“The divorce was final today,” my husband’s co-worker said to him. “We tried to work things out but we could never agree on the parenting of our kids.”
My husband related the conversation to me of a stepfather he worked with who had been married less than five years. Both husband and wife brought children to the marriage and argued constantly about how to parent each other’s child. There was never any unity or give and take between the couple; it was always “my way or the highway.” Unfortunately, the highway won out.
In his book, The Smart Stepfamily, stepfamily authority Ron Deal says one of the key barriers to marital oneness in stepfamilies that contributes to the higher divorce rate is parent-child allegiance. When a husband or wife chooses to regularly side with his/her child over his/her spouse, it sets the marriage up to fail.
Deal says, “When push comes to shove, the allegiance (or loyalty) between parents and children often wins out over the marriage unless the couple can form a unified position of leadership. If they cannot govern the family as a team, the household is headed for anger, jealousy, and unacceptance. Unity within the couple’s relationship bridges the emotional gap between the stepparent and stepchildren and positions both adults to lead the family.”
“If a biological parent is not willing to build such a bridge with the stepparent, the stepchildren will receive an unhealthy amount of power in the home,” Deal says. “All they have to do is cry “unfair” and their parent protects them from the “mean, nasty” stepparent. This almost always results in marital tension, conflict, resentment, and isolation.”
Unity within the couple relationship must be a priority for a step-couple. It doesn’t happen naturally or overnight, but it can happen with intentional effort and constant awareness. Successful stepparenting happens when a couple takes a unified approach to parenting.
Are you and your spouse on the same team in your parenting efforts?