Reader Question of the Week: My Husband Isn’t a Good Stepfather

Reader Question of the Week

What do you do when your husband’s a bad stepfather?

On Mondays I like to take a stab at answering a Reader Question. A woman wrote in whose husband is lousy stepfather because he is just not very nice to her son (her husband’s stepson). She writes:

My husband married me with three children. At the time two were preschoolers and one was a teenager. They are now 11,12,20. My first husband died a year prior to us getting married. We thought we should go ahead and get married to help our family heal. Since we were old friends and both Christian we thought it was a win win. But my problem is he seem to treat my youngest son, the 11-year-old, mean. He acts like he doesn’t want to be bothered with him. And my son really feels it so he turns to my 20-year-old for protection. I guess you can imagine that tension. I try to speak to him about it but he simply denies anything harsh inside. I feel like a terrible mother allowing this to go on. He doesn’t hit him but the mental abuse is just as worse. I really don’t know to do. Please help. Thanks.

My initial thoughts are: if your husband is truly being abusive, you need to get help for your son. Absolutely. Getting a third party involved who knows all of you and who can help you navigate this is likely in order, just for the protection of your son.

However, it looks like there’s something else going on here, since a parent is rarely abusive to just one child. I didn’t really feel equipped to handle this one, so I asked Ron Deal, founder of Smart Stepfamilies, to take a stab at it for me.

Here’s Ron:

When you Think your Husband is a Bad Stepfather

Step-Families Can Have Difficulty Bonding

While it’s true that stepparents and stepchildren typically don’t share the same depth to their emotional attachment as biological parent-child relationships—and this difference impacts parenting—that may be only part of your situation. Let me explain.

Both biological mothers and fathers form a deep emotional, psychological, and spiritual attachment to their child even while it is in the womb. It is a miraculous process to have a child and the bond between parent and child reflects the profound nature of this miracle. Any biological parent know exactly what I’m talking about.

Stepparents and stepchildren must grow their bond over time. I suppose you could say that they choose love and to be family, rather than having it rise up from within them. This, too, can lead to a profound attachment. (Adoptive and stepparents with long-term relationships know what I’m talking about.) But it can be rough in the early years as adult and child learn about one another, learn to trust, respect, and like each other, let alone love each other.

Without question, the attachment bond—whether weak or strong—impacts parenting. In two of my books The Smart Stepmom and The Smart Stepdad I discuss in great detail why, for example, children snub a stepparent saying, “You’re not my mom. I don’t have to do what you say.” In effect, they are saying, “I don’t trust you or respect your authority enough to obey you. Without shared DNA, you don’t have the right to tell me what to do.” Oddly enough, no one, not society or the court system—not even children, make that same rebuff to biological parents. Apparently, shared chromosomes automatically grants one authority! Being a biological parent also grants you automatic respect, “insider” status with the child, love, grace in conflict, and loyalty. It really helps parents to be parents.

Stepparents, however, don’t get automatic anything. They have to earn like, love, respect, authority, forgiveness when wrong, etc., etc. This can be an arduous and challenging process depending on the openness of the child. If a child is closed and hostile toward the stepparent, they stand on thin ice. If the child is open and welcoming, the stepparent can bond with a child quickly and to a wonderful depth.

The Biological Parent Often Distrusts the StepParent

If managing the process of bonding isn’t difficult enough for stepparents, add to it the distrust that comes from the biological parent. Biological parents raising their children disagree with each other from time to time about how they should manage the child’s behavior, but rarely if ever does one parent accuse the other of not loving the child. “You grounded our teenager for a few days too long and I know why – because you hate our kid,” just aren’t words you hear between parents.

But in a stepfamily situation, it’s not uncommon for a biological parent to doubt the heart of the stepparent toward a child.

This is what I hear in your question. “My husband doesn’t like my son.” And notice how it impacts you and your marriage. You feel guilty for not protecting your son and it pits you against your husband. It automatically divides your home into insiders (biological family members) and outsiders (husband/stepdad). That division is extremely common in blended families (or might I say, not-so-blended families).

Personality Clashes Can Be Common

But there’s something a little odd about your situation that deserves consideration. You have two other children and your husband doesn’t appear to have issue with them. Typically, a stepparent who really doesn’t want to be a parent to stepchildren (this does happen, but I find it to be rare) doesn’t engage any of them. They resign from any role with the children—not just one.

I’m wondering if your situation is more perhaps a clash of their personalities than an issue in stepparenting. Without knowing the history of your husband and all three kids over the past six years it’s difficult to know for sure, but you might need to adjust your assumptions about the motivations of his heart. Doing so might soften your approach toward him:

“Honey, it occurred to me that you have a pretty solid relationship with my older two kids and I see how you tried with Johnny early on, but it didn’t work very well. What are the things about him that make it tough for you at this point to connect with him?”

