This article is part of a 3-part series to help and support couples in stepfamilies from the pain and hurt that many families face.
- Part 1: 3 Ways Our Blended Family Went from Broken to Blessed
- Part 2: [You Are Here] Discipline in a Blended Family: 5 Things That Kept Us from Divorce
- Part 3: What Every Couple in a Blended Family Should Hear Before It’s Too Late
Discipline can be a point of contention in a blended family. And those differences in parenting styles can literally make a couple split if you don’t take measures to build strong relationships and to ensure that your marriage bond is strong.
A Rocky Start
When Lamar and I were engaged, I got my first glimpse of this stepfamily dynamic. We had an argument about how I disciplined my kids. I can’t even remember exactly what we argued about, but I remember he said the word “ridiculous,” and he also said the words “You need to….”
I was so angry with him. I was hurt. I was insulted. I thought: “The nerve of him. He doesn’t even have kids, so how dare he tell me how to raise mine.”
I almost threw my rings at him and wanted to tell him to #$%^&*%^&*%^&. But thank God I didn’t. I shudder to think that some other woman would be getting this good loving right now instead of me
I have to admit. It was very hard to see someone else discipline my kids. I was a single mom, and I did all of the disciplining at my house. And his style of discipline was very different than mine. I thought that he was a lot stricter than me. And deep down, I was thinking, “Is he hard on my kids because they are not his kids or is he hard on the kids because he is just stricter than me?”
Well, it turns out, that was wrong. After we had kids together, I found out he is just stricter than me on certain issues.
Now that we have some years behind us, I would love to say that everything is just perfect and we are just one big happy family, but I would be lying….But what I can say is that our relationship is stronger than ever. And we have been going strong for more than 11 years now.
Here are five things we learned about blended families that literally helped to save our marriage from divorce:
I can’t stress this enough. We really had to talk about our styles of discipline. We had some very tough conversations, and some tears were shed. But after I told him how I really felt and after he explained how he really felt, we were able to make some progress. Don’t let anger and resentment build up. Please talk to each other, make a plan, and come to an agreement about how you are going to discipline the kids.
Don’t assume your style of discipline is the right way and that your partner’s style is wrong. There is more than one way to raise a child. Learn to compromise with each other and be flexible. Since I am the biological parent, we defer to my parenting style for the most part, and Lamar supports me in my decisions. But there are definitely some occasions where I need to consider Lamar’s views.
3. Sticking Together
We had to form a united front and support each other. This meant no more arguing and disagreeing in front of the kids. There have been times where I had to literally bite my tongue. I don’t always agree with how Lamar handles things. And I am quite sure he feels the same about me. But we talk behind closed doors. We do not disagree with each other in front of the kids or extended family.
4. Building Relationships
You need to work on building strong relationships in the family. Discipline cannot take place if the relationship is not strong with the kids. According to Ron Deal, therapist, author and blended family expert:
“Early on, biological parents should continue to be the primary disciplinarian to their children while stepparents build relationships, trust and respect with the stepchildren.”
But how long does it take to build relationships?
The average stepfamily takes five to seven years to form a family identity.
Just knowing that fact actually relieved some of pressure on our family. Because when your family doesn’t blend right away, you automatically think you are doing things wrong. Knowing that it’s normal for the family to take some time to come together makes you feel like you are not as bad off as you think, and it definitely puts things into perspective.
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5. Opening Our Doors
We were struggling behind closed doors, and we didn’t know where to turn. And part of it was that we really didn’t want to share what was going on in our family. But once we started opening up to other couples and once we started looking for help, we realized we were not alone.
Over 40 percent of married couples with children (i.e. families) in the US are step-couples (at least one partner had a child from a previous relationship before marriage…) (Karney, Garvan, & Thomas, 2003)
Once we started opening our doors, we were able to find other couples who have overcome some of the same challenges we were facing. We heard how other couples structured a system for discipline that worked well in their house. And we learned incredibly useful tools from professionals experienced with our problems. Thank God! We were able to get the help that we needed to turn things around for our family.
And that’s the best piece of advice I can leave you with. If your marriage is suffering and if your blended family is struggling, open your doors, talk to other couples in blended families and get the help you need to address the challenges you’re facing in your blended family.
The bad news is that the divorce rate is 50 to 60 percent for couples in stepfamilies. The good news is that you decrease your chances of divorce by 30 percent when you get the help that you need for your family. (Stanley, Amato, Johnson & Markman,2006)
And that’s exactly what we did. We got the help, and it literally saved our marriage from divorce.
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