I am a single guy who is engaged to a divorcee with two school aged children. I like the kids but find them a bit unruly at times. I am wondering how I should tackle the discipline with them when their mom and I cohabit? All advice welcome as I am pretty green when it comes to children.
Green Stepparent to be
Dear Green Stepparent to be,
Congratulations on finding a special woman whom you plan to marry. Finding a perfect partner is not an easy task. The stepparenting coming with it however, might be more difficult than finding your true love. All the players will be wondering if they can really be a family and how different they might be from biological families. The truth is, research shows, it takes five to seven years to solidify a blended family, so give yourself some slack if things are a bit bumpy for a few years.
Disciplining the children is a major issue in blended families. ‘Who makes the rules?’ and ‘Who enforces them?’ are primary questions that need sound answers.
In your case, mom should be the main disciplinarian and deliver all consequences, decisions and punishments congruent with the values and practices of the biological family. Try to see your role as a support person for your wife and a babysitter for the children initially. Report infractions to your wife and let her deal with her biological progeny. Try not to get in the middle of your partner and her children by taking sides in any disciplinary infraction.
At the same time, it is wise to discuss thoroughly with the children’s mom the rules the children have grown up with and try to keep them the same. The children have had a lot of changes with a divorce, a new stepparent, likely a new home, new school, and new friends. Try to present a united front and agreement on all rules in the presence of the kids.
Be careful to not say anything negative about the biological parents to the children. Best to give them full permission to love and interact with their father and mother with no judgement from you. Remember that you will never replace the bio parent no matter how weak he is at the job.
Should the children challenge your authority, you would not be the first stepparent to be tested by their partner’s offspring. Expect it, stay calm, consistent, firm and kind. Be a great listener.
Your focus should be on relationship building in the early years of the marriage, not disciplining. Try to spend one on one time with each child doing something they do not do with their biological parents. It should be comfortable and easy such as walking the dog, shooting some hoops or shopping for video games. Once the children have a good relationship with you that is mutually respectful, you will have an easier time being an authoritative stepparent able to influence behavior. Aim for respect and love may come later.
An article worth reading by Doctor Benna Strober is entitled '8 Boundaries Stepparents Should Never Cross'. An excellent book on this subject by Gary Chapman and Ron L. Deal is called 'Building Love Together in Blended Families'.
I will conclude with some inspiring quotations about stepparenting:
“The only steps in this house are the stair steps and the only half in this house is the half-and-half cream.” — Al Hodson
“Children cannot have too many people who love them and want to help them succeed.” — Unknown
“Behind a lot of great kids is a stepparent who stepped up, stepped in and gave a sh*t.” — Unknown
Best wishes to you Green Stepparent to be.
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