Four Secrets Gaining the Respect of Your Spouse and Step-Kids
You've just walked in the door after a long day at work. The kitchen is a mess, and the kids are arguing over who is responsible. As you set your briefcase on the counter, a flying apple misses your head-by inches. Then poof! The kids disappear-without so much as a hello (or goodbye!)-and you are left with a dirty, cluttered kitchen. Muttering under your breath, you set to cleaning, feeling more like a doormat than a parent.
What is wrong with these children? Where do they get the idea they can throw things? Why don't they have the decency to at least say hello when you walk in the door? And where on earth did they learn those manners?! This certainly isn't the vision you had of your life with this family.
When you try to tell your partner what happened and how you feel, the reply is, "They are just kids." You walk away feeling angry and misunderstood. Later, your partner explains, "I only have my kids on weekends. I miss them. I want them to have fun here."
Does any of this sound familiar? Some of the biggest challenges those of us who are stepparents face is lack of respect from the stepkids and little (or no) support from our partners. When we start to feel unappreciated, we may think about giving up. Why invest in a marriage or relationship and a family when you aren't appreciated?
You might feel as though the more you try, the more distant your relationship becomes. You may even start to lose respect for your partner, because he or she always takes the kid's side and backs them up. You're ready to lay down the law-or worse yet-pack your bags and leave.
Before you pack your bags and leave, remember, all is not lost. There is hope. Voice your unhappiness and disappointment in a very clear and concise way without attacking either your partner or their kids. Do this by scheduling a 'meeting' with your partner. Let it be known that you need to talk, without distractions. Don't get angry, cry, or threaten to leave.
Once you have your partner's full attention, here are four topics discuss:
1. Set clear boundaries of what you will and will not accept. Explain exactly what bothers you, and be sure to tell your partner why this bothers you and how it makes you feel. Ask for suggestions on how to deal with the situation; after all, these are your partner's kids.
2. Discuss what you will tolerate and what is non-negotiable. Choose your battles, and make sure the consequences of rule-breaking fit the infraction.
3. Working with your partner, w down a (short) clear and concise set of rules. Then follow through. As you decide on rules, make sure that you and your partner are on the same page. Kids know when you aren't, and they are experts at using this to get their way. If you and your partner can't agree (and can't set clear boundaries), you risk raising children who will push the limits to see how much they can get away with.
4. Be consistent with your follow through. One of the biggest problems I see is when a parent punishes a child for something one day, and let it slide the next. When you are inconsistent, you teach your children to disregard any authority – not just parents, but teachers, supervisors, and police as well.
Most parents want to see their children happy and successful. In order to do this, we have to teach our kids to respect others. When parents model respect for each other, the kids, and their exes, the children learn that even when we disagree with someone, there are respectful ways of handling the issue.
Never, ever, badmouth your partner's ex. When you do, the kids lose respect for you. The best gift you can give your stepchildren is to respect their bond with the other parent.
As for your partner, start by showing that you respect yourself by standing up for what is important, and being clear and consistent about what you want. Over time, not only will your family come closer together, you will begin to enjoy each other's company, build stronger relationships, and feel more like a family.
Claudette Chenevert, author and sought-after Stepmom coach, has lived in your shoes as a mom and stepmom. She's been there and done that and now teaches other women on what NOT to do in stepfamily relationships. Download your free audio "3 Biggest Mistakes Stepfamilies make" at www.stepmomcoach.com.