Sometimes personalities even between biological parents and children just don’t mix. When there’s other children that a parent does easily connect with, the challenging child becomes the odd man out and sometimes, the scapegoat. Let me be clear: the animosity your husband is showing your son needs to change. The real dilemma is what you can do about it. Here’s what I know: if you approach your husband with misguided assumptions, venom and accusation, he won’t be influenced by you. Softly enter his experience and try to hear what the road blocks are for him first, then discuss with him how that might change. My guess is he feel stuck and wants a better relationship, but just doesn’t know how to get there. If you stand against him he will not explore that with you. If you gently come beside him, he might let you be a resource to help him through. That would be a win-win.

Thanks, Ron!

To sum up: if you fear it’s abusive, get a neutral party in to help you figure that out. But on the whole, it could very well just be a personality clash. We’re a biological family, and we’ve walked through this with my husband and my daughter–a two year period when I felt that he was being too hard on her. We got through it and everything’s fine. But because he was her biological father, I never doubted that he loved her, and it was likely easier to deal with.

It occurred right around when she was 11 as well, and I wonder if that’s just a hard time for parents in general? Then, throw a stepparent into the mix, and it’s easy to start doubting the whole thing. So I like Ron’s take: check if it’s just a personality clash, and then try to weather that and navigate it together. Don’t create an us vs. them mentality, because that can be so damaging!

Now let me know in the comments: have you ever dealt with something like this? How do you navigate it?

Ron L. Deal is president of Smart Stepfamilies™, director of FamilyLife Blended™, a popular conference speaker on marriage and family matters, and author/coauthor of a series of DVD’s, books, and curriculum for stepfamilies including The Smart Stepfamily, The Smart Stepmom, The Smart Stepdad, The Remarriage Checkup, and Dating and the Single Parent. Learn more at


  1. May I say, that I am a step mommy for a 4 year old daughter, and she is absolutely beautiful. But believe me, it has been the most difficult road I have ever walked aside from my late father. Me and my husband married when she was 3 and she is turning 5 now. Its been 2 years, and just this week I felt so depressed. Just when I think we are getting along, something happens, or something is said. Its difficult for us “step”parents ( I hate the word step), BUT something you have to remember is that we made a CHOICE to open our hearts and lives to these beautiful children, which means, we ALSO get hurt if something goes wrong. We love them, and we promised to love them. I think a little more support from you, and less tension from the other kids, would help a great deal. I totally agree with Ron, it can be a personality clash, or maybe something small. But I bet you can work it through. Just ask your 20 year old to back off a bit, as it may feel for the stepfather that everyone is attacking him at something he is trying very hard with. I wish you luck. Just a point of view out of another step parents eye !

  2. When I was 16, my mother remarried. My brother was 8 and my step-sister was 7 months younger than me. We all seemed to get along rather well as a whole, but there was almost constant clash between my mother and step-sister. I believe it was ultimately a conflict of personalities. However, my mother and step-father did clash when it came to my brother quite frequently. Looking back on it, my step-father was treating my brother like he would his daughter or me – like a biological child – which often times included “tough love” scenarios. My mother felt the need to protect him, which stirred up conflict not only between my mother and step-father, but also fueled the fire of conflict between my mother and step-sister. It didn’t help, of course, that my brother ate it up.

    My mother and step-father have since divorced, but my brother, step-sister and I remain in contact with my step-father, frequently. There is still a touch of annamousity between my sister and brother (and my mother and sister). I really don’t think that will change.

    Great article.
    Iva recently posted…Music Video “He’s Always Been Faithful To Me”My Profile

  3. Growing up in a step family I have a couple of thoughts. First, holy cow we totally don’t have nearly, nearly, nearly enough information to be talking abuse. If someone is thinking abuse you’ve got to give specifics and plenty of them, that is not a word to even throw around or talk about without much more information. It is completely not fair to anyone involved. In my opinion a question like this should not be allowed without specifics. It is not father to father or child or mother.

    Secondly, fathers raise kids much differently than mothers. Sometimes a father’s love, especially towards a son is going to look “mean” to a woman, but it is anything but mean. Can we be honest and admit that as women we raise horrible men? What I mean is why would your husband be a “good” stepfather to two other sons but you say he is mean to this son? Is it possible your husband is reacting to something and actually being a good parent.

    Lastly, unless there is truly abuse and I hate to even use the word because the threshold is so low in most ladies minds anymore most good & biblical fathers at one time or another “abuse” their children in the worlds 2014 mind, pick sides and choose your husband. Love your son, continue to raise him with love and tenderness but do not throw your husband under the buss and stick by him and up for him.

    • Julie, I agree that we don’t have enough info to talk abuse, but any time someone says they think their spouse is abusive, it’s just my obligation to say to not put up with it if it is abuse. I do think that we throw the word around too lightly, and sometimes if we talk to someone else we’ll realize it’s not abuse; it’s just a difference of personalities or something. But I can’t say “just stick it out” in case it really is abuse!

