Published On: Mon, Sep 10th, 2012

Step Parent Pickle

Step Parent PickleWhen I was five my mother left. It was not too many years after that life changing event that I found myself in yet another life changing event. The step family. Back then I was the only child in my class to have a stepmother, and it felt uncomfortable to say the least.

Being in a step family meant for me that suddenly someone else was now calling the shots. My father now took a back seat to managing my behaviour, not that I was difficult to manage… of course, but now my stepmother was making all the rules and dishing out all the consequences. She reminds me to this day that at a very tender age I told her she was not my mother and I did not have to do what she said.

She was not the most patient of women, and I guess had little experience with children. I too had had little experience, with a mother that is. I was used to my father calling all the shots and his full attention… mostly.

My father and stepmother had made a crucial error in these early days, and one that would set our family up for many years to come with heated arguments. So what was this huge mistake?  If you are a step parent, there is a good chance you too are making it.

A lot of parents don’t know what to do when it comes to discipline with step children. My stepmother was one of these people, and my father certainly wasn’t any help to her. Many step parents make the mistake of thinking their role is to discipline their partner’s children. This is perhaps half true. If the primary parent is not around, it would be expected that the step parent take over. It is vital though that these rules have come from the child’s parent. My rules were outlined by my stepmother, and this caused great animosity between us. My rules needed to be outlined by my father and supported by my stepmother. The role of the step parent needs to be one of support. Support to the parent of the child.

Parents and step parents can often find themselves in a disagreement about discipline. The first thing to remember here is not to argue infront of the child. Wait till the child is asleep or not around to have these types of discussions. I beg you to reach back into your childhood and remember that feeling in the pit of your stomach when you would hear adults fighting with raised angry voices at each other. Wait for the right time and talk with a cool head.

While every little hiccup cannot be foreseen, it can be helpful if you have sat down all together before or soon after the step parent has moved into the home to talk about household issues such as rules and discipline. It should be voiced at this family meeting by the parent with the child that the rules will be the same, and that the primary parent will continue to stipulate what these rules are, and that the step parents role will be one of support.

I recall when I was ten years old my step mother having one of her melt downs. I always felt it was more difficult for her to keep it together when it came to me, and that she always had to try a little bit harder. At the end of this episode, my father came into my room and quietly explained to me why she would so easily loose her temper with me moreso than my younger half brothers.

“You must understand that you’re not her biological child and it is difficult for her to feel for you as she does the boys”.  This was probably the case. But you don’t say that to a child! A child does not understand this. They are yet to experience things such as parenthood or at the very least, more of an understanding of how relationships work. I know my dad was trying to do the right thing by trying to explain, but it simply didn’t help. It only highlighted to me that I was perhaps less important and more of an annoyance to my step mother because I wasn’t hers. The most difficult thing to bare though, was the fact that it was out of my control, there was not a thing I could do to fix it. After all, I couldn’t make myself her child. My father had highlighted a problem to me that I could not do anything about.

Kids should not be made to call the step parent mum or dad. Making kids do this can cause resentment from the child and further any feelings of hostility from the parent not living with the child. What kids want to call their step parent is best off coming from them. Even then, it might need to be highlighted to the child that this may hurt the feelings of the other parent.

Most parents understand not to speak poorly of their ex to their children. This is not helpful to kids and can take a toll on long term parent child relationships. There is a good chance it can come back to bite you in the bum in the form of resentment. This is also true if parents are heard by children to be complaining about their mum or dad to the step parent. This is so easily done, as it does feel nice to have another adult around to share your annoyances with, someone that you can trust to be supportive and more than likely agree with you. Bagging out the other parent in the child’s earshot will only come back to haunt you. It may not be today or tomorrow, but it will come when they are older and have a better understanding.

There was one time my step mother bought me a dress for no particular reason. I shall never forget it. Don’t get me wrong, she worked hard to put food in my belly and clothes on my back, but going that extra mile for me felt very few and far between. You want your step kids to not be able to count the amount of times you showed them you cared and felt they were an important member of the household on only one hand. I certainly could.

By Sally-Anne Price
Copyright 2012 Mummy Weekly
www.mummyweekly.com.au


Throughtout Sally-Anne’s child centered career, she has seen many families fall apart, and some come together as step families. She feels that 30 years later, step parents are still making the same mistakes that she experienced as a child in a step family herself.


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