A few years ago, while at a family event with all the kids, a family member said something to me that still irks me to this day.
I'll set the stage for you...
The kids were all swimming while the adults made dinner.
When the food was ready, like all the other parents there, I asked my stepson to get out of the pool and come eat. A little annoyed that I had interrupted his fun, he snapped "I need my towel" in rather demanding voice.
My natural reaction, as a parent and an adult, was to ask him to say "please and thank-you" before tossing the towel his way.
I didn't think twice about the request, until one of my family members said, "Easy there stepmom"
I smiled in a would you "shut up and mind-your-own-business" way and went on with our night.
It's no surprise that there is a huge debate about what type of role a step-parent should play in disciplining their stepchildren. There are so many different opinions on this topic.
Even my own perspective has varied over time.
If you would have asked me several years ago, I would have said that a step-parent really shouldn't play a role in disciplining the kids. She should take a back seat and let their dad take the reigns. This opinion, no doubt, stems from a clear recollection of telling my dad's girlfriends where to go and how to get there whenever they attempted to provided me with any sort of instruction as a child.
A. They didn’t have my respect.
B. I wasn’t interested in gaining a new mother
C. Often, they attempted to enforce rules that my dad didn't care about
D. I was kind of a brat growing up
Even after my husband and I got married, I believed it was not my place to enforce structure, routine or discipline in our home. They were his kids and his responsibility. I was there to support behind-the-scenes.
However, it didn't take me long to change my mind.
Now I can tell you without a doubt that if I didn't play some sort of role in this area, our house would be a complete gongshow.
That, and my relationship with my stepchildren has evolved and grown.
So let's tackle the question: Should a stepparent play a role in disciplining the children?
Is there any merit to the response “you’re not my mom I don’t have to listen to you”
[You can read how I responsed to that response HERE]
This is a complicated question that I believe doesn’t have just one answer.
There are several things that need to be considered when you're determining whether or not you should play a role in disciplining your stepchildren.
1. What does your partner say?
Does he want you to play a role?
Has he told the kid's that he expects them to listen to you?
Does he back you up?
If you are not on the same page, and do not present as a united front, I highly recommend staying on the sidelines.
Your husband needs to have your back. Why should they listen to you when even their dad doesn’t think they should?
2. Are your beliefs and values about discipline in the household consistent?
Again, there is no sense trying to enforce rules that neither parents believe in.
3. How much time do you spend with the kids? Are you left in a caregiving role?
If you have the kids every other weekend or sporadically, I would say leave the major disciplining to their Dad.
In our case, the kids are with us every other week, and I am the one who is home with them most of the time.
In fact, there are some weeks when I am with the kids more than both of their parents. I am often left in a caregiving role, so naturally I play a role.
NOTE: as we have embarked on the teenager years, I have taken a major step back in the parenting department - you can ready why HERE
4. Do the kid's respect you?
How do they respond when you take on this role?
Have you taken the time to build a relationship with them?
Personally, I didn't start implementing structure and routine in our home until I developed a relationship with the kids.
In those early stepmom days, we just had fun together. I got to know their different personalities and really focused on building a relationship. I ignored the little things that I thought needed to be addressed and spoke with their dad about it after the fact.
You need to remember that their world has been rocked by their parents splitting up – the last thing they want or need is someone coming in and acting like a drill sergeant.
As a child of divorce I know first hand how difficult it can be when a new person comes into your life, and immediately tries to tell you what to do.
Although I believe that no mater what, children should respect all adults - when it comes to these situations you have to ask yourself whether or not you have earned it.
It's also important to consider the outcome of your attempt. Does it cause havoc in your household? Does it create tension between you and your husband? There are so many different factors to consider when deciding what's right for you and your stepfamily dynamic.
As always, it's important to remember that there is no one size fits all approach to thriving in stepfamily life.
What works for one family, may not work for another!!
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