      • Sheila,
        We don’t throw it around lightly, we throw it around WAY to lightly. I’ve seen women on your own website call things abuse that are in no way abuse (for example, my husband doesn’t find me attractive). In other words, you have women coming to you for your judgement about a situation and the keystone to the whole arguement is, is he indeed being abusive? And that is not touched upon and you ask someone to use there own judgement. The thing is and you agree by your reply, that many women are told these days anything that upsets them is abuse. Which is crazy. I believe you are helping further that same hysteria if you aren’t willing to set a firm guideline that says if we are going to talk abuse you’ve got to at least address what is abuse. A man who is labeled a child abuser can loose his marriage, his job, his kids, his freedom, his finainces. It is a very serious charge and you cannot just throw it out there willy nilly. Here is a man that was willing to raise, provide and love for three kids that were not his own and we barely acknowledge that because to one son who is becoming a man he can come across “mean”…it just seemed more than negligent to me. Are we just protecting children and women at all costs, at the exepense of our fathers and husbands and sons or are we protecting truth. It seems like there is a general attitude of we will throw the men under the bus and sort out the details later and if they are proven innocent than we will drag them out from underneath the bus. I’ve seen a general attitude of men are guilty unless proven innocent on your website over the past few months I’ve been reading and it troubles me. It’s an attitude I see in the church also and am trying to turn around. If the church and families are going to turn around it’s going to be the men who do it. But we’ve got to have their back in order to do so. Respectfully, Julie

        • I agree with you, Julie, but I also have a very fine line here, because there are people who stay in abusive situations. That’s why my advice is ALWAYS when you think it’s abuse, ask a third party who knows you both and who knows the situation. I can’t give advice or give blanket statements when I don’t know the situation. And I would hope that if people did ask a third party, the third party could then help them work through what abuse is. But on the internet I simply can’t err on the side of overlooking abuse or telling someone something isn’t abuse; there could even be liability issues. So I always just say talk to someone in real life. I do understand what you’re saying; I really do. But the fact is that there are other issues regarding what I publish, and I walk a very fine line that I just have to be really careful of. I agree that we throw abuse around too much, but I also know many, many women who stay in abusive situations, so it’s a difficult call, and it’s not one I can make when I don’t know the whole story. So in those cases it’s just really important to talk to a third party who can help you see either when there is abuse, or when you’re being ridiculous and you need to get back with your husband, if that makes sense.

          • Still, I do think your point is a valid one, and I’ll try to write a big post on how we throw the word around too much. I just can’t say that in a specific situation where I don’t know what’s really going on. But I can say it generically, and I’ll try to soon!

          • I understand Sheila. I just also know that for every woman staying in an abusive relationship there is one or more men who have their life blown up and destroyed by either outright false allegation or someone being immature enough to know what real world love/tough love is and calling it abuse. We can no longer just protect women and children at the expense of men, because as you well know, men are at the end of their rope with it. They are intentionally staying away from marriage and kids because the costs are quite frankly way too high in the modern day for them. When we stop treating men honorably, men will stop being honorable for the most part. So all I ask is if we can all treat men on the web the same way we would want to be treated if someone was talking about us, especially considering that recent reports put abuse by women in shear volume at the same rate as men, and 70% of child abuse & neglect is done by women. We have to move the goal posts in how we discuss men within our christian circles or we will continue to see churches & marriages short on good men. Everyone, including men, just want fair treatment.

            In closing, would it be too difficult if someone uses that word to describe what is going on before posting so that accusations do not fly and people could be accurate in their analysis. I know for example that there were plenty of times my husband when raising our sons would have done something I considered “mean”, but my sons have grown into amazing young men who love, respect and our tight with their dad. In other words, if we judge raising sons by woman’s standards we are going to mess it up. Of course there are exceptions but I think by and large see boys raised by single moms and the results are proof enough.

      • Julie you are my hero! All too often I read comments of others bashing men that try very hard to be good fathers. Often these are the so called professional that causes more harm in struggling families than good. They are quick to key in on accusations but slow (if at all) on soliciting facts. Thanks for being honest and providing good feedback that promotes men as being crucial to parenting. I pray that almighty GOD bless and keep you real good.

  4. ButterflyWings says:

    I love this article but disagree with two things. First up, maybe it’s a geographical thing, but I don’t think the word “abuse” is used often enough in christian circles where I spent most of my life. Things like beatings, cheating etc is dismissed as not abusive, rather just “something men do from time to time”. Right now, I have a friend in a very abusive relationship (she is not a christian, but her boyfriend claims to be) back in my hometown. I cannot get a single person outside of my family to try and intervene for her and she has too low self esteem to leave. I think it makes me mad that no one in my old hometown will help. Even the pastor I approached just dismissed as “we tried helping him [the abusive boyfriend] in the past and he didn’t want our help so we give up”. But what about my friend? just because she doesn’t go to their church, doesn’t mean she isn’t worthy of being reached out to. And with me being two states away, there isn’t much I can physically do. I think all too often the word abuse isn’t used soon enough. Even when it’s not at the physical stage yet, emotional and verbal abuse can be more damaging than any fist can be.

    But anyway, that’s not what I even came to comment about. What frustrated me was the comment “However, it looks like there’s something else going on here, since a parent is rarely abusive to just one child”.

