I don’t agree with how my partner parents her children, do I challenge or ignore it?
It is not uncommon for stepdads to feel that they do not completely agree with the way their partner parents. The difficulty is that unlike a couple welcoming your first baby together, and working out parenting together as you go along (which in itself sounds much more straightforward than it is!), she will already have her own established way of parenting
Men often have an assumption, developed from their own family experience or believed social norms, that as the man of the household it is their role to instil discipline, and in part, the desire to find your role within the family may mean that you actively look for ways you would manage situations differently.
However, don’t just fall into the trap of acting without giving consideration to if it is appropriate. Are parenting decisions and disciplining, really your role? Is this an agreed role? Have you discussed what you are both comfortable with? And if it is a role for you to take up, is it appropriate that you take it up from day one?
Take her lead
Remember that you are joining the story of their family part way through, and it is important to bear this in mind.
She does know her children much better than you do.
She will know things about them which you just don’t.
She already has an established relationship with them and way of doing things.
Just because you don’t agree with her, does not automatically mean her way is wrong and your way is right.
You trying to impose your way from the beginning will not be well received by anyone.
There are experts who actually encourage new stepfamilies to still act as single-parent families for the first year, in terms of the biological parent handling the discipline – the stepparent backs them up of course, but doesn’t direct it. Their focus is building their relationship with stepchildren- so that in time they are able to be more actively involved in all aspects of parenting.
Don’t undermine her
It is important in all parenting relationships to be united and to treat each other as such in front of the children. Undermining her in front of her own children by disagreeing with a decision or course of action she has made, is not going to enhance the bond within your family, or your relationship with her. Children need to see you both enjoying a loving and healthy marriage, in order to build trust in you and your new family – and how you relate to her in front of them is an important part of this.
If you feel the need to discuss a decision or approach with her, do so in private and avoid trying to tell her that she is doing it ‘wrong’. Instead, try first to understand why she approaches a situation the way she does – you might learn something you were unaware of.
You may want to gently discuss alternative ways of handling situations, making sure you are not criticising hers, just supporting her to explore other ways that may work.
Have a look at our article on Different parenting styles are causing our family friction, what can I do? to look at some of these options.
You can also consider looking at setting some Household Rules which everyone contributes to and agrees to keep, with consequences to. Have a look at Communication within your family for ideas of how to do this - see article.
What do you think your role is?
What you believe your role to be, as a stepdad, will also have some bearing on your interpretation of how she parents.
You may also want to ask your partner what kind of support she wants from you. Does she just want your back up or does she want you more actively involved? Work together to define the practicalities of your role, remembering that the first year is about you concentrating on building a relationship with the children.
Have a look at What is your role at Step Dad
Learning to live in a stepfamily is a journey for everyone involved, including you. You all need to get to know one another, to get to know the usual flow of family life, to work out how you all fit together.
It won’t always be easy and straight forward, but if you and your partner can work together through it, your family will continue to grow and strengthen over time. Remember it is a marathon and not a sprint and it will take time for you all to find your places in your new family unit.
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