In the previous article in this series we talked about the importance of taking time and being patient while your newly blended family adjusts. In this segment we are going to address the next major issue on the list – discipline, as it seems to be the one that causes the most issues in newly blended families.
This is a hard one. Most parents will agree that disciplining your own children is hard enough, but when you add in the issue of disciplining your stepchildren, suddenly the whole subject is so much more complex. So one of the first things a couple needs to do when planning to blend two families is address the issue of discipline. The sooner the better.
Before you and your spouse-to-be even tie the knot, you should have already had a no-interruptions, heart-to-heart about the issue of discipline. How do each of you feel about disciplining each other’s children? What methods of discipline do you agree with? Which methods do you not agree with? And how do you plan to introduce this new change to your respective children?
Studies show that children develop trust faster when they experience discipline that is consistent and fair. So a vital part of developing the bond of trust with your stepchildren is making sure that you get the discipline issues right from the very beginning.
Another critical aspect is making sure that you and your new spouse are on the same page. Nothing is worse than issuing a punishment to a misbehaving stepchild, only to have your spouse come home and undo what you’ve done. That instantly teaches the child that you two are not a united front and can be manipulated to achieve a desired result. Making sure that you agree ahead of time on what you will and won’t do, and then backing each other up, is vital!
One further suggestion that has been made repeatedly by parents in these situations is to take the adjustment slowly – don’t go in swinging. Your new stepchildren are far more likely to not harbor immediate resentment if you aren’t grounding them and yelling at them within days of moving in. Allow your disciplinarian role to develop gradually. This is not to say that you should be a doormat in the beginning, but rather, consider allowing their actual parents to deal with any issues in the beginning, until you’ve all settled in a little.
And finally, regardless of what you may have done about discipline for your children before marrying your new spouse (and the same goes for them) joining families means making changes. Your children should not receive lighter punishments for the same behaviors than their new step siblings, and vice versa. There is no faster way to foster resentment and bitterness that perceived favoritism or unfair concessions.
Join us next time for the next installment on how to blend your families together, and what to expect along the way. We will be talking about the next subject on the list – relationship building, and how to ensure relational success with your stepchildren.