Care and Feeding

I’ve Now Seen My Husband’s Parenting Style In Action. Oh God.

I cannot let this go.

Woman holding a video game controller and giving a skeptical look.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Ranta Images/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Care and Feeding, 

I’m a stepparent of three and have loving and solid relationships with all the children. They treat me as an extra parent. In terms of household expectations, my husband was extremely willing to set some guidelines in place before we merged households, and when we moved into our new home together, we were both involved in creating routines that allowed all of us to function happily. My husband wants another baby with me…

He’s a good parent, and the kids are lovely. They have a younger sibling at their mom’s house and I believe they would adapt readily to another here. However, I have one difference of opinion on childrearing that I make no stand on with my stepkids. I could not remain silent on it once it’s my place and my role: it’s screen time, especially video games. It seems small in my head and while writing it out, but I cannot let it go.

They are on their tablets or playing video games on the TV all of the time they are awake and permitted. They fight when leaving the house because they don’t want to be separated from their games. While they are skillful enough conversationalists at meals, or once you drag them out of the house, when playing they are either 100 percent in their own worlds or rude and short-tempered with one another. I’ve known them since the youngest was barely 3, and he has been glued to the screen in all years since.

Not my place as a stepparent to debate this, and not my problem (if there is one) to solve. I’ve raised concerns when particular issues arise and they get addressed, but he simply doesn’t believe that the sheer number of hours spent playing video games (13-plus on weekends at times!) is intrinsically a problem. I do. Quite strongly. As crazy as it seems, I don’t think I’m willing to have a child and watch them disappear into a screen for most of their childhood. I don’t see how compromising could even work if we had a baby; whenever the older kids were here limits would go out the window. And I don’t even know how to bring this issue up. How do you tell someone you love, and whose kids you love, that you don’t want to have a baby because… video games?

—Gamebreaker?

Dear Gamebreaker,

Considering that you function as “an extra parent,” and that you and your husband had some serious conversations about combining your households earlier on, I’m surprised that you’ve allowed the screen time to continue as long as it has without saying more to him about it sooner. You need to start that dialogue ASAP, as I would imagine it would come as a tremendous surprise to learn that the kids’ screen time habits bother you so much that it’s impacted your desire to have children together. I understand that you may have felt that it wasn’t your place to challenge how your stepchildren are being parented, but it’s a legitimate concern that can impact the children’s well-being.

Let your husband know that you’ve been agonizing over these feelings for quite some time, and that you haven’t wanted to overstep your boundaries as a stepparent, but that you feel strongly that the children simply have too much time on their devices. Be clear that this is a very serious matter to you, and one that gives you great cause for concern as you two discuss having kids together. Remind him that experts are very clear that excessive screen time isn’t good for children and that it would be very important to you to raise a child who isn’t allowed to overindulge. Talk about your worry that it would be impossible to limit your (hypothetical) youngest child’s device time if they were exposed to how frequently their siblings get to be online. Encourage your husband to give some real thought to his children’s device habits. Is he happy with them? Or is it just easier to give them screen time than it is to hear them complain about not having it?

This issue obviously means a lot to you, and for good reason; you are witnessing the negative effects of your stepchildren being allowed to overindulge in their devices. Be honest with your husband and ask if you can work together to try and reduce the amount of time that your stepkids spend in front of a screen. Hopefully, he will recognize how serious this is to you and evaluate some of the choices he’s made thus far. Wishing you all the best.

—Jamilah

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