I am remarried and my husband has two children from a previous marriage, and I have three from my previous marriage. He is very close to his children and they are close to their mother. His children are fairly well-behaved while my children act like children much of the time, which gets on his nerves. He is critical of my parenting skills, and I am critical of his. His children are loyal to their mother, while my ex is not in the picture.
I understand that these are common differences and to be expected in stepfamilies. His children are very immature for their age and cling to him. My husband tells me that he will do whatever he needs to do to be a good father to his children, including divorcing if we cannot solve some of our conflicts about how to raise our children. He has told me that his children will always come first, and I don’t think that is fair to our marriage. It takes time for a stepfamily to adjust and I want him to understand that. Do you think it is right for him to threaten divorce if we disagree on how to raise our children?

--Living in Step

Dear Step,

Living in a stepfamily can be an extremely difficult challenge. There are many issues at work and it takes patience and new skills to navigate these challenges effectively.
No, I don’t think it is right to threaten divorce if you disagree on how to raise your children. In fact, differences in child-rearing are to be expected; after all, he has children he has been raising one way, yours have been raised another way. The challenge now, of course, is how to create a style of parenting that works for both of you.
Step-parenting takes a new set of skills. You must openly discuss your differences and be committed to acknowledging the strengths in each other’s parenting styles, as well as the strengths in each of your children. You must discuss and decide what role you will play in raising one another’s children. Some step-parents choose to play a limited role in disciplinary issues while others prefer complete co-parenting. There is no right way, though an important guideline is to take things slow and easy. Flexibility is also key. Challenging and criticizing one another will only create defensiveness and barriers; understanding leads to greater cooperation.
It is also important to involve all of the children in these critical decisions. Many stepfamilies find family meetings helpful in airing problems and seeking solutions, particularly when some of the children may be only part-time residents in the home. Children need to know the rules and what exactly is expected of them.
Finally, I strongly encourage getting counsel on how to navigate step-parenting waters. Don’t try to go this alone. I’ve seen too many families struggle far too long, and risk adversely affecting their marriage, before reaching out to a counselor who can help deal with the many challenges of step-parenting.

Do you need sound, Biblically-based advice on an issue in your marriage or family?  Dr. David will address two questions from Crosswalk readers in each weekly column. Submit your question to him at TheRelationshipDoctor@gmail.com

David Hawkins, Pd.D., has worked with couples and families to improve the quality of their lives by resolving personal issues for the last 30 years. He is the author of over 18 books, including   Love Lost: Living Beyond a Broken Marriage, Saying It So He'll Listen, and When Pleasing Others Is Hurting You. His newest books are titled The Relationship Doctor's Prescription for Healing a Hurting Relationship and The Relationship Doctor's Prescription for Living Beyond Guilt.  Dr. Hawkins grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and lives with his wife on the South Puget Sound where he enjoys sailing, biking, and skiing. He has active practices in two Washington cities.