Trying to blend a family, especially when children are involved, isn't easy. The step-parent often feels like an outsider because the biological parent sees the children as theirs. If they see their children as theirs, they may believe that they have to be protective. This is especially true if the step-parent's way of disciplining is different from theirs.
Often biological parents don't enforce boundaries with children the way they would have with their original partner. They may feel guilty because the children do not have that other parent, so they try to "make up for it" by being more lenient.
There is an
elephant in the room
that needs to be examined.
The elephant is that the biological
parent may love their partner a little
less than they love their children.
There is an elephant in the room that needs to be examined. The elephant is that the biological parent may love their partner a little less than they love their children. As a result, the step-parent often feels like they have little authority, and that their partner undermines the authority they do have. The children may even remind the step-parent that they are not their parent and have no right to discipline them.
This scenario is not only true for blended families; we have seen it in families where there are two biological parents. One parent may protect their children from their partner when they think the other parent is being too strict. They are undermining their partner as well as taking away their authority with their children. We have seen this undermining even when the discipline is logical and fair.
For me, one of the best suggestions for empowering parents dealing with this issue is found in the book Parenting with Love and Logic. When a child or young person is misbehaving, the parent can say, "I am not happy with what you are doing but I am not sure what I want to do about it so I am going to talk to your step-parent/other parent. Don't worry, we will get back to you." Then the parent talks with their partner and the two of them decide how they want to treat the misbehaving.
Several good things come out of this approach. One, this approach gives authority to both parents. Second, it is a "we" approach that unifies the parents in the child's eyes. Third, the parent is not acting out of anger, but has cooled off and is disciplining in a way that is logical and enforceable.
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
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