Bullying Stepmom

Q: My wife is a very good person at heart, who I am quite sure is TRYING to do the right thing for my children. My daughter is 12, and my son just turned 16. She has two grown sons of her own, but they live 2500 miles away. In my opinion both of my children are very nice kids and they don't get in trouble. However, my wife thinks they are rude and have no manners. While my son does indeed sit at times with his arms or elbows on the table at dinner, we teach them proper etiquette, but to me it's not the world coming to an end. To her it is because she feels (correctly) that she shouldn't have to tell him over and over. This is only the tip of the iceberg and I feel she goes way over the top for battles that don't need to be fought. My children are close to the only reason my wife and I argue. She is very sensitive and often exhibits the same behaviors she accuses my children of, such as temper tantrums.

How can I get her off their case? Even her family physician has told her to chill out and let me do the disciplining of my children. She has "kind of" agreed to that, but just can't keep her mouth shut when something happens she doesn't like. If I'm telling them something, or disciplining them, she ALWAYS has to chime in with her own yelling or lecture. -- Ricky, 52

Dr. Susan: Sit her down and ask her if she agrees in principle that disciplining your kids should be done by you (other than in life and death situations when any caring adult might well step in). If she agrees, write up a casual little contract and ask her to sign it, indicating that she'll do her best at all times to leave your kids' disciplining to you. Then when she oversteps (as she will), point it out to her (privately and quietly) and remind her of her agreement. Acknowledge to her that you know it's hard for her to let go of control in some of these areas that are important to her, like table manners, but that in the best interests of your marriage (and because you love her and this is so important to you), she needs to stick to this agreement. She may not take her family physician seriously enough, so also think about seeing a counselor for a session or two. You happen to be correct in this matter, while she is out of line, and a good therapist will help her understand why this is so. Eating with one's elbows on the table is such a trivial matter in the larger scheme of things!

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