    The statistics of child abuse in countries like the US, UK and Australia (sorry have never read anything from Canada on the topic) show that this is actually a complete myth. It is quite completely “normal” for abusers to abuse one or some (but not all) of the kids in a family. Whether they target the most vulnerable, or the “prettiest”, or the one that reminds them of someone else (it’s quite common for paedophile stepfathers to target daughters most like the mother if they are having relationship issues with the mother), etc. It is very common for abusers to target only one child – the most common reason actually is so they can say “none of the other children have said I was abusive, this one is obviously lying” and usually get away with it.

  5. Biological mom says:

    After reading the post, I must say looking back it may be a personality clash. I did not mention that my first husband had four children that he brought with him and I can remember treating certain ones different based on their personality. But I always made sure they had the things they needed and were cared for. I cannot say I was abusive to them. And perhaps abusive was the word exacerbated in my mind at the moment. In the moment of a situation, I tend to fear and see the end of how something MAY turn out ie. child having serious issues with me and stepdad due to this clash and me staying and ” allowing” this behavior. A myriad of thoughts go through a person’s head when fear is involved. We always think the worse! But hindsight I’ve realized, perhaps it was fear on my part, not abuse. Fear that enlarged itself in my mind as abuse. It made me afraid and obviously my son too because he had to turn to another source for protection for fear of being fussed at for simple questions asked. To me, the behavior was emotional NOT physical abuse which is valid. Abuse is abuse no matter what form it is. And being mean to a child for no apparent reason is mentally abusive when this is a repeated event. I saw this and I was deeply concerned. I did not mean to offend anyone by the use of the word. I have spoken to my husband about the issue and have since seen the hand of God work tremendously in a short time. I am no longer allowing fear to control me! I am continually praying that complete healing and restoration come to us all in the matter.

    • Oh, that’s wonderful! Thanks for the update. And I pray that God will continue to weave your family together as you both grow in love.

  6. Biological mom says:

    I also would like to add Sheila did an excellent job in the expertise and resolve of this question. I totally agree with the advice of Ron. Thanks

  7. For me, my natural child was my stbx husband’s stepchild. And he was abusive. Physically, verbally.. the whole thing. We separated a few years ago, and when he went to intensive counselling, I was convinced he had truly changed. But after a reconciliation process of over 1 year, his abuse of my daughter did not stop, and soon spread back to me, as well as to our other children. We are now separated again, and I am seeking divorce. The abusiveness of my husband to his stepdaughter was just the first sign of a whole host of other problems that crept up.

    I’m not saying that this situation is abusive or not. There isn’t enough information to judge that. But to single out one child over others, to criticize and condemn and attack constantly one above any other — there’s a sign of something possibly more serious. And should be checked — probably with professional help. I would definitely suggest this mother ask for a third party, (preferably someone with training, not just a pastor or church elder) to evaluate the relationship between son and stepfather. It may just be a clash of personalities, or a father not adjusting to a son’s growing independence, or maybe it’s a mother being oversensitive… but a third party with family counselling, who is willing to talk to each person independently, may be able to shed light on the whole situation.

    I wish I’d paid attention to my daughter’s complaints earlier. It would have saved us some grief, I think. As well as some very scary moments, with my stbx’s physical abuse of our children involved.. I think had I gotten help sooner, maybe my marriage would have been saved? I can’t say. But my children wouldn’t have been hurt as much.

    It isn’t shameful to ask for help. Or at least it shouldn’t be.

  8. We have a his, mine, and ours situation. I won’t lie. It’s a struggle. So I guess I’ll share some wisdom I’ve learned along the way.

    I came from divorced parents myself. And my mom, she’s been remarried 11 times. (That’s NOT a typo.) So that’s my background.

    I came with boys who are now 15, 10, and 8. He came with two daughters that are now 12 and 10. We have our two, a girl who is 5 and a son who is 4.

    We have my ex, who has been diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder and it’s rough to deal with that. Big time. And his current wife who has her own issues. My bonus daughters have a mom who walked out of their lives completely. Hello rejection in their lives. And then we have our two together, and it’s been a fun ride with the two of them.

    My three boys live with their dad. So we have my bonus daughters and my two bio kids all the time.

    I will honestly tell you that it has taken me and a fervent amount of praying on my part to love my bonus daughters and treat them equally. I’ve spent hours in frustration because they both have educational issues and emotional issues going on. I have to fight every day to love them and to continue to show them God’s grace and mercy. Believe it or not, to this day I still struggle with wanting to hug them. (And I admit, that’s MY heart issue, not theirs.) But you know what? God specifically ordained that they would have a mom, and that mom would be me. I prayed for ten years for a daughter, and I got three almost all at once. I love working with kids, and God knew that even through many miscarriages and the death of my infant son born too soon to live, he would give me a quiver full of blessings and redeem my loss.

