Discipline is always an issue in stepfamilies. Sometimes tension develops when making decisions regarding what issues need to involve the stepparent, and what issues should be handled by the birth parent without discussion.
We debate what information should be shared. Sometimes it is rather insignificant, and other times we might try to avoid discussing bigger issues like poor grades, a child sneaking out, or evidence of underage drinking, among just a few topics.
We hide information, not because it does not need to be addressed, but because we want to handle it ourselves, or we are embarrassed by our children’s behavior, or we dread the response of the spouse when they discover the problem. Though, we may trust our spouse’s judgment, it may be difficult to allow them to help discipline, or the spouse may respond in a way that we disagree with. We are on the same team, but we are not playing as one.
We want our child to make a good impression on the stepparent and not be labeled as “the problem child”. You know, I hate to say this, but, if we were to tell the truth, we want someone else’s child to be the problem, not our precious treasure.
Here is another truth; keeping secrets from your spouse can cause marital problems. The two are to become one, and that is a day-to-day practice in every area of life. We learn to become one, from two, by sharing, compromising and praying ahead of time – then coming up with a good game plan.
Typically, a stepparent rules with their head, and a birth parent rules with their heart – and somewhere in the middle is the right answer. A stepparent will tend to be stricter about following the rules and consequences; while, a birth parent looks at the heart of a child and tries to justify the behavior, giving the child the benefit of the doubt. and when needed a more gentle consequence.
Some of the things that we have decided that would help in this situation are:
1. Never talk about or gossip about the stepchildren at your work, church, or community. Of course we all need a confidant with whom to talk things over; but make sure you keep it to a friend or counselor that you can trust to you’re your business quiet. Nothing injures a relationship more than a wagging tongue.
2. Have open dialogue, agreeing that you will sometimes disagree – And that is okay! For Doc and me, we need to talk about what is going on and trust each other. Trusting someone who is not a birth parent, with your child, is difficult. We decided that, to be a team, we needed to understand our positions. With my children, I would be the catcher. I would catch and return the pitches, and call the game; and, Doc would be the backstop. If it got past me, he would have my back, and put a stop to it.
3. Challenges vary with the age and gender of the child. With Doc’s children, he had to be the coach, the catcher, and backstop with his children, because I was neither the mother, the dad nor the head of the household. But, I was his assistant coach. I was in charge of the infield – the day-to-day, the homework, cleaning up and making sure they had all they needed for school, comforts of home, or items needed for returning to their mother’s house.
Each home will be different. But being on the same team with respect and open conversations is critical to your marriage. Map out your respective roles. Try them on for size, and change them if the need arises. But keep communicating about the issues, and how to handle them with love and creativity, always remembering to take the long view. A month … a year … a decade from now ….. Will you look back and see that how you handled this problem was the right thing to do?
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