Ask Dr. Phil: Ken, Brenda and Emily

Ask Dr. Phil: Ken, Brenda and Emily
Dr. Phil talks with guests about how to create a harmonious blended family.

"I'm bringing two families together and I feel like a referee," says Ken, who's worn out from constantly trying to please both his new wife, Brenda, and his 17-year-old daughter, Emily. It's been five years since Ken's divorce from Emily's mother. "I feel like my kids sometimes don't respect the fact that Brenda is my wife," he says.


"I'm not all that interested in having a relationship with her," says Emily, who doesn't say hello to Brenda when she answers the phone. Emily also doesn't think that Brenda makes any effort to get to know her. "The thing that frustrates me the most about this is my dad chooses Brenda over me because he knows that Brenda is more likely to leave than I am," explains Emily.


Brenda thinks that Emily just hasn't accepted her as "a permanent fixture" in her father's life. "If I have the magical moment, I would tell Emily that it's time for her to grow up," she says.


Ken turns to Dr. Phil for help so he can get out of the middle.

Dr. Phil explains that blending a family is all about the roles, rights, responsibilities and expectancies of each family member. He turns to Ken, "What's it been like for you running this shuttle diplomacy back and forth?"


Ken admits he wants to please everybody all the time. "It's frustrating, because as a divorced dad, I don't want my kids to think that I have moved on without them. On the other hand, I have an obligation to Brenda as an effective partnership," he says.


"My philosophy has always been that kids join our lives," explains Dr. Phil. "They come, they're here for a while, they kick up a lot of dust, and then they're gone. And we're still here with our lives and our needs."


Comparing Ken's efforts to Henry Kissinger's, Dr. Phil asks, "I don't mean to just get right to the point, but how is that working for you?"


"It doesn't work," says Ken, explaining that he goes from complacency to knowing he has to fix the problem before it gets worse.

Acknowledging that Ken hid his new relationship from all his children at first, Dr. Phil asks Emily, "What is up in a relationship where your dad — a full-grown, mature, competent adult — feels like he has to get your permission or feels judged if he goes on with his life?"


"I guess I've never really thought of it that way," says Emily.


Dr. Phil tells Ken,"I think we have raised children in this generation to have the idea that everything is always all about them." He turns to Emily: "Isn't there a part of you that feels that if you have a cohesive, harmonious relationship with [Brenda], then it's kind of a betrayal of your mom?"


"I think so," says Emily. "I guess it feels that way."


"Can you entertain the fact that those are two very different things? ... Two different people, two different roles, two different expectancies, two different everything," says Dr. Phil.


"I understand what you're saying," says Emily. "Yeah, I guess so."

Dr. Phil explains that they all need to change their roles. For example, Ken should no longer be the peacemaker. "You can't choose how she feels," Dr. Phil says of Emily. "You can't take that on."


Dr. Phil continues: "There are separate accounts that you draw from in terms of love, commitment, loyalty and caring. [Ken] has an Emily account ... and he has a Brenda account, and taking something out of one does not affect the other." He tells Emily: "He has 100 percent love that he can give to Brenda; that doesn't diminish how much he has to give you." He drives home his point to Brenda as well: "Him having an active relationship with [Emily] is not at your expense."


Dr. Phil wants Ken to understand that he is a people pleaser. "The greatest stress that we can ever face in our lives is when we're being held responsible for things we don't control ... If Emily and Brenda don't get along, you know what? Emily and Brenda look to me to be very competent, articulate, intelligent women. I bet they'll work that out."


"I think we could," agrees Emily.

Dr. Phil explains to Ken: "I think it's very important that you give yourself permission to pursue your happiness, your own life and your own choices. I think you just have to decide, 'You know what? I have the right to love this woman. I have the right to pursue my life and in fact I have a responsibility to do it.'"


He turns to Emily: "If you love your dad, and I know you do, then you would support what he cares about."


Emphasizing that we only control ourselves, Dr. Phil asks Emily and Brenda how they can each make more of an effort to get along and be involved in each other's lives. He tells both women: "If you guys really care about this guy, then you will seek to create harmony in his world."


"Absolutely," says Brenda, and Emily agrees.

Dr. Phil reiterates with Ken that he still has responsibilities as a father. "You need to be talking about what's important in her life, and letting her know, 'My dad's still here, he's still plugged in to my life.' ... But the thing is, you don't want to have the expectancy that everything's got to be OK because it doesn't. Relationships build across time. You've got to let people own their own feelings and emotions instead of you holding yourself responsible for them. You've got to give yourself the right to have pursued this relationship and to have moved on without guilt. You haven't betrayed anyone because you fell in love with Brenda and got married."