    I see it as I get the privilege of raising two wonderful daughters who are so precious in the sight of God. And I laugh some days. I mean, God, you really entrusted me with two more kids to steward? Great sense of humor, there. :) I get to tell them that sex is something beautiful and created for marriage. It’s not something funny or to giggle about. It’s a great gift. That they need to protect their heart above all else and find their image in Jesus Christ first and not in a guy. I get to pray with them every night. I get to talk with them, laugh with them, and have girl’s days out with them. When we have the finances, I get to adopt them and they’re all mine. I get to be there the day they’re married and when they have children of their own. I have the privilege of being in their lives. I couldn’t say it was such a privilege five years ago when we first married. And I thought I could love with and work with any kids, because I really have a heart for kids.

    My husband? It’s been a different story with him. I know he truly loves my boys and truly has a heart for them. He even knows what we’re fighting with their dad. My husband is still in the process of learning how to be the Priest of our home and how to be a great husband and dad and what true leadership is. My husband spent a lifetime being criticized and beat up by his own family, both mentally and physically. He’s carried that with him, and his anger went beyond yelling one day, and one of my boys got spanked and it left a nice belt-shaped bruise. That is abuse. He wouldn’t even admit that for a while. As you can imagine, that didn’t set at all well with my ex. But yes, abuse is abuse, even in a verbal or mental form. It has its effects! It even affected me on some deep levels.

    Enter GOD. I had to show a lot of tough love and keep my own husband away from our family so God could step in and he could see his need for help. God had to work on me and my own heart in the realm of forgiving him. I didn’t want to. In fact, by the time the abuse happened, I had allowed the seeds of bitterness to turn into hate, then rage, then murder in my own heart. I wouldn’t have cared at that point if my husband died. In fact, I was pretty sure our life would be much easier if he did die.

    Last year, we went through a lot of counseling. But God gave me the courage to forgive him and show him grace and mercy in spite of himself. I’m not a perfect wife, either. And God has now taken our marriage over a year later to a higher place than it ever has been. My husband is constantly taking the steps to make things right not only with my three boys, but with me and our children. He’s set himself up to be counseled by Godly men who are holding him accountable. And man, do I love, honor, and respect my Superman. He’s one heck of a great guy. But had I not stood to fight in prayer and made my own changes, none of this could have happened either. It’s been a painful but incredible journey. I am so proud of him for telling my oldest son when he was bad-mouthing his biological dad that his dad is still his dad, and he still needs to show him respect. (Yeah, I did a double-take because it really caught me by surprise!)

    So I share all of that to background what I’m going to say now.

    1. You guys are a team. I hope all of your children have seen that. Kids are really great, especially in blended families, to set up one parent against the other, whether it’s bio parents or stepparents. You guys have to be on the same page no matter what, and you really have to back each other up.
    2. I handle discipline with my bio children and he handles discipline with his bio children. And we back each other up. Again, kids are sneaky like that. Like if I say no, they’ll ask their dad and vice versa.
    3. An environment has to be created in your home that attracts ALL of your children to the center. It’s happening in ours. My boys actually love being here again.
    4. We have the personality clash dynamic in our home. Two of our children clash with my husband and the same two clash with me. But we are learning to look at those personality differences as gifts that God gave them, and so we’re determined to ask for God’s wisdom in how to bring out the spirit nature of those gifts, and not the fleshly nature of those gifts, which irritate us both to no end.
    5. The tension is going to exist until you talk about it. Involve a third party if necessary. Believe it or not, guys have it in them to be great parents, but we gotta give them credit where it’s due. As a wife, you are going to be a loud voice to him. He needs your encouragement here. And like Ron said, ask your husband in a non-accusatory way what bugs him. For my husband, it’s respect of his boundaries. I make sure *I* know what the boundaries are for him, and I make sure that is relayed to my kids. And I enforce them with the kids. I’m sure your hubby is more than willing to express his feelings on the matter if he can do it without a verbal onslaught or fear of rejection from you. (Yeah, I am guilty of that sometimes.)
    6. God really can do all things, especially within a blended family. God is all about adoption, and that dynamic works within a blended family as well. We’re not a blended family. We’re an adopted family.
    7. There has to be a common ground your hubby and your son can find to bond on. Help them figure out what that is…
    8. Lots of healing has to happen within their own heart. You as a woman can take to fervently praying, step back, and watch what an amazing God we serve can do!

    I’ll be praying. I know it’s a tough situation to be in.

    (And sorry for the novel, everyone. This one just really struck a chord with me.)

    • Thank you so much for that rich comment! It’s wonderful, and it’s so encouraging to see how God has turned things around in your family when you started with yourself. I know that comment will help many!

    • Lol!!! Spanking is NOT abuse!! Good Lord knows how many times I got the belt as a kid. Complete with welts.
      Wow. For all the trouble Sheila has gone through to talk about when the term “abuse” is overused…. I’d say that is a prime example right there!

      • Eileen Hall says:

        Spanking is most certainly abuse. Hitting someone because you are bigger and stronger and can is abuse. Hitting a child is a form of inflicting pain and humiliation. It is abuse, and anyone who does it is not honoring the spiritual gift of being a parent.

    • stepmom2 says:

      Rachael, Thanks for these words!

