Dear Thelma,

My first wife could not get along with my family members, and demanded that we moved out of my family home and lived on our own. I refused to do so, and our marriage suffered. Eventually, we got divorced.

I was single for a few years until I met this woman online. We dated for a few years before we decided to get married. She is a single mother with a young son.

I shared my past experiences with her, and she is aware that being the eldest son, I have the responsibility of taking care of my parents. I am very close to my siblings, too. She knows very well that my family members are my life. She accepted the fact that she has to live with my big family.

As time went by, she wanted to move out to live on her own. I gave in to her, for the sake of our marriage. Now I spend weekdays with her and weekends with my parents. She used to follow me to my parents’ house on weekends, but eventually she decided to spend time with her mother instead.

A few misunderstandings occurred between my parents and my wife because of her son. After a few incidents, she kept her distance from my family members. She feels my parents do not give her son the love and respect that they give to their own grandchildren. As far as I know, my parents give due care and attention to her son, but sadly, she thinks otherwise.

Although the boy is my stepson, I have given him everything. His biological father had abandoned him, and I was there for him. He is 12 years old now and has started to throw tantrums. He does not respect me or his own mother. He even questioned his mother’s decision to marry me.

After all I have done for him, this is what I get. Sometimes I wonder what I did to deserve this. Whenever he is with my nephews and nieces, I will push all of them aside and try to pay more attention to him so that he won’t feel left out. And my wife still insists I am not giving her son the same amount of love that I give to my nephews and nieces.

Whenever there is a misunderstanding, my wife will always bring up past incidents and talk bad about my family. I avoid talking to my parents, siblings, nephews and nieces whenever my wife or my stepson is around as she will start to compare and argue.

Sometimes I regret having married her. My wife thinks I put my family first, and she comes second. Is it wrong for me to love my parents and siblings? I have sacrified a lot for her, yet she feels I am not doing enough. She does an excellent job of taking care of me, but she neglects her duty as daughter-in-law. How do I fix this problem in my marriage? – Second chance

Dear Second chance,

There is no easy solution here. It is necessary for you to give serious thought to some of the issues that you have raised.

Perhaps the first thing you should do is realise that you love your stepson because you want to. You choose to show him affection and kindness because you want to. You should not expect anything from him in return. It is a fallacy for you to believe that after all you have done for him, he should be kind to you.

Your stepson is at the threshold of one of the most difficult periods in life – adolescence. He is a child who has endured a lot in his 12 years. If he has been abandoned by his father, he must be experiencing a myriad of psychological and emotional issues which he may not understand, yet alone have the words to describe.

With all this going on, it is no wonder that he is experiencing anger – at you, at his mother and the world in general. What he needs from you is not an expectation of gratitude, but empathy and understanding. Try and put yourself in his shoes.

How would you feel if your father felt that he didn’t want to have anything to do with you and left you? How would you feel if your life were turbulent and you have no control or say over what happens?

Children who have gone through divorce are resilient. Yet, they have been through a lot themselves. Your stepson may view you with suspicion and doubt. He is probably wondering if you are going to abandon him, too.

Before you can expect him to show any gratitude to you, you should understand where he is coming from. You will have to address his fears.

He needs to know that you are going to be there for the long haul. And, from what you have described about the situation between your family and wife, he probably doubts that you will stick around.

You describe your biological family as your life. Where does that put your wife and stepson? They must be part of your life also, surely? Yet, why do you not describe them this way?

You say you have sacrificed a lot for your wife. One wonders if your wife feels that sense of resentment that this word exudes.

You expect your wife to be a good daughter-in-law. What about her expectations of you as a son-in-law? Does that not matter?

You take your responsibilities seriously. That is honourable. But do they have to come at the expense of your responsibilities to your wife and stepson?

You do not have to push aside your nephews and nieces to show love to your stepson. What matters is the strength of your bond with him and his trust in you. Perhaps you should focus on spending quality time with him, doing things together and assuring him that you are there for him and his mother.

You could do the same for your wife. She needs to know that you will not choose your family over her. She needs to know that she is secure in this relationship with you. If you want to save this relationship and help your wife and stepson to foster a sense of belonging, you have to invest time and energy in this. You cannot simply expect your stepson and wife to accept your family.

There should be no secrecy in a family. Why are you hiding from your wife the fact that you speak with members of your biological family? If she has any grouses about this, you should listen to them. Try and understand what the real problem is and together work out something that will help the situation. What does your wife want you to do? What does she expect from you?

Your parents are probably old and need help. Why do you have to shoulder all the responsibility? Why can’t the responsibilities be shared between you and your siblings? Do you need to spend every weekend at your family home? Can exceptions not be made? Ask yourself this question: What would happen if you skipped a weekend or two?

You have forsaken one marriage for the sake of your family. Now, you have a wife and stepson who have come from a place of deep hurt and need a different kind of love and attention. Because they have been hurt, they will be suspicious of anything they think is going to rob them of love and security. Understanding this will help you view the situation from a different light. Perhaps then you may be better able to work out ways to deal with the problem.

What is needed now for you to save your relationship with your wife and stepson is to make some changes about how you view your biological family. It does not mean you love them less. Neither does it mean you don’t take your responsibilities seriously. It is just that your life has changed and you have moved on to the next phase of your life where you have others to care for, too. – Thelma

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