Dear Lisa:

Our home only has two bedrooms other than our master bedroom. One room is being renovated. Four boys, 6, 9, 9, and 13 years old are sharing one room with a set of bunk beds. My 9-year-old son was accustomed to sleeping alone before we married and joined households in June. He now must sleep with three others about twice a week and at least one of these nights is a school night. My husband's sons do not really have a bedtime (or haven't in the past--even at their mom's). We try to enforce a 9 p.m. bedtime on school nights. His boys are used to being piled up on top of one another in a bed. In addition, they are used to falling asleep with the TV on and mine is used to the opposite (I feel strongly the TV should not be on). My son is often very irritable and tired at school the day following their overnight visit. I don't want to seem unfair or fuss at his kids and blame them but I do personally feel the sleeping arrangement is not allowing my son to have a good night’s rest. I am not sure if I should insist they change their ways and risk looking like an evil stepmother. Our plan has been to allow my disabled daughter (who is 14) to have the newly renovated room when completed. My thoughts were to allow my son to share the room with her sleeping in a separate bed. My son is excited about this, but I'm not sure how the others view it. I thought the current room would remain my husband's boys' room and that they would be thrilled, but they may or may not be. On weekends I figured my son could bunk in there with them if he wanted to. Any thoughts on this?

P.W.

Dear P.W.:

Your situation raises many interesting and common stepfamily issues. Let me first address the sleeping situation. I would not ask your husband’s boys to change their ways right now. You would appear to be the evil stepmother—especially if you don’t have your husband’s full support (and it sounds like you don’t). However, it’s really important to attend to your son’s sleep needs. I would separate him from the other boys in any way possible. Perhaps you could somehow install a screen that separates your son and daughter in her room? If you’re worried about how your stepsons will react to this decision, be sure to have your husband’s support. You and your husband should present the decision to all the kids as a united front.

In our own stepfamily, we experienced similar issues, which we describe in our book (www.stepfamilyadvice.com). My son needed less sleep than my stepkids. Not only did he have a separate room; his room was on a separate floor. Not all families have the space to do this, however. You need to be as creative and flexible as possible.

We also faced the TV issue you’re facing. Before we united our households, my stepkids were allowed to watch as much TV as they wanted, and my son (and later, our “ours” child) was not allowed to watch much TV. To solve this problem, we decided to put the TV in a space that was not public—in a downstairs room. We then established different TV-watching rules for “his” kids and “my” kids. Why didn’t we simply find some middle ground related to TV-watching? Our values were too far apart, and we feared that imposing one parent’s values on all the kids would make the kids feel resentful (This is a common problem in stepfamilies).

It may be a good idea for you and your husband to speak with a counselor about your different values related to TV-watching and bedtime. I suspect your different values create some tension in your household, unless you’re able to talk about them openly and respectfully. You might want to read this story, “The Two-Refrigerator Solution,” about teaching tolerance in stepfamilies:

Good luck and stay in touch.

Lisa