  9. Step-families can be a very difficult reality and I was very unprepared for this fact after remarrying. I had a rose-colored view and imagined that our blended family would feel and function like any biological one. I remember feeling like I was bamboozled and a failure when I finally realized my fantasy was simply that-a fantasy. It’s was hard to accept that the family I had always desired would never materialize, and when my husband and daughter, who are not biologically related, are at odds and tempers are flaring and feelings are hurt, that place in me that longs for biological cohesion and unity aches. I detest the parts of me that don’t love my step-children as I ought to. But God gives more grace. Through all of the heart-ache and disappointment, He shown me how vast and deep His love is towards me and the more revelation I get of that, the more I can extend it to my husband and ALL my children, regardless of the conflict. God showed me this verse in Leviticus 19 when I was having a particularly hard time truly loving one of my step-children who has a difficult personality at times: “‘When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” (Lev 19:33-34) God continues to show me that despite all the difficulties in my OWN personality and all of my character flaws and when I was a foreigner to Him, still He chose to love me and He gives me the ability to love even the most difficult child with that same consuming, selfless love. There is hope for even the most broken and hurting family, biological or not. I will be praying for you!

  10. On December 22, 2013, April at had a post called “when we called something abuse that isn’t really abuse”. Look it up (I can’t seem to get a direct link). I had just sent it to someone whose spouse is throwing the word around like crazy. I think several responders will find it as interesting as I did. The person I sent it too is dealing with a blended family too.

  11. Although the word abuse might be overused, we cannot ignore the fact that abuse does exist. My ex-stepfather was very mentally abusive to my mother and I. My mother did not recognize it as abuse and I was to young to defend myself. He was my stepdad and the only father I knew from the time I was 7 to 18. At first I was so grateful to finally have a father, but then his true colors came out. He controlled everything and he taught us to fear him. As i grew older my friends encouraged me to run away, but I knew I couldn’t. I was too afraid. My mom and I both struggled with self-esteem issues for years. I would like to think my esteem is back on track, but I know my mother still has a long way to go. What is mental abuse you ask?
    (8 yrs old) Random experience: My neighbor invited me to go rollerskating. He told me I had to finish my chores and make sure I locked shed. The lock was above my head, and the door was VERY difficult to close. I asked for help. He refused to help and said if I didn’t get it closed in 10 minutes I would not be able to go rollerskating. -Things like this happened a lot. How is this abuse you ask? Because his actions were teaching me that it was my fault that I couldn’t close the door. I wasn’t trying hard enough and I would be punished. -Looking back, there was no way I could have closed and locked the door. I was physically not strong enough. – 20+ years later and I still remember throwing my body against the door and jumping towards the lock.
    (8 yrs old) Another experience: I was doing the dishes and somehow a fuzzy from one of the towels was left in the bottom of the glass. He filled it up with water and made me drink it. Fuzzy and all. -to this day I cannot eat or drink anything that has the possibility of being dirty.
    (8 yrs old) Anther experience: No one had eaten the bananas and they were over ripe. Actually, they were completely brown, mushy and soggy. He forced me to eat one. As it dripped down my fingers and I tried not to gag, he blamed me for wasting food. -to this day I cannot eat a banana that has any spots or signs of bruises on it.
    (13 yrs old) I was not allowed to give out my number or receive phone calls. A friend found my number in the phone book and called me. I had to stand in time out for a half hour. Yes, time out at 13 years old. It was my fault she found our number in the phonebook. – every time the phone rang I would flinch in fear and pray it wasn’t for me.
    There were many, many, many other experience like these ones, some of them much worse, and for privacy’s sake I’d rather not share them.
    Just remember, for all of you out there who claim “We say the word Abuse too much!” The truth is, we probably don’t say it enough. Please, watch for signs of abuse in the children and families around you. Be an advocate and stand up against it. Many children are too afraid to say anything or are taught to blame themselves.
    What is abuse? It’s taking advantage of someone else’s weaknesses, blaming them for their mistreatment and making them believe they deserve it.

    • Random, I’m so very sorry this happened to you. Such trauma impacts our lives long after the actions are over. I too was in a “Christian” abusive home (bioparents – they later divorced when I was just entering adulthood and I have no contact with my bio dad now – he is narcissistic and as far as I have heard that never changed). I can testify that there are effects that have followed me and my two younger brothers through life – one of us was widowed and two of the three of us have been divorced (I remarried and have a good marriage now with a Christian hubby who is also a great dad to our daughter). The abuse I grew up in submerged a lot of my natural self and personality, and it was a scary, sad and lonely way to grow up. I was an overachiever and escaped as much as I could through reading and learning. The abuse and lack of affection and love affected my ability to have the deep trust-filled relationship with God that I want. I’m 50 now and have done a tremendous amount of healing, and I do trust God and follow Him, yet I am still working on issues with connecting my heart with my head knowledge when it comes to the Lord. Feeling truly valued and loved and really taking compliments or love in is hard for me too. I also wasn’t raised knowing how to have healthy boundaries, so I was victimized quite a bit in my younger years by friends and also sexually. While I agree that sometimes people can overuse “abuse” as a blanket statement, I have found far, far, FAR more in all my years of life that I have seen it underused and abuse and misery being ignored and overlooked in Christian communities. Maybe people fear getting involved or don’t want to seem “judgmental”, I don’t know. I think sometimes that many of us just can’t fathom that people would be as totally cold, selfish, mean and evil as they sometimes can be to other human beings, because we wouldn’t be able to behave that way ourselves.

