as it might be to ignore this, you have to. You're the adult here and you have to stop playing their game. Teenage girls are usually somewhat obsessive about their appearance and all it will take is one comment from a friend that they look or smell dirty and you'll never get them out of the shower. So back off on this issue.

As for building separate rooms for each girl in your new house, you and your husband need to sit down and talk through this so that you present a unified front to all the children. There are two sides to this issue. To you it's a practical matter. If the girls are only there a few days per month then it seems sensible to have them share a room. But the girls perceive this as meaning that they are less important in your household than your own children.

Remember that you are dealing with emotions here, and that feelings don't respond well to logic. If it's not possible to give each girl a separate room then your husband needs to be the one to tell them this, and make it clear that he speaks for both of you. He needs to reassure them that he loves them and that this is not about favoring your kids over them.

It sounds like you are trying hard to be fair, buying new bedding and so forth, but this is really not about the rooms but about feeling hurt and angry. I don't know the circumstances surrounding your (you and your husband's) divorces, or how long it was between divorce and remarriage. You don't say if the girl's mother has remarried also. If she hasn't remarried, then the girls may be feeling resentful that their mother is alone while their dad has made a new life. If she has remarried, then they're dealing with integrating yet another stepfamily into their lives. Either way, it sounds like the girls are still hurting from the divorce but it's not okay for them to dump their hurt on you. Your husband needs to make that very clear to them.

I think that you and your husband would benefit from some couple's counseling sessions in order to clarify your expectations and goals for this new family. Take a trip to your local bookstore and check out the books on stepfamilies. You'll be reassured to see how normal your situation is. There are stages that stepfamilies go through and strategies for weathering the inevitable storms. There are also support groups for stepfamilies. Contact a therapist to find out about local resources or check the back of the above books for a listing of organizations. And one last suggestion -- make sure that you and your husband find time for each other away from all of the children.

Go to a movie or out to dinner, just do something that's fun. This is also important for your mental health.

Dr. Louise Klein

Last modified on Tuesday, 24 January 2012 19:21
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Dr. Louise Klein

Dr. Louise Klein

Louise Klein was born on the West Coast of Canada but lived for many years in Los Angeles and Philadelphia. She has a doctorate in clinical psychology from Widener University in Pennsylvania. Dr. Louise Klein is an experienced therapist in insight-oriented talk therapy. She has worked with individuals, couples and groups for many years. Her experience with families includes stepfamilies, adoptive families, nuclear families and families dealing with illness or death. Dr Klein is also trained in thought field therapy and regression therapy and has taught and worked internationally. Louise Klein lives in a rural community with her husband and St. Bernard and has a stepdaughter in college in New England.

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