1. Communication: If only I’d had the benefit of being able to sit down with the children’s mother when my husband and myself were getting serious. We knew this was a longterm relationship in the making and that I would be spending a lot of time with the kids. If I had been a mom, I would have wanted to check out my kid’s potential step mom and set some expectations. I figured that it would be a given. However, it was almost two years before I saw her face to face. This is because without any warning, she decided to move across the country. She is not exactly the type to call or skype for long chats with her ex’s new wife or even her ex about parenting. At the point I finally met her I had been a fulltime step mom to her kids for almost two years without her influence. The best thing I was able to do in the situation I was in was to have the support of my husband. He and I talked about everything concerning discipline with his kids. He told me what he expected and how I should handle things. When I wasn’t sure I would text him or ask him for advice before I jumped into doing things my own way. Constant communication is a must between all parents involved. If some parents choose not to participate, they need to know before hand that if it is their choice to not have any influence in the matter at hand, then they should not complain about it later. Even better, they should participate without complaint. Compromising between all adults is key.
2. Support: In my blended family I was an adult coming into a family. I had no children of my own. As a wife my main role is to support my husband in his decisions on his parenting, including discipline. He is respectful of me and always asks my opinion on things. I can give constructive criticism and I can also receive it. As a step mother, my main role is to support my step kids. This includes supporting their relationship with their father. He is their main parent and they need him. I am also obligated to support their right to have a lasting, healthy relationship with their mother. Listen, it doesn’t matter if she doesn’t like me. It does not matter if I like her. It doesn’t matter what her priorities are or even if the kids are not her priority. The point is that I know I cannot come between them. This means that I will not talk about the mother of my step children in a way that would be unflattering to her or ultimately to myself. I don’t undermine her or her authority in their lives in any way. This is my policy. She is their mother, the only biological one they have. They love her no matter what her good points or her faults are. As adults we need to remember this everyday. Sometimes we need to look for the good in people as difficult as it may be. Do not demean the other parent or step parent to the children. It is not the kids’ fault they are in this situation. Do what is right for the kids, no matter how much it hurts you.
3. Approach with caution!: Keep in mind that each child is going to react differently and for good reason. I found that with my step son who was six when I met him and my step daughter who was two, that I had more influence when it came to discipline. My twelve and thirteen year old step daughters were a different story. They already have a long, memorable history with their mom that the others do not. It was also I who came to live with them in their mother’s house. It didn’t matter that she was the one who left. I was the “newcomer”, so I didn’t have the built-in authority that Mom did. When I came along with new and different standards for things, I was not appreciated. Of course If you belong to a family where there are kids from both parents there are other issues that need to be kept in mind. For instance, making sure all kids are bound to the same rules and the same standards no matter who they belong to. If someone messes up, make sure the punishment fits the crime. This is why I think it’s important for all adults to get together in the beginning and make some rules, hold everyone accountable to them and renegotiate if something isn’t working. When I say everyone needs to be accountable, I am including the adults. It is important to consider everyone in the making of the rules and to have the opinion of others to come to agreeable solutions so that everything is above-board. Overdoing it or being much too lenient will ensure there are multitudes of opinions that can get in the way. The last thing any parent or step parent wants to hear is that they have not been giving fair treatment to all.
4. Guidance: As a step parent, you are in a precarious role and trying to exert your will with your step children will backfire. You can’t always be their friend, because you are an authority figure who needs to be respected and listened to. However, you can be there to listen and to guide them. While you may not be giving out punishment to all or any of your step children, depending on your own unique family situation, you are going to have to see yourself in a role of leadership within the household. Remember, your step kids will be watching and doing an awful lot of mental note taking. If you don’t enforce rules, they will get the wrong idea and might start taking advantage of you. You need to let them know that you mean business and are not a doormat, but just as important is letting them know that you are there to help them. While you can’t get them out of a punishment or bend the rules for them all the time, you can help show them where they went wrong and what they can do to avoid more of the same consequences. Be constructive with gentle criticism, and avoid hurtful words. Explain what would have been or could be a better way to handle things. Talk to them. You have a unique position in that depending on your relationship with them, they may be able to talk to you about things they might not talk to a parent about. You might be able to build confidence in them and that will only help your relationship with them. Just remember that step kids come with many challenges. Of course, loyalty to parents plays a huge role in how comfortable some kids are in building a relationship with a step parent or how close they will let themselves get to you. Let kids know it’s okay that they are loyal to their parents and that you respect that. You may even build some respect for yourself.
5. Perspective: Once again, as a step parent, you have the ability to be able to bring balance and perspective to a situation. Use that ability like it’s a super power. Just like you would expect a parent to come to you if they had a problem in the way you deal with their child, be an advocate for everyone involved. Your input into the upbringing of your step children is important after all. Even if they do not live fulltime with you and your partner, chances are you will have a big influence in their lives. Always keep this in mind and use that influence wisely. Make sure what you do and say is for the greater good of everyone. If you do, you can be a voice of reason for everyone and that just might help make the times when discipline is needed a bit smoother for kids and adults alike.