  12. The title of this post grabbed my attention. We have dealt with this also and it really hurts to have the husband your crazy about treat your child unfairly. I am convinced he truly doesn’t realize he is doing it. It has caused arguments. I have started talking about it when I am calm instead and giving illustrations (not accusations!) of specific times he treated my son unfairly when in similar instances he took a totally different approach w his own child. It helps him to understand what I am trying to say a little better. It’s getting better and I recently pointed out how much better he is doing. One thing about my situation is that I have a birth son and a son that I adopted at 20 months. I can honestly say that biological connection has had no difference in the way I feel. I love both my sons immensely. I feel so connected to my adopted son, it makes me feel like I did have him myself. With my stepsons the progress is very slow. I really try regardless of the walls that they have up. There have been times where it feels like it will never get better, but then all of a sudden there is a small breakthrough. Then another. I thank God for those times. I feel encouraged to keep on keeping on. Even though they may never completely buy-in to becoming a connected family, I give thanks for bonus kids.

  13. You said 11, 12, and 20. are they all boys? This matters. My stepdad was the worst thing that ever happened to me. That’s just how it is; in my life, he A good bit of it had to do with me being the only other male around, because he never messed with sisters the way he’d go after me. He was utterly disinterested in me….except for when it came to going after me about something I did wrong or forgot, etc. In the long run maybe it was worth it because my mom is taken care of and she’s happy. But without a doubt he wrecked shop on my heart and head. You are already doing a good thing in asking for help and looking to deal with the matter. I asked for help as a kid and never got any until I got older and the effects were more unignorable.
    Keep him away from your son, but make sure your son is connected to older makes who care about him while keeping him accountable. Even it means sending him to boarding school. But don’t let the situation continue go on unresolved. They may never get along and that’s fine so long as your boy gets out with minimal damage. Your husband probably doesn’t even think he’s doing anything to harm anyone, which is worse, because…just trust me. he probably never will admit, perceive, or own up to it either. this will only add to your son’s distress. Get your son help, from men who love the Lord and will recognize his situation. keep your husband away from him. if you do this, he’ll make it out alright, and then your husband won’t be able to hurt him. Right now though, he’s a young man without a Father and that’s a dangerous situation made more dangerous by the fact there IS a man in the picture who is making things worse. Don’t get mad at your husband just take care of your son and keep them separated.

  14. so I’m in the similar situation except my daughter who is now 6 is not my husbands daughter biological and him and I have a son together he treats my daughter like dirt she’s not about to cuddle with them look at them or she’s staring he’s called her a dog is just flat out rude. he then proceeded to ask her one day how is he supposed to love her if she doesn’t ask his permission to stay at my parents house her grandparents? my response to him was unconditionally. bentonite I went in to give her hugs good night and she rolled over and told me that her dad told her he was going to kill her a couple days ago he said that. what do i do?

    • Jessie, I’m so sorry for this, but it sounds like you need some immediate help if your husband is threatening your daughter. Can you go and stay at your parents’ house for a time and sort this out? Can you call the police and have them investigate? (making death threats is a crime). Your daughter is your primary responsibility, and if your husband is creating a dangerous environment for her, you must deal with it and make sure your daughter is safe. You likely need some outside help to work through this and find out if your husband does pose a danger to your daughter.

      I’m sorry you’re dealing with this. I really am.

  15. Thank you for your reply. I removed my daughter from the house and took her to my parents to stay. She is not the only one I’m worried about our son which is 18 months still in his presence and he wouldn’t let me take him while on his days off. I called the police and met with a deputy away from our house so he didn’t get scared and run with my son. So ill be getting a restraining order in the morning

    • I’m so glad, Jessie. Please be careful, and God guide you as you figure out next steps.

