When a couple gets married, HIS and HERS can extend past bathroom towels to children. How can parents and step-parents bridge the gap between their two families while maintaining bonds between the children and each other? Life coach Harriet Cole helps step-parents solve some common problems.
The importance of a united front
When Sunshine and Paul got married, Paul brought his two girls, Callie and Josalyn, into the family and Sunshine brought her son, Justin. The couple are having problems seeing eye-to-eye when it comes to disciplining the children. "Sunshine's parenting style is probably a little bit more 'naggish.' I'm more laid-back," says Paul.
Sunshine sees it differently. "Our differences in discipline is I have some; he doesn't," she says.
Even Paul's daughters agree that their parents don't lay down the law the same way. "If my stepmom grounds us, my dad will let us off grounding sometimes early," admits Callie.
"I try to be their mom. He tries to be their friend," says Sunshine. One drastic example of the split between the parents came when Callie put the family dog's skin medication into Sunshine's body wash
(watch the video clip and see what happened).
Paul let Callie off the hook but deflects the possibility of blame onto Sunshine's son, Justin. "I treat Justin differently because he's a boy," Paul explains, admitting he shows preferential treatment to the girls. "They're my daughters and I feel like I have to come to their rescue or come to their aid."
This has caused more than a few fights and resentment among family members so life coach Harriet Cole offers some food for thought.
"You are one family now. Everybody's living under one roof; they're your children. It's not like these are mine, these are hers. It has to be one. Discipline is always hard. You grew up in different backgrounds yourself and the kids grew up somewhere else first. So now there are all these different discipling styles and they need to come together. You're undermining each other and doing it in front of the kids."
Harriet recommends that Sunshine and Paul designate a specific time of day when they can get together and talk about the family -- the good, the bad and the ugly -- so they can come to an agreement on how to establish discipline. "Lovingly give them boundaries but don't mess with each other's boundaries," she says. "Talk behind the scenes if you want to change a punishment, you think that was too harsh, then go to them together and say, 'We've thought about this, and we've decided we're going to end this punshisment or change this punshiment.' But if they see a united front, they can't go behind your back."
Margie was single before marrying Michael, but once she said 'I Do,' she became an instant mom to three daughters. "My life has changed dramatically," she says. From the start of her marriage, she was sharing her new husband with three other people. "I didn't get the time with my husband that newlyweds get. It felt like his daughters were the other woman and I was the jealous wife."
Margie desperately wants to find some time with her new husband but doesn't want her new daughters to feel like she's taking him away from them.
"You do need to accept that you married a man with three children," advises Harriet. "You didn't go from single to the honeymoon with just your husband but you can create a wonderful scenario for yourself with date night. Have date night once a week with your husband. Invite him to do something so exciting one night, something you did when you were dating. Have a sleepover for the kids, so they aren't even around and you can have date night at home. It can be going to a restaurant. Occasionally, maybe it's a night out at a hotel ... That way you can have it all. But you need to know that having it all includes having them and building a relationship with them.
Let techonology work for your family
Dina has been married for three years and her husband brought two children into their relationship. They have partial custody so they only get to see the kids every other weekend and she feels they don't really get the chance to bond as a family. Dina and her husband have since had a child together and would like their son to have a relationship with his siblings but doesn't know how to make it work when they only get to see the other kids for short time spans.
"Here's where techonology can be your friend," says Harriet. "Set up a webcam and give one to them. Make sure you talk to their mom so she doesn't feel like you're invading her house -- that's really important. Set up a conversation a couple times a week. Hold up the baby, they would love that! That way when they come to your house, it's not such a long stretch of time since the last time you guys were together."
Easing tension between mom and step-mom
Donna is married to a man who has three children, and they have one child together. She is step-mom full-time to the kids -- cooking for them, making lunches, driving them to school and other events. Donna feels there is some tension with the kids' biological mother and she'd like to find a way to bridge that gap so the children don't feel like they're in the middle.
"You need to develop the adult rapport that says 'We are the adults in this, we need to take care of these kids responsibly put our emotions aside, love them for who they are and keep all of that other stuff out of the way,' advises Harriet.
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