Art of Discipline in Blended Families
I am willing to bet that one of the most difficult and controversial topics in blended family life is discipline. How to you even begin to discipline a child when they are only home half of the time? Is it okay to want to enforce consequences at both homes or should it only happen in yours? Is that overstepping to the other parent? What if one parent doesn’t agree or even see why the child is being disciplined in the first place? How do you keep consequences consistent across two different households? Should you even?
Asking for a friend, of course.
If being a parent of a middle schooler is hard then being a parent of a middle schooler in a blended family is a million and a half times harder. For real. Not only are they just starting to push boundaries even further but they are pushing boundaries at two homes and learning the art of playing one household against the other. They are learning what they can get away with at one and how they can dodge expectations at the other. So what are you supposed to do when you are trying to raise a responsible and respectful child and they need to be disciplined? How do you logistically do consequences when your child has two homes, two sets of expectations, and two parenting styles? Seems complicated, right? Because it is.
Let me just set the stage for you. It’s Sunday evening which also happens to be transition day eve. Your child misbehaves and does not do what they are told. You and your husband take away their cell phone and electronics for a week as this is the natural consequence that comes with not listening and doing what they are told. The child knows this consequence is coming and expects it. Except when your stepchild hears, “you are grounded from all electronics for one week” in their mind they think “awesome I am only grounded for the rest of tonight because tomorrow I am at my other house for a few days and will get it all back.” And let’s be honest… do you know how many times my husband and I have grounded my stepson from something only to have him go to his mom’s house and come back a few days later and we forgot all about it? So many times. Are we the only guilty ones that have done this? There have definitely been times where we have remembered and he really has gone months without the X-Box, but there are also more times than I can count where we grounded him only to forget when he comes back home 5 days later. We are human after all. This is one of the most frustrating things for my everything-has-to-be-consistent-and-perfect mind. One of the very first things my mom taught me was the importance of consistency when raising children and look who is screwing that up left and right with my stepchild? Me.
How do you parent effectively in the area of discipline across two households? I’ll tell you one thing – whatever we had been doing hadn’t been working. What were we doing? Implementing consequences in our home but not including the other house and letting them know what we were doing. There was no open communication when it came to discipline and consequences. We have had the same conversations in our household over and over, week after week, and nothing seems to stick. Well gee, I wonder why! We have consequences for actions while my stepson is here but sometimes, like tonight, he may be leaving the next day to go to his mom’s house. How effective is taking away all electronics “for a week” when in all actuality it is only for an evening? Does that really get through to them? Do they actually feel the consequence? Does that teach them anything at all? Nope. Not even a little bit.
So, plan B.
Sometimes the best thing you can do as the stepmom is know when to encourage your husband to call the kids biological mom – even when they don’t want to.
Part of our job as stepmom’s is to try to be the voice of reason. Are we perfect at it? Absolutely not. But I think somewhere inside of all of us is the voice of reason that enables us to see and know when it is time to encourage our husbands to get the kids biological mom involved. Like most husbands that is going to be met with resistance but we really should be encouraging them to get them involved when needed. And quite honestly in situations like discipline and consequences I think it might be vital to do just that. I’m fairly certain that every parent in blended families wants to raise their child to be a responsible, respectful, and capable adult and sometimes that means putting your big girl panties on and knowing when to try and reach across to the other household for support. Even in the midst of chaos, or when nobody is getting along, or when everyone is getting along just fine. Maybe in your situation it is easier for everyone if you are the one to communicate with the biological mom so you reach out to her. Maybe your husband has open communication with her and he can do that. Or maybe your husband, like most, would rather do anything in the world but have to talk to her and you have to be the one to nudge him to call. Whatever that looks like for you there are times when you just have to work together with bio mom… even if you don’t want to. Even if nobody wants to.
As for the art of disciplining in blended families… I’ll have to get back to you on that. The only thing that I know for certain is that sometimes the best thing we can do as the stepmom is know when to encourage our husbands to get the biological mom involved so that everyone is on the same page. Because discipline is not going to be effective if it only happens on certain days of the week – both households need to be on board and on the same page in order for your stepchild to learn any kind of lesson. Whatever the consequence is may look different at each household based on what they have at their home. Maybe it is taking away all electronics, maybe it is taking away the bike or skateboard, maybe it is no time with friends, or maybe it is an early bedtime. Whatever the actual consequence is may vary from house to house but there should still be some form of consequence at both homes if one has implemented one. Otherwise it negates what the other household is doing and why even try to enforce consequences if that is the case. And at that point why even try to parent at all. Let’s just be our kids friends and not care what kind of adult they grow up to be. Sarcasm, of course.
So, mama’s. Listen to that soft little voice of reason. Put your big girl panties on. And know when to encourage your husband to get the biological mom involved.
That is all I’ve got for now.
ps. You are doing a great job. I know it is hard but you’ve got this.