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Helping spouse deal with past & stepchildren issues

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Old 03-22-2011, 11:04 AM   #1
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Helping spouse deal with past & stepchildren issues

My husband and I have been married for 1 year, together for 3. We have six children, three each from our previous marriages. We are in our 30's and the kids range in age from 16-6. The oldest child (Joe) is not my husband's biological child but was an infant when my husband and the mother became involved and my husband is the only father he has known. They became involved when my husband was 18.

Generally, blending the two families has been easier than I thought it would be. However, things have gotten more complicated over the last 6 months. The mother of his children moved out of state and left all three of the children with us, which is great, that is what was for the best. However, having all six full time has created a little bit more friction. We have standard issues where my husband expects more and is stricter with my children than he is with his, and then Joe gets the most freedom, no responsibilities, etc. We are constantly fighting because I feel that all of the children should be treated equally up to age and ability, they should all have chores, etc.

When it comes to Joe, we can't even talk about it, my husband just flies off the handle and can't think or communicate rationally. When the mother was here, I thought it was her, but I can now see that it is not. I have been trying to get at the heart of the matter, to find out why the relationship between my husband and Joe is so distorted (to the point where his other children have even said "Joe's the favorite") to try to bring this back to a healthy relationship that will allow Joe to become a good husband and parent someday.

Finally, my husband told me that there is a reason that he behaves this way toward Joe but he can't tell me, it's too terrible and no one knows about it. After much gentle talk, he finally came out and told me that when Joe was a toddler, his mother would leave my husband with him all of the time. (I already knew this, the mother was quite a bit older and has a drinking problem). My husband didn't know how to care for a child or have any parenting skills. And he was right, he did a terrible thing. He told me that he beat Joe, when he would cry, he would beat him. He would pick him up by his hair and shake him. He said these terrible things went on for a year or more. At some point he realized that he had to control himself or leave the house, he couldn't really tell me what caused him to realize he had to stop. He said he just stopped disciplining him at all. He says no one knows, not his ex wife or anyone. He has incredible guilt about this and was literally sobbing as he told me this. He said that because of this and the guilt he has, he finds it impossible to not give in to Joe, feels like he has to make it up to him. He also says he feels responsible for some of Joe's behavior problems (acts up in school, lacks respect) and learning problems (has attention problems) which in reality, he might be responsible for those things...but I didn't point that out.

I am not saying what he did isn't terrible, because it was and is. It is so out of character from the gentle man that I know. In fact, it clarifies why he came to me at one point and told me that he just couldn't be the one to dole out discipline, would I please help him with it. He yells sometimes, but doesn't use physical discipline. I don't view him differently, but of course, if he was still that man I would not have married him.

I don't know what to do. I spoke with him briefly at the time he told me and told him that yes, it was a bad thing, but he needs to be able to forgive himself for the past. To look at the future and instead of giving Joe anything he wants, to give him a good future, by teaching him how to be a good man, to have self discipline and responsibility. These are all easy things to say, but what can I do to help this situation? My husband asked me to never speak of this again but to understand and try to help with Joe. I know that counseling is OUT of the question. What can I do to 1)help my husband forgive himself (is that the right thing to want to do?) 2)help the two of them form a healthy relationship and 3)even out things in the house between all of the kids without taking an evil stepmother role?

Thank you for listening.

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Old 03-22-2011, 11:50 AM   #2
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Re: Helping spouse deal with past & stepchildren issues

What can I do to 1)help my husband forgive himself (is that the right thing to want to do?) This seems to be an almost impossible task because your husband asked you to never speak of this again. Of course it's irrational, but I understand that he must find a way of expiating his wrongdoing for good rather than keeping dwelling on guilt. I suggest voluntary work, helping the needy. He will meet with a different face of the world, where "cruelty" is not uncommon, and he may be able to let it go. 2)help the two of them form a healthy relationship Soon, I guess, Joe will be leaving the house, right? I think a good way is to make them into work buddies, if you see what I mean. Working together on a project with his son might really improve their relationship. What kind of project could it be? Something that might interest Joe, to begin with. Building a cottage? Repairing the house? Opening a house business? Anything where they could join forces and skills and make some money. I think that work, more than anything else, has the power of "salvaging" Joe and giving him some sense of discipline. and 3)even out things in the house between all of the kids without taking an evil stepmother role? If Joe starts working and earning his money and gets respect from the others, things will begin to fall back in order again.

Old 03-22-2011, 12:00 PM   #3
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Re: Helping spouse deal with past & stepchildren issues

If your husband isn't even willing to talk about it, I don't see how you can control the situation.

The only person that you can control is yourself. If I were you, I would start treating all of the children the same and having high expectations for them all. You can't force your husband to do that but you can do that yourself. If they see you as an evil step-mother for treating them equally then so be it. Sooner or later they will realize that that isn't true.

Set up posted rules for everyone to obey. Set up posted chore lists. Set up posted consequences for not following through. Then you have to follow through with the consequences. Can you at least get your husband to agree on consequences for each of the children?

Old 03-22-2011, 12:20 PM   #4
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Re: Helping spouse deal with past & stepchildren issues

Well, Joe did get a job at the local pizza place just this week (after I pointed out to my husband if we pay Joe's car insurance, we're going to have to do the same for the other 5 kids!). So I am hoping this will be a good thing for Joe, teach him about how money really works, give him some structure, a social life outside of cruising up and down main street...

It's wierd, I don't think their problem is that there is residual anger from Joe. I don't think that Joe conciously knows what happened because he was so young. Thiers is more of a friend-friend relationship than father son. And boy can Joe manipulate...I don't think he knows why, but he knows he can work my husband (so many issues even besides this one...abandoned by birth father, all the kids feel like their mother abandoned them...) So I need to try to work on a project to help reinforce that type of role for them both. And yes, he will be leaving the home soon, but I want to help Joe become a sucessful adult rather than a very large child.

It's funny that you mention posted rules & consquences, just yesterday I typed up a sheet about dishes rotation, what happens if you aren't home or don't eat, how to actually do the dishes, etc. And stuck that baby on the fridge...I'm so sick of hearing them say it's not their turn. My husband says that he is on board with the kids and tries, but I can't get him past the "Joe Wall" of sticking to his guns with that boy. I love the kid to death, but he drives me crazy. I've even had dreams (before the revelation about the past) that Joe is beating ME up. I think it's just because it's emotionally exhausting to have to go around cleaning up the other kids (why doesn't Joe have to do the dishes, how come Joe has a sound system in his car) and making them feel better. I will continue to work on this, I just don't know what approach to take now that I know there is this huge guilt roadblock.

Thank you for your advice so far, I truly appreciate it as I can't discuss this with anyone IRL.

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