Step parenting not what you expected

You and your new spouse hope that your blended family will provide the kind of loving and nurturing environment you all want and deserve. You want it to supply the missing pieces in all your lives and your hearts caused by the losses of divorce or parental death. The problem is, even though you are all together now, you feel surprisingly isolated and alone. Your biological kids are acting out in ways you have not seen for years, unhappy sharing you and their space with a step parent and step siblings. Your step kids act like you are invisible, or like you are the enemy. They speak to you rudely and treat you like a piece of furniture. They roll their eyes when you speak, ignore what you have just said, and dare you to do something about it!

Parenting by guilt or by fear

This certainly is not what you had in mind when you formed your blended family! When you try to tell your partner how rude or defiant his or her kids are being, you are reminded that they are just kids. You feel angry and misunderstood. Later on, your partner explains that being strict is hard when the kids only come over on weekends and holidays, and if it is not fun for them, they may not want to come. This argument against discipline might be filed under the category of Parenting by Guilt, cross-referenced with Parenting by Fear. Neither method does anyone any good, either in the long run, or for the short term.

You deserve respect in your blended family home

The biggest challenge step parents face is lack of respect from the step kids, and negligible support from their partners. It is truly difficult to invest in a marriage and a blended family if you feel disrespected and unappreciated.  It is easy to understand why many step parents consider giving up, especially if their blended family partner always defends the kids and acts like it is your fault when they misbehave. Partners who ally themselves with children against a step parent miss the promise of a strong couple relationship that can lend stability to children thrown into a blended family.  You are tired of being disrespected, and ready to lay down the law. Or worse yet, you are ready to pack your bags and leave.

Hold on there a minute

Before you pack your bags and leave, remember that there is a solution. Voice your unhappiness with the situation, and your disappointment, clearly, concisely, and without attacking either your partner or their kids. Arrange a special meeting away from the kids so that you two can talk without distractions.  Plan what you are going to say. Do not get angry, cry, or threaten to leave. Here are some topics you should consider:

  • Boundaries. Set clear boundaries on what behaviors you will and will not accept. Explain exactly what bothers you, being sure to tell your partner why it bothers you and how the behavior makes you feel. Ask him or her for suggestions on how to deal with their kids. Children need boundaries, and have a grudging respect for parents who set and defend them.
  • Choose your battles. Discuss what behaviors you are willing to allow and what is non-negotiable. Choose your battles, and make sure the consequences of rule-breaking fit the infraction.
  • Written rules. Work with your partner to create a clear and concise set of rules. As you decide on rules, be sure that you and your partner are united. Kids know a weak spot when they see it, and are experts at using your weaknesses to get their way. If you and your partner cannot agree on clear boundaries, you risk raising children who habitually push the limits to see how much they can get away with.
  • Be consistent with your follow through. One of the biggest mistakes parents and step parents make is to punish a child for something one day, and let it slide the next. When you are inconsistent, you teach your children to disregard authority; not just parents, but teachers, supervisors, and police too.

Stand up for yourself. Show your partner and your kids that you respect yourself, by standing up for what is important, and by being clear and consistent about what you want. Over time, your family will come closer together, and you will begin to enjoy being together, building stronger relationships, and feeling more like a family. Give yourself and your blended family members the respect you all deserve. Mutual respect is the most important value a blended family can support. When mutual respect is the by-word of blended family life, the kind of loving and nurturing environment we all want and deserve can be possible. If you need more assistance, contact The Blended and Step Family Resource Center.