How to Handle Discipline in a Blended Family

Post written by Blended Family columnist Melissa Gorzelanczyk of Peace & Projects.

Let’s talk about discipline.

It’s a difficult subject for blended families.

Divorce or separation creates chaos in the family. Rules and expectations often become a gray area for the kids, especially during the transition time. To make it even more confusing, kids are moved from one household to the next, usually on a weekly basis. If the separated parents agree on how to raise the child, that’s excellent. Unfortunately, this is not often the case.

When Mom or Dad remarries, what role do stepparents play in discipline?

Experts recommend letting the biological parent be the direct disciplinarian.

This is great in theory.

I’ve found it doesn’t always make sense. Some behaviors need an immediate response. If I’m home with the kids, it’s my job to stop bad behavior and support Mr. Right’s house rules. Sometimes, no matter what the experts say, it’s my job to discipline the children.

We’ve learned a lot about how to handle discipline over the years. We’ve made mistakes – and made adjustments from there. Here are some guidelines to help you handle discipline in your blended family:

Define your role, together.

Talk to your spouse about what he envisions your role will be with the step children. You should both be very specific. Ask questions. Will you be scheduling their doctor’s appointments? Will you be overseeing their daily homework? What happens if expectations aren’t met? Should you tell your spouse, or enforce the consequence on your own?

By discussing your role, you have a road map to help you define it in the years to come. It’s taken 5 years of marriage for me to feel mostly comfortable in my role as a stepparent. The beginning was extremely hard. The good news is, it gets better. Talking about your role will help the process.

Rules and expectations

These have to be clear for everyone, kids included. First, create some house rules with your spouse. Write them down. I would recommend keeping them simple so the kids aren’t overwhelmed. Some basic rules to consider are things like:

  • Speak, act and treat people with respect.
  • Listen to parents.
  • Be kind.
  • Clean up after self.
  • Talk about problems.
  • Work hard.

Defining this list lets everyone know what’s expected. The biological parent should lead a family meeting to discuss the expectations. Now, your step kids won’t be as surprised – or take it personally – when they lose TV privileges for breaking a house rule.

Consequences

Just like an adult that gets a speeding ticket, your kids’ actions have a consequence. In our home, when the kids break a house rule, there’s a consequence for that choice. It helps to let them know what the consequences are. Our children are at the ages where privileges are lost as a consequence. That might mean:

  • No TV
  • No video games
  • Grounded to the house
  • Early bed
  • No phone
  • No weekend plans

You and your spouse should discuss reasonable consequences for breaking the rules. Get on the same page.

Handling backlash

I’m not sure how many times my kids have said, “You’re not even my real mom.” It’s happened a lot. And it hurts.

Here are a few good ways to respond:

  • “I’m your parent.” Leave it at that.
  • “I feel unappreciated when you say things like that.”
  • “That’s disrespectful and I don’t like it.” If you can, walk away until emotions cool down.
My advice is: Don’t engage in a power struggle with your step kids over hurtful statements. You are a parent and an authority figure in the home. That’s not something you’re going to debate with them. As for your hurt feelings, a walk, snuggle with the dog or glass of wine helps.

Asking for help

Sometimes, stepparents are doing too much. If you are overwhelmed and your home is a battlefield, it might be time to ask your spouse for extra support.

Maybe you just need to talk, or your spouse might need to take drastic measures, like giving up a hobby so he can be home to handle the kids more. First and foremost, you are his wife, and luckily for him, also his partner to help raise the kids. Feeling supported as a wife needs to come first.

Reality

Helping to raise my step kids is definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. No one is perfect. All we can do is try. What I do know is that when applied, the tips above bring peace to me. That helps bring balance to everything – our marriage, relationships with the kids and taking care of myself, too. My wish is that all stepparents can feel that way.

How involved are you with disciplining your stepchildren?

(photo source)

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