Question: I am a father who is very involved in the lives of my sons, who are 15 and 12. Their mother is not in the picture, and they live with me full time.
Last year, I started dating the mother of my 12-year-old son’s best friend, who I met at a school event. We got married in March, and my son was very excited at the prospect of living with his best friend.
Now the two cannot stand each other. They pick on each other, and are constantly at war. It’s hard for them to be in the same room.
I did not see this problem coming. I thought the boys would get along great.
Answer: Kids are always excited beforehand. It’s sort of like two older siblings getting excited when Mommy goes away to the hospital and brings home a little brother or sister. But once the thing comes home, the kids get it. This is for real.
What you are experiencing is not unusual. Kids at any age usually have problems when their parents remarry.
It’s just the way it is.
When little Sun Devil and Wildcat go after each other, the best thing for both of you to do is to refrain from placing a judgment on who did what and why, but to simply hold both of them accountable for fighting, with the suggestion that fighting occurs outside the home and not in the home.
You as a parent could escort kids to the back door and ask them to continue fighting outside.
When they’re done fighting, which usually isn’t more than a minute or two, trust me, they will be at the door, ready to come in.
Usually kids don’t actually duke it out. “You start it.” “No, you start it.” It usually ends with that.
The other obvious thing I would suggest is that you hold, for lack of a better term, family meetings on a regular basis, where family members can talk about what they think is so grossly unfair about the present arrangement.
Try not to be the one that offers solutions to those problems. Let the kids try to figure out how they are going to peacefully coexist.
Pull the 12-year-olds aside and say, “Listen, you have essentially six more years to serve in this prison. It really would be helpful for you guys to learn how to solve your problems. If you don’t, and you continue to act in a non-responsible manner, your mother and I will not be turning over car keys, for example, to kids who aren’t responsible enough to settle routine squabbles in a responsible way.”
That should get their attention.
Dr. Kevin Leman is a Tucson psychologist and author of more than 30 best-selling books, including “Have a New Kid by Friday.” E-mail questions to him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Photo by Tom Spitz Photography.