This section covers a few of the most common disciplinary complications of living life "in step."
"You're Not My Parent!"
Resentment often boils out in those four little words. You might also hear, "You're not my mom, you can't tell me what to do!" These words hurtthey're meant to. Respond with calm authority in your voice, and you'll soon hear the last of this particular plaintive cry. Here are three not-so-snappy comebacks to help arm you:
- I live here and this is my house. You need to listen to me.
- I'm not your parent, but I am the adult in charge right now. I'm reminding you of the rules.
- I'm your stepparent, and you do need to listen to me.
Don't Be Wicked
Corporal punishment (spanking or hitting in any form) is never appropriate, acceptable, or effective. Spanking or hitting with an object is illegal.
Two Houses, Two Sets of Rules
When you have shared custody or a lot of visitation, it's very common for issues to come up about the differences in disciplinary approaches in each household. Take a back seat here, too. It's your partner's job to deal with his or her ex.
Kids are not always clearor explicitabout what the rules are in their other household. Your partner and her ex should communicate about such matters, and then your partner can share the information with you. Unless it's unavoidable, don't rely only on the child's report.
You may fear that the kids will be very confused if they've got two households with two different sets of rules. Kids are smart; they adapt well. Remember that you and your partner have little control over what goes on at the ex's house. Make sure the child explicitly understands the values and rules in your household, and trust that the superior modeling you are providing will "take." If you feel, however, that there is some real physical, sexual, or emotional abuse going on in the other household, don't let it slide. Get help. (See Stepfamily Problems.)
Combined Family Issues
When two families combine, there may be a collision of parenting styles, disciplinary approaches, limits, and privileges. There may also be conflicts between stepsiblings that require disciplinary action. Here are some tips for combining disciplinary styles:
- You and your partner need to actively work out your rules for behavior and discuss possible consequences.
- Move toward the middle. Ideally, the disciplinary approach of each parent should be similar, if not the same.
- Follow the Steps to Acceptance of Authority. Begin as an adviser to your partner, and remain the primary disciplinarian to your own kids.
- Make explicit your disciplinary expectations and who can say what to whom. This will help you avoid the "Don't treat my kid like that!" reaction that is common among parents married to a step.