Dear Counsellor, I have an eight-year-old son who loves his dad. Both his dad and I are married to other people, and before his dad got married he would take my son every weekend and they would do everything together. Since he got married his wife makes every excuse as to why they can't take my son, and my ex just goes along with what she says. I can see that it's hurting my son, and while my husband tries to fill in, it's not the same. I have told my ex that he has no backbone but he just brushed it off. I don't want to interfere too much, or say too much, because I don't want drama. But how can I get my son the protection he needs from his father, especially at this age and crucial stage in his development?
It is great that you are looking out for your son; you are absolutely correct to pursue his having ample time with his father. It is good that your husband is willing to actively play the role of stepfather to his stepson. His presence cannot be downplayed either. You certainly are doing the right thing by your son and, based on what you've said, I wouldn't think it could be construed that you "interfere too much".
In this type of situation some parents perceive that stability for the child may mean giving them space to grow with the other family. They might struggle with a child going "back and forth", not knowing how to cope with the differences in parenting styles, however, this is not a good reason to be absent from a child's life — especially at the stage and age that you've mentioned. But, nonetheless, it's a mindset of some people, and it may help you to know that.
There is also the dynamic of your son's stepmother trying to navigate her new marriage. She may want to separate herself, and her new husband, from what she perceives could be "drama" or a threat to their future. She may even perceive that the child will "carry news" back to your home. Or she may think your son could dislike her and so affect her relationship with her husband, or that he may take time from herself and her husband that she'd prefer to have spent with her spouse alone. None of these, though, are good reasons for her to discourage her husband from spending time with his son.
My advice to you:
Be strategic when talking to your son's father: Speak to him with respect, realising that he's now doing a balancing act in trying to figure out his new life. Yes, he's wrong to have buckled in such an important role, but telling him he "has no backbone" will not help. And remember, your son will need a good relationship with him over the long haul, not just for the present.
Get to know your son's stepmother: This may not be easy, especially since doing this is not up to you alone, however, it is rather important. If you both can get to know each other and be respectful to each other, it should facilitate a smoother situation. Reach out to her. Let her know you're no threat to her happiness but that you want to work with her.
Meet as two families to discuss possible schedules and rules: You can't make this happen on your own either; you'll depend on their willingness to do this amicably. It takes mature individuals to do this in any meaningful way. If you're able to accomplish this, make sure that nothing "pulls your tongue". Get a mediator if necessary.
If all else fails, be prepared to go it alone: You and your husband can raise a well-developed, healthy son alone. However, I pray you'll be able to convince his father and stepmother to play their proper roles too.
Get on The Counsellor's Couch with Rev Christopher Brodber who is a counsellor and minister of religion. E-mail questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.