Step parenting and discipline...so frustrated
I feel compelled to reply to your post since I went down the same road, unsuccessfully, and it contributed to the failure of my second marriage. I will address your last questions first: Do not keep quiet and MYOB! This issue is huge, and if not addressed, will create a pile of resentments that may get swept under the family and marital rugs. If you and your spouse had any fantasies of having a Brady Bunch, let them go. The fact is, parents with children from previous marriages/relationships will ALWAYS put their own children first. That's just biology. If either of you spent much time as a single parent, you will have developed your own styles which sounds like the case. If your styles are very different, you will be at odds as long as there is no compromise that is honored through out the home. I suggest you do three things: get back into counseling together to work out a parenting structure that you both agree on as fair and sensible. Address the needs of each child, keeping in mind that they are individuals with different personalities, stages of development and emotional/physical needs. One child might cope well with divorce and remarriage while another might be resentful or afraid. Second, talk to your spouse and kids about having weekly family meetings where everyone is free to share what's on their minds and in their lives at that time. Use a talking stick or some other object with the unbreakable rule that says who ever is holding it has the floor for a specified time period. Use a timer if you need to. You and your spouse can trade off who is chairing the meeting and enforcing the rules of order. You might engage the kids to write the "constitution" of your family meeting plan so that they feel empowered. Third, both you and your spouse need to do some reading about step-families. Amazon will have tons of books on the subject or go to the library. T Barry Brazelton does great stuff on families. I think John Bradshaw also. Some things I learned through failure: Men do not like to be in the middle between their kids, their ex and their present spouse. Often they can't manage the balancing act and hate not being able to keep everyone happy. They tend to shut down, cut and run, favor their easiest child or give in to one faction or the other just to avoid further conflict. How frustrating is that for the stepmother? In my case, the kids went back to their mother. He made no attempt to stop them. He blamed me for them leaving even though it was our lack of unity and his lack of parental participation that was the cause. When they begged to come back to us, he said "no" but still blamed me for his loss. Stepmothers tend to resent being powerless, yet expected to keep order at the same time. They don't like to be responsible for harmony when they aren't also allowed to actually BE a parent. Children will manipulate their environment to suit them which is totally normal. They may have been brought together with another family, but that doesn't mean they were thrilled about it - they probably had no say or agreed it was OK so that mom or dad would be happy. My 10 year old step-son fought his dad's relationship with me from day one, relented and went along with our marriage. One night soon after we moved in together, even as he was demanding that I tuck him in, he told me that his dad should have "married someone younger, richer and prettier than me." Cruel but honest. Don't think that just because you and your spouse are glad to be married the kids are too. Help them grow into it. Finally, parents who present a united front and are in control of themselves and the household create a safe, stable environment through which children can function. Don't deny the kids their growth by fighting over whose rules apply. When being right is more important than being happy, the outcome is disastrous. I encourage you to examine how you really feel about your step-kids. Did you accept them into your life just so you could be with your spouse while secretly wishing he was free of them? Do you know them very well? Do they know you? Do you truthfully want him to deal with them in a way that you approve while you keep your distance? Do you feel you are betraying your daughters if you love and care for them too? I hope you've found something useful in what I've written and wish you success.
I can empathize with your situation. My blended family failed miserably. I can advise you in hindsight. Don't let this go. It's your business to address your concerns proactively. I think you and your DH need to solidify your partnership as co-parents between yourselves. Until this happens, there will be an atmosphere of instability in your house that will foster insecurity and behaviors amongst your kids. I don't know how they have coped with your individual divorces, but they can't benefit from an environment that lacks a firm foundation. I learned that being right doesn't mean being happy. I think I am a better parent than my husband. I think he secretly agreed which made him resentful. We did nothing to offer an open, safe forum for everyone to express their thoughts and feelings about our marriage and how it changed and affected us as individuals or a new family group. As with the takeover of one company by another, the structure and management of our separate corporations changed. This is never achieved with perfect balance and harmony, the Brady Bunch be damned. The best you can do is to work out your parenting strategy with your partner in advance as much as possible and make adjustments as needed after you start living under the same roof. But that takes a willingness to meet each other on level ground. I also learned that parents naturally favor their own kids. It's just biology. Maturity and mindfulness help you avoid taking your natural favoritism too far. When you talk about his kids and their faults, I can hear you comparing your style and your kids to his, which creates conflict in you and between you.
Dealing with the circumstances is, in my mind, a 3-part process. You need to get your head around your honest vision of what you want no matter how unpleasant some of that might be. Ask yourself if you are truly glad to have his kids in your life let alone your house. Do you secretly wish they lived with their mother? Do you secretly wish he was childless and took them to have him even though it wasn't your ideal arrangement? How do you feel about offering care, affection, time, attention to his kids? Is it a betrayal of your girls? Do they resent having to share you with your spouse and his kids? Do you think your spouse is a less competent parent than you are? Do you want to have the power to run things your way? How about this- How are all the children coping with your individual divorces? What have you both done to help them work through that trauma? Do either of you harbor ill will and guilt from your failed first marriages? There are so many questions to be asked before we can begin to build anew. How many of them did you both ask of yourselves and each other before you got married? GO BACK TO COUNSELING WITH SOMEONE WHO SPECIALIZES IN FAMILY DYNAMICS ESPECIALLY IN STEP-FAMILIES. Hidden agendas and unspoken thoughts/ feelings won't help you build a strong foundation in your new family. Kids usually feel like they had no choice in their parents' divorce and neither did they have a choice when mom or dad remarries. They may hide their truth or try to even as they act out in protest.
Invite cooperation toward common goals. If everyone is cool with being a step-family your task is much easier. But if your family is like mine was, it can be a rough road. We were two distinct households under one roof. He and his kids wanted to absorb us so that we lost our way of doing things. I rebelled at this which was a losing battle. It became a power struggle over whose traditions would be honored. You can imagine how everyone reacted. When you remarry it's a new game. It's also natural to want to hold on to things that worked for you and your kids before. Time to give up some things in order to create a new order in your new family. It will take cooperation, creativity and compromise to achieve it. If you want to do things the way you always have you will maintain two separate households under one roof. That signals the end of the family partnership. There is nothing wrong with having family meetings about practical stuff which teenagers are more likely to tolerate than big feelings fests. Call "staff" meetings with an employee owned flavor and work it out together. Everyone should have a say even if they don't always have it their way to the letter.
Educate yourself. Read books that address your concerns. Ask your DH to read some with you. There are probably good TED presentations online. There may even be parenting classes or groups for step- parents near you. Go at it from the point of view of learning, not finding evidence that you are right about what should be done and how.
Don't give up. Don't simply let the family become an aimless entity with everyone waiting in frustration for the kids to grow up and move out. It's an opportunity for you all to grow into each other and yourselves. I can't tell you how painful it was to watch my family implode. My husband and I handled it badly. Everyone suffered. If we had had a better marital foundation, I think we might have succeeded but we both had too much baggage. The children all had their own crap to deal with without having ours too. I wasn't realistic or honest about being a step-mother and never asked myself those hard questions about what it would mean or how I would handle it. He avoided the situation in order to avoid having to confront his own deep pain about being a husband and father before his divorce and in his remarriage.
My final word? You and your DH are the grownups. Get your act together whatever it takes and let the kids be kids. Love, honor, mutual respect and genuine desire for a genuine family. You can do it.