Maudlin and Associates ™
Karen Maudlin
Psy.D., CPCC
Kenneth Davison
Cindy Takiguchi
Manette Galván Turner
Robert Gregory
Daniel Doebler
Trevor Simpson

Divorce is hard enough. But when one or both parents remarry, there's a whole new set of issues to deal with. We asked Dr. Karen Maudlin, a licensed clinical psychologist and a Christian, to answer some tough questions about living in a blended family.

I get so sick of my stepdad telling me what to do. He's not my real dad, so why should I listen to him?

It's frustrating to get a "new boss," especially one you didn't choose. But the bottom line is that your stepdad is now essentially one of your parents, and you need to show him respect.

Still, it's not easy to obey someone new. Before you can get along with your stepdad, you'll need to take a closer look at what exactly it is that's bothering you about him. Is he changing family rules that were set up by your mom? If so, you may want to talk to your mom and ask that she and your stepdad set up family rules everyone can live with. Maybe it's the way your stepdad talks to you that bugs you. If that's the case, talk it over with him. Before you meet with him, think carefully about what you want to say so that your conversation doesn't become a shouting match. Make your requests as specific as possible. Instead of saying, "Quit ordering me around!" say something like, "When you want me to clean my room, I'd like you to remind me once calmly, and then give me two hours to get it done." Good communication is key to any relationship.

Chances are, some of your frustration and anger is there because you're still hurting over your parents' divorce. And it's only natural to feel some sadness over the changes in your life. You need to find ways to express you sadness: Talk to a friend who's gone through the same thing, keep a journal where you can be honest about your emotions, and take time to pray and give your feelings to God. He understands suffering like no one else. He can comfort you.

My stepmom is OK, but she plays favorites. Her kids get away with everything! I don't know how to deal with her. Can you help me?

Families that have always been together take the rules of the house for granted. But when two families come together to form a new family, a new set of rules and expectations needs to be developed for things to run smoothly. Some stepfamilies don't discover that until conflict breaks out, like in your family. Again, the key is good communication.

Ask your parents to call a family meeting that involves everyone. Before the meeting, have everyone make up a list of rules and consequences they feel should apply equally to all the kids. Ask your dad to facilitate the meeting so everyone gets a chance to talk without interruption. (The no-interruptions rule applies to the adults too!) If your family is Christian, ask for your dad or stepmom to start the meeting with a prayer. Then, share your lists of suggested rules. Ask your dad and stepmom to review the lists and develop a family contract.

In a couple of weeks, gather together again to talk about the family contract. And continue to hold these family meetings once a month or so. They can be a great time to talk, to learn more about each other, and to keep the new plan on track.

I get along great with my stepdad. The problem is, I feel guilty about it. I feel like I'm being disloyal to my real dad if I talk to my stepdad about a problem, or invite my stepdad to do more things with me. I love both of my "dads." Is that OK?

It is more than OK. It's wonderful that you have a strong relationship with your stepdad. The more people you have whom you love and who love you, the better.

The loyalty conflict you feel is completely natural. Being part of a stepfamily requires a blending of old loyalties and new bonds and is never easy. But the fact that you have a good relationship with your stepdad is a big plus. You can be honest with him when you feel like you need to spend more time with your dad, and hopefully, he'll understand.

You can also talk over your feelings with your dad. (Perhaps you could show him this article.) Let him know how much you love him and want him to be part of your life. Sometimes, just a phone call or a quick note can keep that connection strong.

To be honest, it's difficult for a divorced parent to share a child, but that's not your problem. You may have to be sensitive about how you talk about your stepdad when your other dad is present, but remember that it's not your job to make everyone feel good about the situation. That's their issue, not yours. The best thing you can do is to continue to show both of these men how much you love and value them. They can't ask for much more that that.