Q: I've married a man previously married. He smokes and drinks, and even though he knows it's bad for him, he can't quit. My problem is that he is hard on my son, who's only five years old. I try to be fair to my son, and encourage my husband to be more patient. I want them to get on, but my son is showing signs of becoming more withdrawn every day; he is scared and bitter. Now I'm becoming like my son, feeling as though I'm going through an endless storm.
A: I’m sure you had great expectations when you married, and probably thought the different religious values and lifestyle would not be an issue. Your husband has the same habits now as he had before you married him, and your challenge is going to be to accept him as he is and not try to change him. None of us can change anyone else—and the sooner we accept that fact of life the easier life becomes. You say your husband knows that he is doing things that are bad for him, so it isn’t that he lacks knowledge but rather the power to change.
It’s always a challenge to “blend” two families, and there’s bound to be some conflict until relationships are sorted out. I’m concerned, however, about your son, as he’s very young and probably struggling to come to terms with the changes in his life. From his point of view, he suddenly has two parents, not just one, and this in itself would be an adjustment.
And if, as you say, his stepfather is impatient with him or even unkind, this will certainly make things more difficult.
Remember that from your son’s perspective, you are the one he trusts most, so it’s your responsibility to look out for him.
You also say that he is not only withdrawn but also scared and bitter, which are indicators of possible abuse.
If you suspect he is being abused physically or emotionally, you must act in his interest first. This may mean you make some difficult choices in the future.
Abuse is a crime, and without excuse.
If the situation at home becomes violent, a women’s refuge may be a temporary option for you and your son.
It’s always a cause for worry if a child becomes withdrawn, as it can be a sign of depression; childhood depression is a very real thing. It is essential that you find someone who knows how to deal with children to help your son. They may also be able to give you support and advice about your marriage situation. Don’t just hope things will get better.
You are already noticing changes in your son and yourself, and the sooner you seek help the easier it will be in the long run.