These days with divorce around 42% in North America and the UK, marrying someone with children is a strong possibility. It is important for the biological and stepparents to be on the same page when it comes to child-rearing. In some families, the biological parent does all of the discipline and the stepparent is a figure head.
Consider being parental partners as well as marital ones – with both of you sharing authority. If at an impasse on how to manage enforcing rules with children, seeing a counselor before marriage is helpful.
“It takes a village to raise a child” is very true. When I see a child about to jump off a wall or some other stunt, I tell the kid to stop because they may get hurt. When we were in New Zealand, a man on the street corrected my younger son who was acting out a bit. Why do strangers have more authority than stepparents do in some blended families?
John Rosemond is an American child psychologist who has seen bad results when the family is child-centered instead of ruled by the parent and stepparent. He said when he was young, his mother had a talk with him before her remarriage. She explained that what his new stepdad told him to do – he would do it. He was never to complain to her about his rules or discipline. When a biological parent sides with their child over how a stepparent handles a situation, “the new family’s integrity is in deep trouble.”
When a biological parent has difficulty sharing authority with a stepparent, this suggestion may help. Consider having specific house rules – one is respectful, cleans up after themselves, does assigned chores and so forth. The stepparent is enforcing house rules, and the infractions have consequences (punishment). This may make it easier to hand over the discipline reins to your spouse. I do this with visiting young guests, such as, “In this house we don’t put feet on the furniture,” etc.
Kids try to pit parents against each other in even the happiest marriages in order to get their way. Do not allow this behavior when there is a stepparent in the picture. Dr. Rosemond’s mother’s message to him prevented this from ever occurring. Have a united front and discuss issues out of ear shot of the youngsters. Keep in mind when the biological and stepparents are a team with a strong marriage, this benefits the children. They have boundaries, security, and clear guidelines.
As a part-time school nurse, I see well-adjusted children when their parents have married again. The new partners have authority and are bonded with the kids. They have assumed the parental role, and it is wonderful hearing kids tell me how great these stepparents are. In cases where the stepparent is pushed to the sidelines, I see less interactions between them and the children, which affects the bond.
Next time when you are tempted to rush in and defend your child against a new partner’s rules, stop and think about it first. Perhaps you two tweaking some rules may be helpful. One divorced mom has broken up with several fabulous men because she lets her daughters set up the rules. Her relationships with men are not about them, but rather what the girls want. When my stepmother assigned me chores and set limits, I felt part of the family, rather than a weekend guest. Remember that kids thrive on stability and knowing what to expect. Allowing your new partner to have the power to parent is a gift to your children. Do not take life so seriously and have a sense of humor with newly blended families.