Dealing with an Older Stepson

Written by Dennis and Barbara Rainey


Trying to survive your blended family marriage?

Question: My husband and I have developed a serious conflict over how to handle his 19-year-old son (my stepson). The son recently left college and moved back home, and he now seems determined to live his own life. He doesn’t work. He doesn’t show respect to me and in fact is often hostile. Yet he expects me to provide his meals and clean his clothes. Whenever I talk to my husband about the problem, he takes the side of his son. In my mind, the son is old enough to make it on his own. The situation has become so tense that I have told my husband that he needs to make a choice of whether he wants to keep our marriage going or not. What should I do?

There are a lot of issues here. The first is their marriage covenant. When a man and a woman come together in marriage, part of the vow says, “Forsaking all others.” That means the husband and wife will give preference to one another—even in a blended family situation. Kids need to know that there is one relationship in that family that transcends all other relationships and can’t be toyed with. They need the security of knowing that this husband and this wife are still going to be committed to one another, regardless of what happens.

I’d suggest that the husband consider taking his wife away and devising a game plan for how they will deal with this issue. He may need to ask forgiveness for failing to protect her in this situation. They need to talk through the situation—perhaps the husband fears that he will lose his relationship with his son if he cracks down.

Barbara: It may be that this 19-year-old young man sees that Dad is on his side and the stepmom is not. As a couple, they really need to get together and present a united front. There have been plenty of times that Dennis and I have disagreed in handling the kids. But we’ve tried to keep our mouths shut when the kids are there and talk about it later privately. We don’t present two totally different opinions in front of the kids so that they can play off one or the other.

Dennis: The wife is right—it’s time for that young man to grow up. The husband and wife need to agree and clarify to the stepson what’s appropriate and inappropriate for how he relates to his stepmother. She needs to be protected. If he doesn’t comply with your guidelines, tell him that he will need to move into his own apartment. Even if he does comply, they all need to come to an agreement about when this young man should get a job and move out on his own.

Barbara: I’m reminded of a situation that we faced as a family years ago with a child in the neighborhood who was a bully to our children. One of my thoughts at the time was, “I wish this child didn’t live near us.” But he was there, and I knew as a Christian, I had to love that child too. I began to ask the Lord to give me love for him. So I began to miraculously give me a genuine compassion for the child because of God.

In the same way, I can see how a stepmom could wish this child wasn’t in the family. But the God of the universe can put love in our hearts for people who are unlovely. Children in blended families are going to feel like they don’t belong, and they often take it out on the stepparent. So that makes it harder for the stepparent to love in return. I would encourage this mom to try to love the son as much as possible. If she is a Christian, I encourage her to take this issue to God and pray for a genuine love for the stepson. She should get to know the stepson and see what the real needs of his heart are. That doesn’t mean that she has to go soft on him. But if the stepson and her husband see she genuinely loves and cares for the son, that will go a long way toward resolving the problem.

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Ten Ways to Support Your Wife as a Stepmom

Read Tom’s story – Being a Stepfather: The Emotional Gauntlet.

152 Responses to “Dealing with an Older Stepson”

  • Elkay says:

    Sandy, I am very sad to learn of your very unfortunate plight with such disruptive children — this does often happen when they come out of a broken home but that does not make it right or any easier to deal with.

    In reality, as you know, it is your husband who is largely to blame for the problems you are having. As this article rightly points out, “husband and wife will give preference to one another—even in a blended family situation. Kids need to know that there is one relationship in that family that transcends all other relationships and can’t be toyed with.”

    Your husband has made the mistake of placing his children above his marriage covenant and that always leads to problems. Apparently you have had multiple conversations with your husband about these issues and he “says he is going to do something but he never follows through.” Though he is terribly wrong in this, he is probably not going to change.

    Jesus calls us to a life of sacrificial love, even to our “enemies” and while this may seem strange, it is the Christ-following thing to do. That does not mean turning into a “door mat” for his children to walk over, but, in the long run, your best interests are to place God first, your husband second and let his children see God’s love for you flow towards them. I hope you can find a women’s support group at a nearby Christian church and make good friends there. You can also hit the “Talk to a Mentor” button near the top of this page and someone will come alongside you by confidential email and support you in this difficult situation.

    “Heavenly Father, You have invited us to come before Your throne of grace to find mercy and help in our times of trouble. Sandy’s marriage and relationship with her husband’s children needs positive changes. Please help Sandy and her husband remember that marriage is a covenant commitment to sacrificially love and serve one another no matter what, and from that commitment, may they choose to work unselfishly to restore a proper relationship between them and between them and the children. Bless their marriage with You love and may this supernaturally overcome all hurtful issues in their relationship. We ask for this in the powerful name of Jesus. Amen.”

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