My mother and my stepmother, whom my dad remarried when I was a teenager, call each other “wife-in-laws.” Growing up, my father lived in a different state, so my stepmom would come into town without him. My mom, my stepmom, my siblings, and I would often go out to the mall or to eat, etc. I took for granted the fact that my mother and stepmother had a good relationship. I never thought anything of the fact that my mom and my stepfather and my dad and my stepmother would all have Thanksgiving at my paternal grandmother’s house. It was just life.
Fast-forward to the present, where I am raising my own blended family with my daughter from a previous relationship, my husband, our son, my daughter’s father, his wife and their daughter together. Although we don’t refer to each other as spouse-in-laws (because that’s just weird!), I am thankful for what I learned from watching my mother and my stepmother.
Like it or not, raising a successful blended family goes beyond the relationship between stepparent and child; it also relies on all of the adults involved being able to build a relationship of mutual respect for one another, and to collectively parent based on the best interest of the child. Unfortunately, being able to do this for many families seems to be the exception instead of the rule.
Parenting isn’t without its bumps in the road. And blended family parenting can make those bumps even harder to take. But, keeping a few things in mind when interacting with your child’s other parents can make the road a lot smoother.
Don’t badmouth the other parents I don’t just mean no badmouthing in front of the kids, which should be a given. I mean no badmouthing, period. Not on Facebook, not to your coworkers, period. Negativity breeds negativity and having everyone else in your life giving the other parents the side-eye won’t help you in your relationship with them, especially if there are already issues.
Do make sure your kids show respect to their stepparent I’ve heard too many tales of kids being told “you don’t have to listen to your stepmother/stepfather.” As an adult, why is it appropriate to tell a child to disrespect another adult, ever? If you have an issue, it’s your job to handle it with the other adult, but make sure your child knows that he or she has to abide by the stepparent’s rules.
Do let go of the past You may have 1,001 reasons why you feel animosity toward your child’s parent and his or her new partner. But your one reason for not acting on those is your child. And that reason is more important than any of the others. The circumstances of your breakup have nothing to do with raising your child right now.
We’ve all heard that it takes a village to raise a child. Your child’s other set of parents are a part of that village. You can make it a peaceful village to give your child the best possible outcome, or a village at war where your child risks getting hurt in the crossfire.
BMWK – Are you able to successfully co-parent with your child’s other biological parent? Do you refrain from speaking negatively about the other parent? Can share your co-parenting experience?
Click the link to see more articles from Blended Families Week on the site.
Gloria Lintermans says
The roles of stepmother and stepfather are not easy, a confusing mix of similarities and differences to that of biological mother and father roles. Equally baffling are the alien roles of stepson, stepdaughter, stepsibling, and half sibling.
Teenagers, even in the best of biologically intact families, are capable of making your hair stand on end. Multiply that a few times over and you have an idea of the havoc theyre capable of within the stepfamily mix â€“ a situation where constructive discipline often goes begging. Traditional biological â€“ family discipline often backfires, creating even less harmony, security and order, leaving everyone wondering not only what should be done but by whom.
Do you and your mate disagree on what â€œeffectiveâ€ discipline is? Do you and your spouse discipline through pain, guilt and frustration instead of using discipline to guide, teach and protect by respectfully asserting yourself? Do you usually enjoy being a stepparent, or do you endure it? As a stepparent do you:
1.Feel uncomfortable with, or unsure of, your authority?
2.Feel significantly criticized about how you discipline your stepchild by someone whose opinion matters?
3.Feel too little disciplinary support from your partner, i.e., you often feel â€œIts me against them?â€
4.Feel significantly disliked and disrespected by your stepchild and feel hurt, resentful, torn, and guilty?
Perhaps you honestly dont like your stepchild â€“ which shapes how you co-parent him or her. Your partner may want you to discipline his child differently (more strict/less strict/more friendship), and you dont really want to or dont know how.
