Stepparenting: Agreeing on Values
Chances are good that the stepparent's first reaction to the spouse's children's discipline is that it has been lax in the past. And probably they're right. Many divorced parents feel that their children have already gone through enough emotional trauma. They delude themselves that they're doing the children a favor by going easy on them, allowing them to run wild through their house, making a mess and breaking things, staying up until they decide to go to bed, saying whatever pops into their head, not picking up after themselves, and becoming unruly at restaurants. The parent excuses such poor behavior with a feeble wave of a hand and by murmuring apologetically, "What can I do?"
"I know I let my daughter get by with murder," a widow with a six-year-old said, "but it was just the two of us. She was just four and was devastated, as I was, when Charles died. I couldn't bear to be tough on her. I didn't want to upset her more. Now that Terry and I are getting married, I hate to change the rules on her. He thinks she's spoiled. I guess he's right..."
That woman's new husband will have his hands full. He'll have to gently guide his wife and reassure her that discipline can be done with love and caring, and that children really do respond to retraining. First, he and his spouse need to discuss and agree upon which rules to enforce and how that effort can best be realized. They then need to have a family meeting to share this information with the youngster. While the child might not like having to respond to these new rules, she will be learning self-discipline and self-control, traits very much needed in the world outside of one's home.
Agreeing on discipline styles is often not an easy task. We all come from different backgrounds. Our values and discipline approach come largely from the way we were raised. In addition, children absorbed values and discipline from both their biological parents. Now a stepparent is coming in with yet another group of ideas. How can the stepparent and parent work out the rules for this newly formed household?
- Discuss together what the rules of the home have been thus far. Write them down. This is not a meaningless exercise. It will force you both to put vague thoughts into words.
- Then rate which rules seem important to maintain and why. You may both decide that it isn't worth fighting about the kids making their beds each day as long as they keep the door shut. On the other hand, you may decide that bed making is a good habit to get into and that it fosters self-discipline and a sense of order. Whatever you decide, make it a unified decision and agree that it will be enforced.
- Determine how well previous house rules have been enforced. Was this effective?
- Prioritize the rules in the order each of you rank them. Then discuss your rankings, giving the reasons why you did so.
- Compromise on points as needed so both rankings are similar. You may be surprised to realize that what you may have thought was inviolate really wasn't as important as you once believed.
- Sit down with your children and stepchildren and go over the rules. Use whatever approach is appropriate for the youngsters' ages.