This article appeared in the February 2023 issue of HomeLife Magazine. Subscribe today!
“It’s really gotten bad,” stepdad Steve stated decisively. “I love my wife, but her kids are seriously disrespectful and uncontrollable. No matter how often I ask, or how nicely I request, she refuses to discipline her kids. They run the house.“They leave clothes, toys, and food everywhere,” he continued. “They have no accountability with electronics and watch TV, play games, and use their phones until all hours of the night. When I try to correct them, or bring any order to our house, they ignore me because their mom won’t back me up.” Steve is experiencing one of the most common issues facing today’s stepfamilies. And it’s not just the moms who are too soft; dads often won’t do it either. The stepparent ends up looking like a bully or the villain if he or she attempts to instill requirements or consequences into the madness.
To heal the situation, there must be a deeper reflection into the why it’s occurring. After the death, breakup, or divorce of the original family, parents often have a difficult time implementing and maintaining discipline. This is true because everything has radically changed.
Here are the common reasons why single parents don’t discipline.
• The parent may be grieving the loss of the marriage and family.
• The parent may feel guilty that the child is suffering.
• Single parents are often exhausted; it’s easier to just give in.
• The ability to have rules has diminished due to two homes.
• The discipline structure may be very different in the other home.
• The former spouse may be sabotaging the relationship between the parent and child, causing the parent to want to “win the child.”
• The parent fears losing the child’s affections, creating a “need to please.”
• They don’t seek resources or classes to learn how to be a single parent.
If a parent doesn’t address these issues and learn how to become a healthy, stable, balanced, and wise single parent after the death or divorce, he or she will bring huge problems into a remarriage. This is the key reason why stepfamilies struggle and have a higher divorce rate. Rather than self-reflect, the blame is instantly placed on the other biological parent or the other home as to why the child is struggling. However, if the parent learns what’s necessary to become a structured, sensible, single parent, and he or she knows how and when to set boundaries and consequences, things will go smoother in the next relationship.
Many men and women step into a stepfamily with one of two erroneous thoughts regarding parenting.
• “Whew, what a relief. Now I’ve got a spouse to help me get these kids in shape. She will teach them how to behave.”
• “I know we don’t have much structure in this house, but we do all right. After all they have been through, they’re still great kids. They need to be able to relax and have fun while they are in this house. My new spouse will be OK with that.”
This is when the battle begins. The parent feels the stepparent is too harsh.The stepparent feels the parent is too lenient. Who’s right? Who’s wrong?Often, it’s both. And they didn’t discuss it nearly enough before entering the remarriage.
Lines of Communication
So, what’s a guy like Steve to do? Here are a few things he (and you) can say.
1. Communicate. I don’t want to fight. Let’s have a loving heart-to-heart conversation on what is the best way to handle this problem.
2. Explain. I care about your kids. You think I don’t have compassion for them, but I do.
3. Recognize. I don’t see your kids through the same lens you do, but that isn’t always a bad thing. I can sometimes see things you don’t.
4. Repent. I’m sorry if I’m being too hard on them. I realize I was raised differently, and I need to become better at hearing your side.
5. Distinguish. This is harder than we thought it would be. We’re trying to do this like a biological family, but the dynamics are radically different.
6. Acknowledge. We didn’t know what we didn’t know.
7. Discover. We now know that being a parent and stepparent are two different roles. I must learn my role.
8. Concede. A stepfamily isn’t less than a biological family — it’s merely different. We can learn a better way. The traditional marriage classes and resources don’t address blended family issues. They aren’t working for us.
9. Find Resources. There are now many Christian resources specifically designed for stepfamilies.
10. Don’t parent more than the parent. The number one mistake I keep making is attempting to discipline and become the boss over the kids who aren’t my biological children.
Stepfamilies can and do learn how to have harmony. However, it usually requires obtaining tools that are very different than traditional marriage resources.
About the author:
Laura Petherbridge is a full-time international author, speaker, and life coach. She is a featured expert on the DivorceCare resources. Laura and her husband of 33 years, Steve, reside in Atlanta. She has two married stepsons and two grandchildren. Learn more about Laura at TheSmartStepmom.com.