How do I protect my son from his abusive stepfather?

family violence

Children who grow up in a hostile environment tend to be impacted negatively in future and may have anger issues, anxiety and similar mental health issues.

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Hi Pastor

I have been a single mum for four years. Last year, I met a wonderful man and after dating for a few months, we got married. I am now expecting our first child together. Pastor, of late my husband has become hostile to my older son. He scolds him unnecessarily and even beats him up. I don’t know what to do. The man has changed so much. I feel helpless when it comes to protecting my son from his step-father. Please help.


Single motherhood can be difficult and offer challenges that may require daily reflection on consequences that come with the decisions status. Just like marriage which faces its challenges, single parents have stereotypes imposed on them by others which they need to navigate. The way issues about sex are viewed and handled will have a great bearing on the choices a single parent makes.

Therefore, dating and getting married for such single parents poses questions that need to be addressed fully before and during the marriage. To this end, let me bring out a few issues: First, my assumption is that the four years of being single gave you an opportunity to heal from the past and think about the future ahead.

Second, concerning the relationship before your current marriage, did you get the son out of wedlock or were you previously married to another man? Is he alive or deceased? These issues are key if you are going to process your current situation objectively. Baggage has a way of clouding our decisions. I have found out in most counselling sessions that the way such information is shared and processed by the other partner one is dating is key to the future stability of the relationship.

In addition, moving into another relationship even after such issues are shared and processed by both partners is a matter of trust and diligence in observing the principles of marriages—and particularly where a child is involved. Two scenarios arise: First, insincerity can lead to mistrust. In some cases, men who meet and marry a single parent don’t come clean on their true feelings about the child. Generally, women who marry a man who already had a child tend to be more tolerant than men towards women who came into the relationship with a child.

Secondly, insecurity can lead to fear. Maybe your man feels insecure either by being reminded of your past when he sees your son or does not feel a sense of ownership of his new status of having to be a father to a child you never conceived together. This is a form of jealousy that needs to be dealt with. Maybe the man could feel like he is competing for your attention particularly when it could be perceived that you pay more attention to your son. It may look trivial but it has caused couples to fight.

I suggest that you evaluate your relationship to see what could be triggering his anger towards the boy. Possibly, look for an opportunity to dialogue on the issue face to face. Try and understand his view without blaming him or pointing a finger. If the situation persists, see if your son can get another temporary environment as you come to an agreement on how to deal with your hubby’s erratic behaviour towards your son. What you don’t want is a dysfunctional relationship resulting from poor management of the issue. In addition, you don’t want a son to grow up thinking that his step father hates him.

My caution as you process everything is to be careful not to take a position that could exacerbate the issue and cause depression for your son, or escalate tension in the home that could lead to hate, fights or further conflicts. Children who grow up in a hostile environment tend to be impacted negatively in future and may have anger issues, anxiety and similar mental health issues.

Dealing with your differences in parenting could help bring both of you on the same side. In some cases, it may have been assumed that both of you had the same goal in mind concerning marriage and parenting. However, what we fail to realise is that parenting another’s child tends to have its own challenges to a step parent.

If you fail to tame your current feelings, your desire to build a common agenda in parenting will be lost. Such disagreements have the potential of causing the relationship to bleed and negatively affect the fabric of your overall marriage. The untold fear here is the impact of the feeling that makes you think that someone you care about, like your husband, is criticising and punishing your child unfairly. 

Such feelings will and have in many homes eroded the good vibes that were once felt in the relationship. Remember, growing a relationship is challenging and particularly where some of those children are not your own. The idea is to help your husband make the boy feel like an “insider.” However, if your priority is not that then the chances of him feeling like an “outsider” are many. Your journey towards unity will require patience.

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