I solicited help on some blog topics and got so many great ideas that I have had trouble deciding what to write first! Thank you to everyone who contributed. Your continued support inspires me daily to keep doing what I love.
I thought the best way to do this would be in Q & A format and just answer a question or two at a time. If you think of more questions, I welcome them. I enjoy being challenged.
1) Who should the disciplinarian be with the kids and what role should the step-parent play in discipline, if any?
If there is one thing that I have learned from talking to my remarried friends or from reading the abundance of books I have read about successful step-families, it is that no two step-families are alike. So just because something works for one family does not mean it will work for another. It is truly dependent on the bonds that have been formed between the step-parent and the step-children.
One of the best Christian books I read about step-families said that the parent should be the disciplinarian at first while the step-parent should play a role similar to a babysitter. As the bond between the step-kids and the step-parent grows, then the step-parent can gradually pick up more of a parental role when it comes to discipline. I agree with that completely, but our family has proven to be a little different.
I am very proud of the way Joe and I introduced our families. Since I had been divorced for many years when he came into our lives, he was pretty much incorporated in our family early on. My children were more than ready for me to meet a nice man, so they were encouraging and happy from the beginning. I truly believe that they knew from the start that Joe was good for me and for US as a family. The kids would actually tell me how much nicer I was because of Joe. Anytime I would do something extra nice for the kids, my son would say, “Did Joe tell you to do that?”
We waited much longer to bring his kids into the fold. Joe’s kids did not have the time under their belt that my kids did. We felt they needed more time to heal and adjust before throwing my kids and me in the mix. After about six months together, we decided to introduce everyone. From the start, I made it clear that I would not infringe on Joe’s time with his kids. His kids came first and they knew that. I did not want them to perceive me as a threat to their time with their dad. It was hard, because I wanted to be with the man I loved, but I knew that the kids needed to have time to acclimate. It has been smooth sailing every since.
You have to give them the time to get used to you so they can know you are not a threat to come between them and their dad. Our kids have done a very good job at bonding and I think it is clear they have even formed an allegiance AGAINST US, but they are happy and that is all that really matters to me. And this instant trust and strong relationship that we formed has allowed Joe and me to discipline more than I think would be recommended in new marriages.
Since we have four kids who match up – two boys 13 & 14 and two girls 10 & 11 – disciplining has been easy because anytime I have needed to discipline thus far, it has been to discipline both boys or both girls. So I can discipline my step-child ALONG WITH my child. Thankfully so far we have not had any major issues that we have had to handle, but the kids have seemed receptive to this because they see that they all four are disciplined the same. However, if Joe is home, then I will usually tell him what I think and let him handle it with my step-kids and he seems to do the same thing vice-versa. So even though we both feel comfortable with our disciplinarian roles, we also know when to back off and let the other one handle it.
As I have said before, our home is about open communication in every way, so we encourage the kids to talk to us if they feel that something is not working and so far things have been going well. All four of our kids were begging us to get married, so there was no resistance from them regarding having a new step-parent in the home. I feel certain if there is any resistance, then any disciplinarian role should be brought into play very slowly.
It’s also important to be very clear with expectations. This is exceptionally important in our home right now because my birth kids are on summer break from school and my step-kids are already back in school. As a result, my step-kids have to go to bed around 9:30pm while my daughter is up until 10:30pm and my son gets to stay up until midnight. Surprisingly enough they have not struggled like I expected. I feel certain that is because my step-kids are smart enough to know that the tables will turn in a month or so when they have track-out.
We tried to set them up for success by letting them know that the rules do not always apply the same to every person and that’s just the way it is.
LIFE IS NOT ALWAYS FAIR.
This was important to us because when we got married my kids quickly realized that Joe is a little more strict than I am. For example, Joe had always taken his son’s phone and plugged it in another room at night. My son has always plugged his phone into his alarm clock at night. One of the first nights we were all together Joe walked into the boys’ room and said, “Let me have your phone” to his son. The next day my son told me, “When Joe came in and asked for his phone, I was really worried. I thought he was getting ready to ask me for mine too.” I explained to him that we were going to do our best to keep the rules that we had in place before marriage. I think this approach has been comforting to the kids.
Again, let me reiterate that every single family is different and just because this is working for our family does not mean it will work with yours. In reality, there is no guarantee this will work for our family next week! Just like in a first marriage family, we are all constantly evolving and growing and we have to do what we can to respect each other while we do so.
I have just come across your blog and I’m taking in your perspective as I reflect on my own family. I think you are spot on that what works in one family may not work in another – and this is true regardless of how the family originates. I also understand the need to take some things slowly at first and I strongly believe that the *foundation* for the step-parent to function as the other parental figure in the home, not babysitter, needs to happen before marriage. My husband and I took our time forming our family before we were officially married and as we got closer to marriage, my stepson was told that his father and I are a team. Period. Dot. I moved in 6 months before our wedding and, by then, my stepson knew that I was most certainly not the babysitter. Six years into our blended family, if a house rule is broken in my presence or a line crossed in his behavior towards me, I will absolutely discipline him. My husband and I are equal authorities in the operations of our home and anyone living here, or coming and going on our property, is accountable to both of us. I have to say – my relationship with my stepson is generally pretty good, as is his father’s. We are starting to see the ornery side of being a teenager, to some extent, but I think we are in a pretty good position, relative to some horror stories I’ve heard. I attribute that to my husband’s support, as well as my own clarity that I am not the babysitter. I also attribute it to the fact that my interactions with my stepson are not just around discipline. I go to all of his school and sports events. I ask him how is day was. I express interest in who his friends are, what he thinks of his teachers, what his dreams are, etc. He is an only child and maybe that makes it easier, as well. I do question children having different rules in the same house, but go back to your original point about each family finding their own path. The two adults at the head of that family (dad and stepmom or stepdad and mom) are free to decide how to structure their family. Nobody else has that responsibility or that right, including the other biological parent. One of the best things a parent can do is supporting your child’s relationship to his other family. They have his well-being in mind, as well. You may not agree with how dad and stepmom do things and you may hate that another woman is an authority figure in your child’s life, but when you undermine that, you create tension for your child. It is incredibly selfish to decide to divorce, then create problems for your child fitting into his other family or keeping him in a state of tension b/c of your own difficult feelings.