Robert* didn't have children of his own when he married. His wife, though, had two teenagers, a daughter and son. At first, everything went well for Robert as a stepdad. But he soon grew frustrated. His new son was staying out late without telling his mother or Robert where he was.
Robert was concerned but didn’t know what to do. Does a brand-new, non-biological father have the right to set limits? he wondered. Over time, Robert discovered four things that helped him and his family succeed:
1. Private meetings
He and his wife, Mandy, set aside time to meet regularly and privately so they would be a unified team on discipline and other issues. They shared information about what was happening, set house rules together and agreed on what consequences would be given if the rules were broken.
2. Family meetings
The couple met with the children together and calmly discussed their concerns, as well as any new rules and the consequences of breaking those rules. Because of their unified approach, Robert and Mandy no longer felt a sense of urgency or confusion about what to say when issues came up with their children.
3. Taking the lead
Mandy led each meeting with the kids. She needed to take the lead in disciplining the children because of her position as the biological mother — and because of their closer relationship. Mandy and Robert also took turns speaking. In this way, they demonstrated a sense of family unity.
4. Honoring relationships
Throughout each disciplinary issue and resulting action, it was important for both parents to show respect to each other and honor the children’s relationships within and outside of the family. Did one of the children particularly value spending time alone with Mandy? If so, could Robert adjust his schedule to make this happen?
It took this new father a little time to become accustomed to his role, but the family did well with the adjustment, and Robert realized that even as a stepdad, he could help discipline and guide his new children.
*Robert and Mandy are pseudonyms.