Gara Hoke Lacy on the hardships of step parenting, and the five best ways to deal with a difficult child.
Parenting is difficult under the best of circumstances. Harder still, is parenting another’s children, even if those children belong to the person whom you love and trust most in the world.
But some challenges are more difficult than others. For a stepparent, dealing with disrespectful behavior from stepchildren can cause resentment and tension not just in the stepparent/stepchild relationship but in the marriage.
While it is not expected that a child will fall immediately in love with their stepparent, they must know that they are not allowed to be disrespectful. You must not allow insulting or rude behaviors to become entrenched. Instant love is most often a myth. However, respect is a way of life.
It’s important to acknowledge the reason (or reasons) for the disrespectful behaviors. Children may still be grieving the loss of the biological family. Perhaps the time variable was not enough for them to work through their own feelings regarding the dissolution of their parents’ marriage.
Children may also feel jealous of the new stepparent. When couples marry, there is an added permanence not implied in dating or living together. Once the temporal nature of the relationship is left behind and the stepparent is a fixture in their lives, children are faced with the realization that they will continue to share their mom or dad.
Also, loyalty to the absent biological parent can cause hard feelings. A child may want to draw near to a stepparent, but feels that desire may compromise their mother-child or father-child relationship.
Or, it could be normal adolescence rearing its ugly head.
Whatever the reason, the issues need to be resolved before they cause permanent damage to the stepfamily unit or ultimately, the marriage. To take on the trials facing your family, you must forge ahead with a united front, with the biological parent taking the lead.
“Don’t worry that children never listen to you; worry that they are always watching you.” – Robert Fulghum. Parents are role models for their children. If you want respect, you must show respect. It is a two-way street. Don’t merely tell children what respect is, show them what respect looks likes. It does not consist of cursing, yelling, arguing, ignoring, refusing requests or name-calling. It does consist of active listening, being responsive, acknowledging another’s needs and plentiful amounts of compassion. In short, practice what you preach.
2. Rules and Consequences
All families, no matter their complexity or composition, must have rules to effectively ensure that everyone’s needs are being met. Rules promote the common good and resolve disputes. Societies exist upon rules and home is the first opportunity that parents have to introduce this concept.
All things should be equal for all kids in the household. If there are step-siblings or half-siblings in the home, it is of utmost importance to be consistent with both rules and consequences, provided they are age appropriate. No parent should favor one child over another because it undermines the parenting process.
Stepparents are not and should not be disciplinarians. While rules and consequences should be created with the aforementioned united front, discipline should be the purview of the biological parent in the home. There may come a time when the stepparent has earned the right to step into the role of disciplinarian but certainly not until mature relationships equipped with trust and confidence evolve.
3. Appropriate Expression
Misbehaving may be an expression of a child’s feelings because they do not know of other ways to express themselves. Empower the kids to express themselves in appropriate ways. Encourage open discussion. Plan family meetings. Teach effective means of showing anger, displeasure, fear and other feelings represented by the child. Children should be allowed the emotions that come naturally to them. However, those emotions must be dealt with in responsible ways.
4. Make Time for Your Children
Your child’s worst fears may be coming true. Perhaps, caught up in the joy of your young marriage, you have spent an increasing amount of time with your spouse to the detriment of your children. Let me be very frank; you have a limited amount of time to spend with your children before they create independent lives of their own. Rest assured that you can enjoy the time remaining with your children without doing a disservice to the marriage. Though there is no perfect formula, it may involve a heavy dose of time management.
5. Don’t Force Relationships
Of course you want your spouse and your children to form healthy relationships. But you can’t force it. That will only cause bitterness and tension on everyone’s part. Instead, allow the familial relationships to develop at their own pace. Families, stepfamilies included, are not one size fits all.
This article originally appeared on Divorced Moms.
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