The first step is to adopt a long-term problem-solving outlook. The short-term rifle shot of â€œI want Jenny to start cleaning up her room nowâ€ isnt going to work. Adopt a co-parent, partnership attitude: â€œThis is our problem,â€ instead of â€œIts me against you here.â€ Accept that its not a matter of simple â€œobedienceâ€ or â€œthe mess in her room.â€ Effective discipline is about a group of deeper unmet needs that you and your partner need to uncover together, focus on one at a time, and resolve over time.
Work with your partner to develop the skill and confidence needed to spot and dismantle toxic relationship triangles. Discipline conflicts promote them, which makes lasting solutions all the more evasive.
SORTING IT OUT
When your stepchild disobeys and efforts to gain his or her consistent cooperation arent working, you need to look at the real problems underneath the defiance. When your stepchildren havent grieved their losses enough, you and your partner (including ex-mates) need to do this together and with compassion. Without exception, all stepfamilies are based on major sets of broken bonds, i.e., losses, for adults and kids alike; the loss from a gradual or sudden breakup of their biological family through separation and divorce, death, or desertion. Surprisingly, another set of broken bonds comes from remarriage and/or people from different families moving in together.
Children (biological and step) often test for safety, not because theyre rejecting you. If this is the case, support their needs, learn specifically what it will take for them to feel safe, and assert your needs patiently while they test.
Your stepchildren may be overwhelmed with their many developmental and adjustment tasks in this new household and may be paralyzed or angry about having to do them, through no fault of their own. Pay attention, often steady support, and praise their progress as they adjust, over time.
As a stepparent, you may be trying to discipline too soon. You have to earn your stepchilds respect and trust over many months, after the wedding. Whenever practical, let your mate set limits and enforce consequences. Concentrate on earning the childs trust and respect, without being a doormat. Assume disciplinary authority gradually.
Does your stepchild perceive (correctly?) that the limits you set are disrespectful demands instead of requests? If so, learn communication skills and change your attitude. Your message needs to become one of equal respect.
Your partner, your stepchilds other (biological) parent, or someone else may be sabotaging your disciplinary authority by either overtly or covertly encouraging your stepchild to disobey you. Confront this person respectfully and firmly about his or her actions (but not his or her character, which will cause the person to become defensive and sabotage your intent). Work to uncover the real needs underneath the sabotage and solve these problems, if possible. Free your stepchild from being caught in the middle.
You might have unrealistic expectations of yourself, your partner, and/or your stepchild â€“ e.g., Im an adult, so my stepchild must willingly respect and obey me. Wrong. Adjust any unrealistic expectations and check the results over time.
Your teenage stepchild might be experimenting appropriately with early independence â€“ just as youre trying to get your stepfamily to bond together. Become an expert on what teems need to be able to break away safely. Refocus from bonding, obedience and acceptance to helping the child leave your new nest, over time. Try to see the â€œrebellionâ€ as normal testing, not personal rejection â€“ and respectfully assert your boundaries while the teen learn.â€
YOU WILL NEED PATIENCE
Every one of these problems is â€œnormal.â€ Improving your stepchild discipline problems will ground and empower you. Guard against wasting valuable time, energy, hope and patience on ineffective surface solutions. Earn the deep satisfaction and joy of raising relatively healthy, productive children.
Take heart. Over time, your stepfamily can grow to be a reliable, healing refuge of warmth, contentment, safety, respect, fun, and support. To get and savor these rare plums, the earliest challenge for you and your partner â€“ and then your kids, ex-mates, and key relatives â€“ is to clearly accept that together you make up a difference kind of normal family: a stepfamily. If you do not accept your true stepfamily identity in your hearts, you are at great ongoing risk of striving endlessly to be what you are not â€“ a biological family. For most co-parents and minor kids, this becomes increasingly stressful and frustrating. Its like trying desperately to make your poodle into a pony. It cant, and you wont.
Ultimately, the unexpected complexities, confusion, disillusionment, and lack of informed help combine to crack and ultimately destroy so many stepfamilies. In stunned disbelief, previously divorced biological parents and their minor (and grown) kids find themselves living the horrors, agony, financial, and conceal convulsions of family breakup and divorce â€“ again.
Gloria Lintermans is the author of THE SECRETS TO STEPFAMILY SUCCESS: Revolutionary Tools to Create a Blended Family of Support and Respect.