Discipline was easy in a blended family because here is what you did:
- You discussed important issues like child discipline before you got married
- You set up guidelines on what each of you expected so that when issues arose you were able to deal with them
- You set up clear job descriptions so everyone knew what their role was
- You discussed each others children calmly
- You treated every child fairly and without bias
- You set up boundaries and consequences and always followed through
Of course you did!
Now let’s get real!
Most step parents come into a blended family thinking that because they are already a parent what could be hard about step parenting. Actually most of us come into a step situation wearing love tinted glasses that obscure most of the “Other” things that come with the relationship… the children. In most relationships there is a honeymoon period, a period of grace where everyone and everything seems to be great.
Then it hits. The children begin to act up. They begin to do things that you wouldn’t tolerate with your own children and your spouse is not dealing with it. Your spouse seems to ignore it or make up excuses for their child…”he really did not mean it.” “You’re being too tough on her” “Lighten up, he’s just a child” “She would never do that?” “I know but she’s only here for the weekend and I want it to be fun.”
There are more families in North America that are blended than are nuclear. That means there have been a lot of divorces. What is even more concerning is that most second marriages, especially those involving children, fail. In fact 60% of second marriages fail.
Why? I believe my wife and I had more disagreements over appropriate disciplining of the children than on our finances. I know that discipline is tricky even in the best situations. As a step parent it is even harder. You are not the biological parent so at first you must depend upon your spouse to be the disciplinarian.
What if your spouse does not discipline their children? Well, here is where a bit of understanding can help. Biological parents may be feeling many things that influence how they discipline:
- Guilt about being responsible for breaking up the marriage and subjecting the children to the pain of divorcing parents.
- Men may feel guilt about losing their family and the power of being a father to that family
- Some step parents come on strong as a super parent, which can backfire with both the children and the bio-parent. The children resist “too much too fast”. And the spouse either withdraws and does not discipline or becomes very protective of their children.
- I only get so much time with my children and I want them to have fun so that they want to come back
- Most of us do not even think far enough ahead to set out guidelines on who is responsible for discipline or what is appropriate discipline. So we send out confused messages to our children and to each other
How do you lovingly guide your spouse to discipline?
Communication is the key. Here are 5 steps you can take:
- Discuss what your expectations for each other are in relationship to discipline – remember that at first the bio-parent must discipline their child as much as possible.
- Set out guidelines of behavior that you both want followed in your household. This includes your behavior as parent, step parent and the behavior of the children.
- Remember that there are no ex-parents only ex-spouses and they have an influence on how you discipline the step children.
- Recognize that you will each have a different understanding of discipline based on how you were raised as a child which means that you must work together to blend your discipline styles.
- Realize that in the long run it is better to support and guide your spouse to discipline rather than just doing it yourself.
As step parents we step into this new family full of hope and determined to make it work. There are no cultural guidelines for the transition to a blended family, which means we must figure it out ourselves. With good communication and the desire to help each other, you can beat the odds and be one of the second marriages that last. Our has.