Unfortunately, when we think of stepparents, we often think of the wicked stepmother and ugly stepsisters in the fairy tale of Cinderella. I remember reading a different slant on this fairy tale. It was the story from the stepmother's point of view. She saw Cinderella as a brat who was spoiled by her father. She was self-absorbed and thought she was better than her stepfamily. Whatever point of view we take, it is challenging and difficult to blend a blended family. There are two households with two ways of disciplining and functioning under one roof.
We know that one of the problems in a blended family is discipline. We may not agree with our spouse on how to discipline our children. One of us may be a lot stricter than our partner. We may believe that our husband is a lot harder on our children than on his children. Consequently, we may find ourselves more protective of our own children.
Do not disagree with each other in front of the children. Jim Faye, in his book Parenting with Love and Logic, recommends that when it comes to disciplining our children, we need to present a united front. If we are the spouse who is coming into the family, we may believe that we do not have any authority to discipline. The children may even reinforce that belief by saying, "You are not my parent. I don't have to do what you tell me."
Faye recommends that we tell the child, "We are not happy with that behavior, so your mother and I will talk and get back to you later." Then the two of us are to talk and agree on the nature of the discipline. We come back as a "we" and give our response. This empowers the stepparent. It is good to do even if it is not a stepfamily. We do not want to undermine each other. We have seen undermining in several families. In one incident, the father confronted his son about an inappropriate behavior. The mother immediately verbally jumped on her husband and defended the son. Her actions made the father look powerless and wrong. It would have been more appropriate to discuss the discipline in private. Think about what that behavior does to the child. Back up your spouse!
Spending quality time. Every child needs special one-on-one time with us as parents. When the stepparent comes into the child's life, he may feel that we do not have any time for him. Before the stepparent came into his life, he had us all to himself. Now he has to share, so it is important that we spend quality time with him. We need to remember it is also important to spend time with our partner away from the children.
We will continue exploring how to blend a blended family in next month's article.
Dr. William E. Austin is a licensed psychotherapist and holds a Doctor of Divinity degree. He is a therapist with Tidewater Pastoral Counseling Services . He is well known for his warmth and sense of humor. His book, Creating Our Safe Place - Articles on Healthy Relationships, can be purchased through www.amazon.com.
Tidewater Pastoral Counseling: 623-2700