Stepparent wants kids to obey him
by Paula Statman

QUESTION: I have two young stepchildren and I want them to respect my authority, but not be afraid of me.  How can I get that balance?

I appreciate that you want your relationship with your stepchildren to work.  Also, it sounds like you are taking what you know about parenting and trying to apply it in your new blended family.  That’s why I hate to be the one to break this to you: it’s not going to work. 

That’s because you don’t drive the engine on the step parenting train. Your stepchildren do.  They decide how fast or slow to go.  They open their hearts to you at their own pace and can’t be rushed. Your job is to stoke the engine on the train with time, patience, and initially, indirect leadership.

Just for a moment put yourself in your kids’ preschool sneakers. Try to wrap your very young brain around what’s happened in your life.  Here is this new grown up - let’s say stepfather - hanging around your house all the time.  The man is trying to be nice to you, which is OK, but sometimes he tells you what to do.  You don’t like that.  He’s not your daddy, so he shouldn’t boss you around.

Do you see that while you are focusing on “How can I get them to obey me?” your step kids may be wondering why you don’t have your own house anymore? 

Consider this core truth about step parenting that may run counter to everything you were expecting:  Gaining authority over your step children’s lives is not a given. With a lot of time and effort, it may be one of the outcomes of building a trusted connection with them.  But there is no guarantee that you will gain that parental status in their lives.  It takes patience, understanding, and sometimes years to achieve.

For now, you will be most effective by:

  1. Leading through your wife who has the relationship – and thereby the most leverage – with the children.
  2. Working with your wife behind the scenes to establish boundaries, expectations, and the values that govern your home.
  3. Remembering that gaining respect and leadership from stepchildren is a process. You earn the right to lead by developing trust and connection with them.
  4. Reading books about step parenting, so that this process – which is so different from being the biological parent – will be successful and satisfying.

If you do these things, I am optimistic that your stepchildren will let your borrow their engineer’s cap and even let you drive the train once and awhile.  And let’s face it, that’s much better than bringing up the caboose. 

 

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