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After reading a great many posts, an all too common theme has emerge. Many of the problems stem from NCP husbands/SOs not setting or sticking to boundaries where their bio-children are concerned because they are feeling guilty which, in turn, makes them extremely susceptible to manipulation by those same children and also makes them far too lenient and permissive. This extends so far as to come between those husbands and their wives (many of you) because they will not insist upon and enforce their children's cooperative, respectful and loving behavior toward you.

The guilt seems to come from the fact that they are no longer a constant, day-to-day presence in their childrens' lives. For some reason I will never understand, they accept blame for this, even if it was their former wife's behavior and attitude, not to mention preferences, that resulted in the demise of the marriage.

As a man, my take on it is two-fold. First of all, inappropriate and undeserved guilt is a gift that you can only give yourself. If you don't like the feeling, get rid of it. If you want to own it, stop your complaining. If it is interfering in your current marriage, set your priorities, be honest with yourself and your wife and make your own choice.

The second part is that this kind of guilt makes you WEAK. Your wife deserves a strong husband and your children certainly deserve both the example and the reality of a strong father. You do them more of a disservice by overindulging them and allowing them to manipulate you than you would by setting boundaries, sticking to them and showing them a strong, united marriage. They have already seen the results and have been a part of a weak and dysfunctional marriage. Is that the lasting lesson you want them to live with you and learn from you? Children do learn what they live and will take all of it into their own marriages some day. Is that the legacy you wish to leave them, not just one dysfunctional marriage but two? Would it not be better to now set the example for them of a successful marriage in which there is love, respect, admiration, mutuality, etc ? Guilt is too easy and too comfortable. Being strong is much more difficult and challenging. Your choice, gentlemen!

This essay was written by Mike (passem), a stepfather and contributor to the StepTogether Message Board.