"He's a Wimpy Dad and Lets Our Kids Run Our Lives"

She says he's a wimpy dad. He says she's making him choose between his kids and their marriage.
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The Couple

Nancy: 48, ad agency manager
Paul: 42, ad agency owner
Married: Five years
Kids: Patty, 18, Peter, 15, Pam, 13, Grace, 12, Paula, 2

The Counselor

Ron L. Deal
Little Rock, Arkansas

The Background

Nancy and Paul are raising his three teenagers, her 12-year-old, and the toddler they had together. She feels that he's too lax, he feels that she's too strict, and the house has become a war zone.

Nancy: I met Paul through work. He was this decisive guy with amazing leadership skills. We had that in common. So when we got together romantically, I figured we'd have similar parenting styles. But as a father, Paul has turned out to be really passive. I feel like he lets his kids run the house, and it's driving me crazy.

Paul: I've always thought of Nancy as a kind of supermom -- I like that about her. But she's right: We definitely have different parenting styles. Mine has always been a little more, "Let's have fun now and get the work done later." Hers is more, "Work always comes before fun," even if that means the fun sometimes never comes. And my ex-wife is even looser than I am, which just adds to our problems.

Nancy: He makes it seem like I'm a drill sergeant and his ex is really cool. Look, I know a little about raising children. I got married for the first time when I was 17. My husband already had a 3-year-old, and we had two more kids together (one of whom lives on her own now). I homeschooled all of them, kept the house neat, and got meals on the table every night. The children had their duties, and I made sure they stuck to them. Even when the marriage was crumbling, our daily life ran like clockwork. And our children had time to play, too. I explained to Paul that kids need structure -- they need to know what's expected of them. But when I said I wanted to make chore sheets for the kids, he said, "Hey, if chores don't get done, no big deal. There's always tomorrow."

Paul: I agreed to the chore charts because I respect Nancy's way of doing things, and I thought it was worth a try. We also laid down some pretty strict rules for our teenagers about behavior, TV, music -- everything. For example, Nancy insists that they leave their doors open, except when they're changing their clothes. The idea is to prevent them from looking at inappropriate websites, talking trash to their friends on the phone, whatever.

Nancy: Paul may have agreed to this plan, but he doesn't follow up. My daughter does what she's supposed to while his kids go off with friends, and their rooms are still a mess. We decided early on that we wouldn't try to discipline each other's children, so I'll say, "Paul, you've got to have a talk with them." He promises he will, but he never puts his foot down. Instead, he makes excuses: "They were up late doing homework. I'll get on them after school today." Then I come home from work and his kids are sitting in front of the TV again.

It's just broken promise after broken promise, and I get madder every time. We've gotten to the point where our fights can last for days. When Paul gets tired of it, he'll try to placate me by saying, "You're right, I'll do better from now on." And then the whole cycle starts again. It also frustrates me that his kids treat my daughter like she's a stupid goody-goody.

Paul: Look, it falls on me to enforce all this stuff, and I honestly didn't realize how hard it was going to be. I'll be paying the bills or watching a football game, and Nancy comes in to announce: "Peter's door is closed." I get up and go talk to him, and I get crazy pushback: "This is a complete invasion of my privacy! Mom says this is an outrage!" My ex has partial custody and at her house there are basically no rules at all. She's always telling them, "Your dad shouldn't make you do that. He's changed since he's married Nancy." So they throw that in my face. They'll say, "You don't care about us anymore, you just do whatever she says." The kids really know how to push my buttons, and it's hard for me to convince them I'm serious about discipline. Meanwhile, Nancy is always on me: "Did you see how Peter left his room? What are you going to do about it?" And if I don't crack down right away, it becomes, "You don't respect me enough. You don't love me enough." It's just totally unfair.

Nancy: I feel like Paul is more loyal to his children than he is to me. It came to a head a few weeks ago. Grace couldn't find her favorite sweater and Paul's daughter Pam walked in to dinner wearing it. Grace accused Pam of stealing. It was obviously true, but Pam said, "It's not your sweater, I bought one just like it." Her brother and sister jumped in to defend her, and suddenly there's a screaming match. It was ugly. The worst part was that Paul took Pam's side. He said, "How do you know she took it?" Later that night he told me it was my fault, that I was too aggressive, that I was driving him and his kids away. I can't live with all this chaos and conflict. I love Paul, but I'm like an animal caught in a trap -- I'm ready to chew my leg off to get out.

Paul: I still don't know the truth about that sweater. All I know is that my kids and Nancy's daughter don't get along and our marriage is falling apart. I thought it'd be like the Brady Bunch -- one big, happy blended family. Now I see how ridiculous that is. I wake up at 4 in the morning thinking, "Oh my God, I'm going to be a two-time loser if we don't get help soon."

Continued on page 2:  The Counselor's Turn


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