Q: What's the best way for a stepparent to form strong bonds with a stepchild? I recently married a wonderful man. He's kind, but firm with my three children and plans to adopt them. Unfortunately, my preschool-age son has had a hard time warming up to him.
Jim: Having struggled as a young stepson myself, it's easy for me to view the situation through your preschooler's eyes. A new man has suddenly moved in, taking up a lot of his mother's time and attention, which once belonged to him. To make things worse, she's actually been seen kissing and hugging this guy -- yuck! And to top it all off, this man is now telling him what to do and punishing him when he misbehaves.
The problem can be even more challenging if there hasn't been consistency in setting limits with your kids. It's not uncommon for tired and busy single moms to be somewhat lenient with inappropriate behavior. If your new husband is a firm disciplinarian, your son probably isn't going to like it.
I'd encourage your husband to spend lots of special one-on-one time with your son. Sincere demonstrations of warmth and love are critical for your son right now. I'd also suggest that your husband go out of his way to praise your boy when he behaves well instead of simply punishing him when he acts up. In other words, he needs to make an intentional effort to "catch him being good."
At the same time, you may want to complement what he's doing by firming up your own disciplinary techniques. Don't put your husband in the position of having to play the "bad cop" all the time. Do what you can to take up some of the slack and give him a chance to appear in a more positive light.
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Q. My wife and I have been married just a few months, and already we're constantly arguing about chores. I'm the one who cares that the house is clean and orderly, and so I end up doing most of the work. What should I do?
Dr. Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: You've stumbled on a challenge that blindsides most newlyweds, and often plagues seasoned married couples -- the division of household labor. It's common because partners usually have different definitions as to what constitutes "clean" and different assumptions as to who should do what based on their unique family backgrounds.
Your first order of business, then, is to talk all this through. Lay all your assumptions, expectations and personal preferences on the table. The goals for your discussion should be unity, understanding, a commitment to shared responsibility and a plan that is fair and equitable.
Next, make a comprehensive list of everything that needs to be done together. This includes the time requirement for each task. Then, each of you should go over the list individually and indicate which of these you think are your responsibilities. Afterward, share your lists and compare the results. Where you agree, fine. Where it's less clear, discuss which of you has a preference or is better equipped to take on that task.
Once everything's been assigned, it's important that you tally up the time requirement to make sure it's reasonably fair based on the overall demands on each of you. Keep in mind that this is a partnership and that you'll need to stay flexible and make occasional exceptions based on your family's changing circumstances and needs.
Finally, remember the rewards. Tackling chores together eases the burden, and a cooperative system will leave you with more time for togetherness and more leisure for individual activities.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program.