Stepfamily Discipline Issues

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Tales from the Parent Zone

Thom, like many stepfathers, is having a hard time because he's been cast as the “heavy” in the family (both he and his new wife Mona are responsible for this). He's trying to impress Mona with his control of the situation, and at the same time, he's struggling to get comfortable with another man's children. Thom's situation is not uncommon. Sometimes a leap into discipline by a stepfather comes from not understanding any other way to deal with a lack of respect. Or sometimes it's in a misguided attempt to “straighten up” a child who is in real disciplinary trouble.

Laying off the authority can be very difficult, especially if your stepkids are out of control, treating you or their mother terribly (or ignoring you completely). First, understand that it's not necessarily personal. Many kids newly “in step” have been used to a lot of independence during and after their mother's divorce. Then, rely on your partner to take control. She is the mother, after all, with all the love, history, and biological ties to give her authority. Communicate with her about what you both want and need from the situation. (Communication is essential for shared parenting.) She may need some help with behind-the-scenes support. Do it, and resist the urge to step in and start (metaphorically) swinging.

Here's the rule: The rougher things get, the more gentle you get. Stay involved and concerned, stay positive; provide verbal encouragement and other positive reinforcement. Show respect for your stepkids. Work on liking them (it's not a requirement). Positive prevention truly works.

Discipline as a Stepmom

Tales from the Parent Zone

Two years into a stepfamily, and everybody feels fairly comfortable. Discipline by the stepparent is accepted, and trusting relationships have been established. But experts say it takes about seven years to completely combine a family. As a longtime stepmother myself, I can tell you that in our case, the experts were right. About seven years into our stepfamily adventure, we all finally felt like a “real” family.

The word stepmother unfortunately conjures up images of Cinderella's and Snow White's evil stepmoms. Stepmothering is a tough job, and according to most experts, it's the most difficult role in the stepfamily. (At the very least, it's the most demanding.) As stepmother, the rest of the family looks to you to be all things to all people, and there's very little thanks involved. Stepmothers often end up feeling overworked and unappreciated (and, alas, sometimes even evil!).

Perhaps the most difficult of all stepmothering tasks is discipline. How do you work through the difficulties and gain satisfaction? Believe me, it's possible; it just takes time, patience, and planning. Here are some suggestions for handling disciplinary issues and thriving as a nonwicked stepmother:

  • It's not your job. Don't let your partner dump the discipline on you! Work as a partnership, following the progression of the “The Disciplinary Evolution of a Stepparent.”
It's a Good Idea!

If all the parents (both biological and step) get along (or at least appear to), a tremendous weight is lifted from the kids. Try as hard as you can. Bite your tongue. Be noble. Pinch yourself. Do whatever it takes to maintain civility in front of the kids.

  • Never, ever, ever badmouth the biomother. I don't care how horrible, crazy, and demanding she may be. It will lose you the trust of your stepkids; it will begin a war with the stepmom; it's bad news. Confide in a friend, vent (privately) with your partner, but never let your stepkids hear a peep out of you.
  • Part of modeling good behavior is letting your stepkids, particularly your stepdaughters, see you as a strong woman. Don't put up with being a pushover, don't let yourself be taken advantage of, and stand up for your own rights. You're doing your kids a favor to model a strong, reasonable person.
  • At least for a while, think about presenting yourself in an alternative role to “mother,” especially if the kids' mother is still living. How about taking the model of an aunt, a big sister, a wise older friend of the family? This role is less threatening than marching in and trying to “mother” the kids.

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to a Well-Behaved Child © 1999 by Ericka Lutz. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit Amazon's web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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