Top 10 Questions From Stepparents About Kids
Susan Davis (Founder and Director, StepFamily Center) gives expert video advice on: How do I get my stepkids to listen to me?; What if my spouse sides with the kids instead of me?; What can I do to get my stepkids to like me? and more...
What if my spouse sides with the kids instead of me?
If your spouse is siding with the kids instead of you-- it's going to depend on how early in the relationship you're talking about. Understand first of all that your spouse is going to feel very guilty and caught in the middle a lot of the times and wanting to protect their children. But it's certainly something that you need to talk about with your spouse away from the children, that this is happening, and what it feels like, and let her or him tell you why and what's going on for them so you can begin the dialogue of, "I feel like I'm on the outside." Then he or she could tell you that they feel caught in the middle. You can begin to navigate this over time. If it continues for a long time, there's definitely a problem in your relationship because here she is just going to triangle off with the children, you're not going to be able to form a balance in the household that you're going to need to not cause marital problems.
What if I don't like my stepkids?
That's a really tough one if you don't like your stepchildren, and I would have to say to you that there's probably a time in every step-parent's experience where they don't like their stepchildren, because they are not going to be accepting you when you think they should be and particularly if they're older. They're not going to take an intervention from you or discipline from you, or there'll be times they don't even want you there, and you are going to feel that they are ungrateful, that they're not appreciative. I mean this is pretty typical, so you're not going to like them. Try to remember that this is hard on them too and they're going to grow up, and if you could leave that door open that they're going to grow up into adults one day and they'll change too, then maybe you could just put it in a context. They're being a teenager right now, this is really complicated for them. A lot of people don't even like their own kids when they're teenagers, I mean it's really hard, so bear that in mind. And if you've been a parent before, try to remember that there were probably time that you didn't like your kids either but you loved them. The difference here is you don't love these kids and that does make a difference, so just consider that.
Is it possible to overstep my boundaries as a stepparent?
It is so possible for you to overstep your boundaries as a stepparent. Because if you want too hard to be the friend, want too hard to all of a sudden be the one who tells them what to do or tells the parent what to do, or helps with the homework, or all of a sudden you're there and you're just too much, too fast. You can really overstep those boundaries. The good news is everyone is going to let you know. So if you're paying attention, and you're not just barreling like a bull in a china shop, everyone is going to let you know. So don't be insulted; use that as a guide to say "I'm coming on too strong. I just need to step back. Take it a little slower here."
What if my spouse and I don't agree on how to discipline?
Discipline, and how to discipline children, is a hard enough thing when you're a couple that have gotten together and have your own children. And very often couples who get together and decide to have children together don't even discuss these things. They don't even talk about discipline until all of a sudden it's time to discipline and they realize they're on two separate pages. You and your partner need to talk about your disciplining styles. The closer you are, the easier this will be. The farther apart you are, the harder this will be. And remembering again, that your step-family has a high failure rate. You need to decide if you have to be right or if you're willing to make concessions. Because if you have to be right and it has to be your way, you're probably not going to be accepted into the step-family. You're always going into it feeling as an outsider and that's the part that belongs on you as the step-parent. For the biological parent, you need to decide if you're going to only hold your way or if you're going to accept some influence by the new partner in your life. Because maybe they have something to offer that will also help you with your parenting. Maybe your kids do need a little more discipline, or maybe you are being a little too harsh. So see if you can open this up, but you need to discuss it-- Where are you different, where are you alike-- and then see if there are some concessions each of you can make to get a little closer to the middle.
Will my stepkids like me more if I don't discipline them?
If you want to be like the Disney Land dad, if you want to be the Disney Land step-parent that you just won't discipline them and then their biological parent is the bad guy yeah your kids will like you a lot but you're partner will hate you. So it's not your role to discipline them at the beginning at all. So you're going to get a free pass there, they're going to like you but there's going to be a point as you integrate more into the household where you need uphold the rules of the house. Which implies then you're supporting the parent in the discipline. If you don't do that and you've split the children off from their parent you're going to cause marital problems. So you have to decide, do you want to be liked by the kids because it won't matter because you're not going to have a marriage. So it's really not going to help you to maintain that as the way of being in the family.