Rude stepchildren ruining our relationship

Dear Counsellor,

I've lived with my children's dad for eight years now. I take care of this man and show him nothing but love. He has outside children who were born before ours, and they constantly disrespect me all the time no matter what I do for them. I've finally given up the effort at showing them love and avoid them each time they visit. Their dad realised this and started to 'pree' me. He illtreats me and curses me out anytime I talk about how rude the kids are. He will curse and say that I should leave him and them alone. I leave and return at times, but he keeps crying for me to come back because he can't do without me and his kids. I am currently out and I want to go back but I haven't yet. I love him and he loves me but he refuses to acknowledge the wrongs his children do to me.

What are your thoughts about this?

Thanks for joining in on the couch. You are correct to expect to be respected by your partner and his children. You are a stepmother to them and a partner to him. They do need to respect you and he needs to ensure that they do. And abuse of any kind is not acceptable -- he cannot curse you and expect you to stay there. I would hope the ill-treatment you mentioned is not physical abuse. That would make this situation possibly irredeemable. Abuse, especially physical abuse, warrants distance!

In the Bible it says, "Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it" (Proverbs 22: 6). To "train up a child" is very important so that the child can be a decent adult later on. Where children do not learn respect at home, chances are they won't show respect at school, at work, or to the law. Those children can also become abusive adults.

My advice to you:

Speak to your partner. He should care that you feel disrespected. He needs to understand that you won't facilitate an unhealthy living environment. Let him know that you do love him but what's happening is simply unacceptable for family life. Defending you and his home from chaos is doing the right thing for everybody.

Get help from a counsellor. It may be very useful for both of you to sit with a good counsellor. This can allow you both to discuss the challenges. A counsellor can be a great help in ensuring that both of you are understanding what each other is feeling. If you can't access a good counsellor, find a mature and objective mutual friend.

Understand the stepmother dynamic. At times it is difficult for children to honour their step-parents because in doing so they think they are showing disloyalty to their parent (in your case their biological mother). This does not excuse their disrespecting you. Don't give up totally on being compassionate to them. It can be very difficult but don't abandon being the bigger person. You may certainly need to separate yourself, but try to be generally available if they're seeking you out. Your partner may also be trying to navigate the loyalty issue. He may be trying to show loyalty to all sides of the family.

Don't fear standing your ground. If his children won't respect you they actually don't respect their father either as you're his partner and the mother of their siblings. So if you don't perceive any real change happening, keep your distance. Once you're confident you've got help and tried, then don't subject yourself and your children to further abuse and the unhealthy situation.

Pursuing a healthy family life usually requires endurance. I pray that you'll both have the wisdom and strength you need to find happiness for yourselves and for your children.

Get on The Counsellor's Couch with Rev Christopher Brodber, who is a counsellor and minister of religion. E-mail questions to allwoman@jamaicaobserver.com.

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