      • I want to say I have the same problem where I think it is a personality issue between my 27 year old son and my husband and what Ron has said. I don’t know how to handle my situation and I know family therapy my husband wouldn’t consider.
        I have known my husband for 8 years now and we have been married almost 5 years. My husband met my son when he was just 17 years. We were friends in the beginning for the first two years before we became interested in each other. The arguments started after he moved in about my son about 4 years later. Now it is getting worst. I know sometimes my husband means well and I tell him so. My son is a senior in college and living at home. He pays his share of the bills, the water and gas bill, plus his car insurance and car note. He never asks us for money. I know sometimes he doesn’t help around the house, but if you ask him to help with a chore he does. I hate that I have to tell him what to do, but I have told him so many times. He also has a part time job while in school at a Music/computer store. My husband says he shouldn’t be living here anymore he is too old and want him gone or he is going. I am so fed up now, I just okay go if you want to but I don’t want him to really go. He has admitted having my son and can’t stand him. It hurts. I’ve tried talking to him. My son is never in his view and now tries to not be here when my hubby is here. It wasn’t like this before. They got along until my son had difficulty finding work when businesses got shut down and at one time in his first year of college his grades had drop from working so many long hours at night.
        Recently my son brought home one of his friends who didn’t want to go home because he had to travel far, almost an hour home from where we live. His friend was always being pulled over by the cops, so my son without asking permission allowed him to spend the night at our house. I kind of knew because as I was going upstairs to bed, his friend came to the door. My son introduced him and explained why he was here. I couldn’t embarrass my son and say no. I know my husband wouldn’t allow it. But I observe his friend first, he didn’t look as if he was drinking. He had a guitar strapped around his shoulder and was dressed nicely. I was told he was playing in his first concert and was scared. It was about 12:00 am and I was going to bed. His truck was outside. My husband was still up but didn’t see the truck. The next morning his friend said goodbye and thank you. That night my husband said I saw a truck this morning, whose truck was that. I didn’t want to lie so I said it was my son’s friend and his friend didn’t want to go home because he lives so far and wanted to stay nearby. Hubby got angry and was about to swear and said “ See what I mean, this is what I am talking about. I can’t do this anymore.” Then he said you don’t understand what I am saying. He wants my son gone from the house. He said “I can’t stand him”. I responded well, I can’t stand your sister too.” I regretted saying it later. He muttered some obscene language and kept quiet. See I had two strokes already from arguing with him in the past so he tries not to stress me out. What do I do?
        My son wants to bond with him, but my husband doesn’t make it easy. He wants him gone. He doesn’t want to deal with it anymore. My husband doesn’t want to go family therapy yet I don’t want to lose him. When we are alone things are ok unless we talk about money. He throws in my face how my son doesn’t pay any bills. It is not so. He does. There is proof of transfers where he take cares of his bills. Please suggest something to say or do to make peace.
        Thank you.

        • Marie, I’m sorry that you’re feeling so torn. Truly sorry.

          But can I just ask something–and I really don’t mean this to come off a harsh. It sounds as if your husband has NEVER liked your son, and has never gotten along with him. And yet you married him anyway.

          I know hindsight is great and all that, but you did invite him into your home when your son was still living there. And your son was an older teenager. That’s just awkward for all involved.

          There is no magic way to get your husband to be nice to your son. Most people would try to reach out; it sounds as if your husband is not. In that case you really only have two choices: you ask your son to move out and you continue to emotionally support your son and try to keep that relationship close; or you let your son stay and you tell your husband that he needs to start going to counseling with you all, or at least sit down, the three of you, and talk on a weekly basis, like most roommates do.

          Unfortunately there’s little you can do beyond that because you chose to marry someone who did not have a relationship with your son. That’s just really, really tough. And there is absolutely no way you can force it. So you either live with the situation as it is now, ask your son to leave, or ask your husband to start sitting down and talking, or ask your husband to leave. None of those options is great, but that’s why it’s so important before you marry to make sure that there is goodwill and understanding between all parties.

          • Sheila,

            Thank you. You are right. I should have had a sit down before I married him and made certain things aware. Now I have to choose. I’m gonna try to sit down with one of my friends and all three of us and see if we can try to discuss it. If not someone has to leave. It is hard. I just spoke to my son about his friend and he said that wouldn’t happen again. He said he didn’t know it was a problem. I will speak to my son about helping with an apt and see how it goes. I don’t want to lose both of them. I will try to do as you say if my son were to leave, Keep the relationship close as can be.

  16. I am going through a similar situation Marie. I feel like I have to choose my 17 year old son or my husband. I love my husband to death but resent him for making me feel like I have to choose. My son is a senior in high school and works full time. My husband watches him like a hawk and picks apart everything he does. My son barely is home now because he is uncomfortable in his own home. Prior to marrying, he moved in with me and my two children -I have three but one out on her own. He has three children but they only visit. So six kids combined and he targets my son who is second to youngest of them all. His expectations are so much higher than he has for the others. I can’t help but to fight with him to take up for my son. I fear it will tear this marriage apart. I’m so sad.

Comment Policy: Please stay positive with your comments. If your comment is rude, it gets deleted. Any comment that espouses an anti-marriage philosophy (eg. porn, adultery, abuse and the like) will be deleted. If it is critical, please make it constructive. If you are replying to another commenter, please be polite and don't assume you know everything about his or her situation. If you are constantly negative or a general troll, you will get banned. The definition of terms is left solely up to us. Sheila Wray Gregoire owns the copyright to all comments and may publish them in whatever form she sees fit. She agrees to keep any publication of comments anonymous, even if you are not anonymous on this board.


  1. […] “abuse” when I wonder if that’s what they really mean. On Monday, my post about what to do when your husband’s a bad stepfather, a little discussion broke out in the comments about that exactly. One commenter said that I […]

  2. […] suppose I’m a glutton for punishment, but last week’s two posts dealing with abuse drew so many comments and got me all riled up, and I thought something more […]

Leave a Comment


CommentLuv badge