Cycle 1: GOOD COP/ BAD COP
Tips for the Strict Parent
“You are such a pushover with the kids; why do I always have to be the ‘bad cop’.”
The more your partner pushes you to lighten up on the kids and have fewer rules, the more you feel the children need structure and discipline.
- Make goals. Sit down with your partner and discuss what your goals are for parenting the children. Make a list of rules together that you can both agree on. This will likely involve some compromise!
- Consider your past. Your own experiences, including how your parents raised you, what you saw in your friends’ homes, and what you value likely heavily influence your own parenting style. Consider if there are any emotions or past experiences that are playing into the conflict with your partner around coparenting. Try to share these, not to convince him/her you are right, but to give him/her a better understanding.
- Remember to share. Try not to criticize your partner or dismiss his/her ideas. Each parent should have a say in the final decision and rules. So, think about the issues you feel really strongly about and maybe let your partner decide some of the other things.
- Read. Would reading a book on parenting be an option? At the end of this post there are several great choices that you and your partner could read together.
Tips for the Easy-going Parent
“You are too harsh on the kids”
The more alone you feel in your opinion and frustrated that your partner is hard on the children, the less you feel you have a say in the decisions regarding discipline.
- Present a united front. Do your best to back up your partner in front of the kids. If you disagree about something, try to handle it in advance or after it has happened – somewhere out of earshot of the kids. If the children know the two of you don’t agree, that could create more problems down the road.
- Talk it out. Try to explain to your partner why you disagree with their parenting style rather than calling it ‘wrong’ or ‘mean’. What are you worried will happen if your partner continues to parent in this way? Do you have any past experiences or emotions that are triggered in these situations?
- Be specific. Do your best to figure out what specifically you would like to see change. Is it the form of discipline (spanking vs time out), expectations for the children, or tone of voice when interacting with the kids?
- Read. We learn most of what we know about parenting from experience and observation, but there are lots of other good resources out there, too! Check out some of the options at the end of this post.
Cycle 2: YOUR KIDS VS OUR KIDS
Tips for the Non-Biological Parent
“I’m trying to help but I’m told to back off!” OR “I don’t know what to do with the kids”
The more your partner pushes you to become involved with his/her children, the less you want to help.
- Plan fun. If you’re struggling to connect with the children, you could set up an activity that you feel confident the whole family will enjoy, especially your partner’s children. Maybe spending time together at the park or at a school function would be an option. This could help by allowing you to feel more comfortable with the children by starting with fun activity.
- Talk about roles. Discuss with your partner what your role should be with the kids. Does he/she want you to be involved in rule setting and discipline? If so, find a time to decide on what the rules are so you’re not disagreeing about them in front of the kids. Having these conversations early on can help prevent misunderstandings and arguments later. On the flip side, there may be topics or situations where your partner doesn’t want you involved. Getting clarity about what these situations are so you can respect his/her decisions is key.
- Work together. Work with your partner to create a list of tasks or activities that involve the children and find some for you to do. Maybe you could get the kids breakfast in the morning or help check homework after school? Dividing the time when either you or your partner is responsible or in charge keeps both partners involved as parents.
- If you don’t have children of your own, you may not feel very comfortable being a parent to your partner’s kids. Or, you could be looking for more ideas how to help. Would reading a parenting book be an option for you? If so, see the ideas at the end of the post!
Tips for the Biological Parent
“You aren’t helping!” OR “Back off! Too much! Not your kids!”
The more alone you feel as a parent, the harder it is to express your frustration to your partner in a productive way. Alternately, if you feel your partner is overstepping, finding a way to create balance without shutting him/her out completely can be challenging.
- Find out more. Ask your partner why he/she isn’t more involved or why he/she is so interested in helping out. Is there something about how he/she raised that is related to how he/she is acting now? Does he/she feel uncomfortable asserting authority over kids who aren’t his/her own? Does he/she feel left out when not involved in parenting?
- Make your needs known. Try to tell your partner specifically what you need. For example, you might want help with watching the kids or support from your partner when you discipline the kids.
- Talk openly. If your partner is doing things that you wish he/she wouldn’t, that can also be helpful for your partner to hear.
- Read. Would reading a parenting book be an option for you? See the ideas at the end of the post!
The suggestions presented here may help you break the cycle of behaviors you and your partner are struggling with around issues of blended families. It is important to remember that any changes you hope to try will impact not only you and your partner, but the children as well. Giving the whole family time to adjust and understand the new rules and parenting structure will take time.
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Below are some books with additional information about coping with blended families:
Parenting that Works: Building Skills that Last a Lifetime
Effective Parenting for the Hard to Manage Child: A Skills-Based Book
Positive Discipline A-Z
New Faces in the Frame
How to Win as a Stepfamily