“You’re not my father, you can’t tell me what to do.” Followed by a slam of the door. Another slam.
Technically, he’s right. He’s not. But that doesn’t help the situation.
Step-parenting and blended families are not as uncommon as they used to be but that doesn’t make it any easier to navigate through. So we went to Child Psychologist, Cliff Battley to share some insight on how to tackle the step-parenting family dynamic.
Of course, every single household is different but hopefully, you’ll be able to bring some of this advice on board and make it work for your family.
Cliff’s Step-parenting Strategy
1. Communicate openly
There’s going to be some issues, some resentment, some disrespect. You may feel like your partner is parenting all wrong, that the kids are running rings around you and that you’re being discluded.
You can’t let these feelings fester. Instead, talk it out. With your partner and with the kids. Calmly.
Sometimes your step-child is going to disrespect you, plain and simple. Sometimes they are going to see you as competition between them and your partner or sometimes even resent you because you live in the house whilst their biological parent doesn’t.
That’s why communication, not just between you and your partner, but between you and the kids is so very important,” Cliff says.
Don’t go straight into disciplining or reprimanding them though (more on this step-parenting rule later).
2. Consider your intentions in step-parenting
Ask yourself, “Why am I in this relationship? Why have we decided to come together as a blended family?” Then, ask your partner the same thing (when the kids aren’t around).
You and your partner need to be on the same page with what you’re doing.
Check that your intentions match. You are both going to parent in the same house and you’re both going to show leadership to these children.
Success requires unity. Talk about how you’re going to raise the kids and how you’ll decide on and implement boundaries when it comes to disciplining them.”
3. Shift your perspective
“My step-child has no respect for me”; “The way they speak to me is appalling”; “They don’t do what I say”, or “They purposely defy me and I just get so angry about that”.
All so common. But, remember YOU are the adult. You’re the calm, rational one. Well, you have to be in this situation at least.
Take this not as an attack on you, even though it feels like it is. Try to see what could be causing this reaction.
When they defy you, it’s not usually coming from a place of disrespect. More often than not, they’re trying to reach out for your love and attention. To simply know they matter to you. That you care and listen,” – Cliff says.
4. Don’t fight back
That being said, under no circumstances are you to fight back and come down to their level!
They will beat you with experience down there. They’ll keep you fighting until you both end up unhappy.”
What you can do however, is play it NEUTRAL.
When they are being rude to you:
- Keep your voice down and tell them, in a neutral tone, that you won’t respond until they want to speak to you calmly and nicely.
- The next time they ask you for something like a ride somewhere or some pocket money you can say, “You know, I’d really love to do that for you, but you’ve been rude to me this week so we need to chat about that before I give you a ride/give you pocket money”.
According to Cliff,
This serves two fantastic outcomes. It forces your step kids to think about the way they treat you and prepares them for the real world, because as we all know, in life, you cannot expect someone to do things for you when you are nasty to them. We must give in order to receive.”
5. One home, one set of rules
Set even, clear and understandable rules for all members of the family. This means you too. Just because you are a step-parent and they are children doesn’t mean that you don’t live by the same standards, rules and behaviours.
Remind them that we all have chores to do, we all have responsibilities and that those rules and behaviours earn the same rewards and age-appropriate consequences.”
Meet regularly as a family and openly discuss these rules and responsibilities together. Listen to what the kids have to say and work together towards a united goal. Remember, as a family, you are a team. Successful teams meet regularly and work together.
6. Look for ways to connect
This is not just a physical connection, but more of a general connection with your step-child.
Sometimes your step-kids don’t feel like they count in their other parent’s world that isn’t living with them. Sometimes your kids are going to feel lonely or they just don’t know how to talk to you and relate to you because you’re not their biological parent.
So take the lead and connect, lean in and show them that they matter. Let them know they are important to you; no matter what they do, what they say or what they think, you are always going to be there for them and have their back. No matter what!”
7. Show them you are there
Even if they don’t want you to be or don’t seem to care, prove you are there for them. Go along to special occasions, cheer them on at school events and celebrate their successes.
You don’t need to do much to show them you care and that you’re there for them. It can be as simple as making them a cup of tea and being there to listen, even if it’s sitting on the couch and not talking whilst they watch TV. Just be present.”
8. Don’t take on the role of discipline
I know some will disagree with me here but I believe this one wholeheartedly. Dr Phil agrees too. He says if the child you’re step-parenting is over three, don’t discipline. The kids won’t like it, your partner won’t like it and you probably won’t like the reaction and resentment.
It’s probably impossible NOT to put in your two cents, especially when a step-child is blatantly being a jerk, but talk to your partner about the behaviour instead of jumping the gun.
You will be limited when it comes to disciplining your step-children but you can make up for that with strong leadership.” – Cliff explains.
9. Be a role model
Kindness, fairness, honesty, respect. These things matter to adults and kids. Just be a decent human being around them.
You may not be their dad or mum, but you are still in their lives, are still an important role model and are still moulding them through your words and actions.
10. Don’t expect it to all fall into place right away
It won’t. Some days will be great and then other days will suck and you’ll be left wondering what exactly happened? Some weekends your step-child may return from his other parent’s home and hate you all over again.
By being calm, being respectful and simply being there, you are doing everything right.
You’ve chosen to love this child unconditionally. Your step-child is in a new world that they did not sign up for – it’s strange, scary and uncertain.”
It will take time, patience and persistence to build this relationship. But you’ll get there. And it will be more than worth it.
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