Sunday, December 4, 2011

Terrible Advice about Stepmothers and Discipline

I’m interrupting my series of posts about learning to love your stepchildren to respond to some terrible step-parenting advice that’s landed in my inbox.

I signed up for a step-parenting e-newsletter to see what they had to say. Most of what I’ve read so far has rankled me, including this:

"One of the top questions stepparents ask is 'how should I discipline my stepchild?' And, the short answer is 'you don’t' . . . Come up with a few rules to start, and then determine with your spouse how you will help enforce his or her authority . . . If you are going to be the primary caregiver while your spouse is at work, this conversation is especially important."
I was incredibly frustrated reading this because I’ve learned first-hand that relying on your husband to be the only one in your family who disciples the kids will end up making you miserable. (Scroll down to my August 24 post for more about why this is a bad idea.)

One of the first things you need to do when you and your partner move in together is sit down and talk to the kids about what your new household will be like. You can’t cover everything, of course, but try and let them know what you expect from them and what life will be like in your home. It’s important to explain to the children that they will be required to treat you with the same respect that they treat their other parents, that this is just as much your house as your husband’s, and that you have just as much authority to enforce the rules as he does.

Now, I’m not saying that there isn’t an adjustment period for everyone involved. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t compromise on things or that you shouldn’t be understanding. But when it comes down to it, your step kids will need to adapt to being your (step)children just as much as you are adjusting to being their (step)parent. It may be sad for your stepchildren, and they may be mourning that fact, but the key principle you need to keep in mind is that it’s not your fault that their parents got divorced. You don’t have to give up your right to being an adult in your own home just because their biological parents aren’t living under the same roof.

This might sound a little harsh to some people, but if you’re going to be a happy stepmother then you need to see yourself as an equal partner with the children’s father and appropriately in control of your life, your family, and your home. Your new family is just that—a family, made up of adults and children. And children are still just children even if their parents are divorced. They still need guidance and boundaries and they still need to act respectfully and follow the rules.

That’s what I’ve learned, at least—what do you think?

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