This weekend, while at a family event, I was setting up one of the boys with their dinner after swimming the pool. They said to me in a rather demanding voice “I need my towel”. I responded, “please and thank-you” before handing them the towel, cuing them to use their manners and speak with respect. One of my family members said to me, in a joking tone, “Easy there step-mom”. I didn’t respond and went on with my day, however it has been on my mind ever since.
It brings up a good debate about the type of role a step-mom (or step-dad) should play in discipline. There are many different schools of thought on this. Even my own perspective has varied over time. If you would have asked me this question several years ago, I would have said that a step-parent really should not be playing a role in enforcing rules or discipline with the kids. This stems from a clear recollection of telling my dad’s girlfriends to go straight to hell any time they provided me with any sort of instruction. A. They didn’t have my respect and B. I wasn’t interested in gaining a new mother.
Even when I first began dating my husband, and then when I moved into the home, I fully believed it was not my place to enforce structure, routine or discipline. They were his kids and his responsibility.
However, now, two plus years in, I will tell you without a doubt that if I did not play some sort of role in this area, either our house would be a complete gong show, or I would have moved out by now. On top of that, I would feel like a complete outsider in the home… which is now my home too.
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” (thank got I haven’t had that one… yet).
This is a complicated question that I believe doesn’t have just one answer. There are several things that need to be considered in making this decision…
1. What does your partner think about you playing a role? Does he want you to play a role? Has he told the children that he expects them to listen to you? If you are not on the same page, and do not present as a united front, it is game over for the step-parent… as it should be. 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, or at least somewhat similar to both their mom and dad? If not, you should probably re-consider everything!! Honestly, if they are very different, you’re in for an uphill battle and ongoing drama.
3. How much time are you with the kids? Are you left in a caregiving role? If you have the kids every other weekend or sporadically, I would say can the discipline or at least bring it down to a minimum. In my case, the kids are at our home every day after school and my husband has them fifty percent of the time. Because I am home on maternity leave, there are some weeks where I am with the kids more than both their parents. Naturally, I need to play a role.
4. Do the kids respect you? Have you taken time to build a relationship with them both with their father and on your own? I didn’t come into this scenario guns a blazing trying to implement structure and routine (which is very very important to me). I had fun with the kids, got to know them, learned about their different personalities and built a relationship. I ignored the little things that I thought needed some guidance, or spoke with their dad about it. 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 to see your parents with another person, let alone having that person come in trying to tell you what to do! Always remember, it is not the kids fault that their parents could not get along, or did not stay together. They didn’t sign up for two different homes, different rules and a couple extra people trying to act like their parent. Although I believe that regardless of what your role is in discipline, children should respect all adults, when it comes to these situations you have to ask yourself whether or not you have earned it.
What are your thoughts?