Dear Dr. David:

I have two children from a previous marriage, and two children from my current marriage. My problem is this: I feel like my husband treats his two natural children with preference over my children, even though he has raised my children like his own. When I confront my husband on his actions, he becomes defensive. He denies treating my children any different than his own. My children often come to me to complain about his actions, so I know how they feel and it is causing marriage problems. What can I do to solve this problem? It is beginning to tear us apart. ~ Rebecca

Dear Rebecca:

Family life is challenging, and perhaps even more so if it is a stepfamily. You are discovering that the blending of two families is more than a happy couple in love. It involves children, and often two different sets of parents.

Your first task is to develop a thorough understanding of stepfamilies. A little knowledge, on everyone’s part, can go a long ways. You don’t say whether you had premarital counseling, but this might be a time to seek family counseling for assistance on the blending of families. Here are a few additional guidelines.

First, expect conflicting loyalties, on everyone’s part. It is perfectly natural for your husband to feel differently about his children, and your children. While you might want him to treat the children exactly the same, this is not likely to happen.

Second, discuss your problem openly, objectively. The objective part is the biggest challenge. You undoubtedly want to rush in to protect your older children. And they rush to you for protection. If possible, your older children will need to learn to talk to your husband about their feelings, rather than "triangulate" you into taking sides against him. This is a scenario for problems.

Third, discuss matters of discipline together. Since you indicate your husband has been the primary parent for your children, you and he need to agree, if possible, on how to handle matters of discipline for the entire family. If this simply is not possible, you may have to arrange for you to take the lead in disciplining your children.

Fourth, make a concerted effort to keep family stresses from causing significant problems in your marriage. Make sure to continue doing things alone with your husband, keeping your marriage strong. You and he will be together long after the children are gone.

Fifth, create opportunities for you and he to talk about the children, all four of them. Make it clear to the children that you and your husband are united and will tackle problems as a team. Practicing this with your husband will help solidify your united efforts. Instead of one of you being "right," and the other "wrong," brainstorm win-win solutions.

Finally, remind yourselves that God is still blessing your family. It can be tempting to believe that a stepfamily is a second class family. A thorough reading of the Old Testament shows that none of the Old Testament families were perfect. They had all the problems we have today and yet God still blessed them. God still has a purpose to fulfill in your family.

Dear Dr. David:

I have a friend who wants to be my friend when it benefits her. Whenever she wants something she calls me and I am always quick to help, even though it sacrifices time for me and my family. However, when I need something, her life is always too chaotic to be of any help to me. I have given up asking any help for her, but find myself resenting her. The same thing seems to happen with my mother. When she is upset she calls me and I jump to her help. I often spend hours on the phone listening to her latest problems and then she doesn’t listen to me. When I want to talk about my problems, she is too busy for me. Any advice? ~ Always Helpful