Setting rules for a step-daughter is proving difficult for Sarah, can you help with this week’s A Problem Shared… ?
My partner has a 6 year-old daughter, Molly, but due to access issues she only comes to stay once a month and when she does she’s a real handful.
I’m a nursery nurse so I’ve had a lot of experience with younger kids but I worry because at home, Molly has a really poor diet, no routine, her Mum never plays with her or even talks to her so she has no boundaries and her behaviour is terrible.
My partner gives in all the time and lets her do what she wants, so when I try to say ‘no’ she thinks I’m just a nasty stepmother. I really want to help and encourage her as I think she has problems at school too and I do worry about her, but I’m just a part-time step-mum.
How much can I, or should I try and parent Molly or should I just stay out of it? Do you have any advice for step-parents?
Our FamilyPoint Cymru response to Sarah
This is a situation that is increasingly occurring due to step-parent families being part of normal everyday life and households.
It’s totally understandable that you’re in a dilemma as to the approach to take. On one hand you’re reluctant to “interfere” with the upbringing of your partner’s child, particularly in view of his limited contact with her, and wanting to make her feel welcome and wanted when she does visit. Yet, your own fundamental beliefs and education present a desire and need to instil boundaries and support this child.
Everyone has the right to set rules and determine behaviours and routines that are acceptable to them within their own house. You are a step-parent but also one half of a partnership in your household. As with everything in relationships, communication is vital.
As you are the one with the experience and knowledge about children, perhaps you could sit down with your partner and explain to him the reasons why you feel boundaries, routine/rules, diet and play are important. If he understands your viewpoint and the reasons behind it, and is working with you, it will make it easier to implement changes and be consistent together when your step daughter is visiting.
He may, or may not, wish to raise these issues with Molly’s mum, but that is something out of your control.
- Work out what it is you want to be and what type of role you want in your family (e.g. an extra parent determining boundaries, a friend, take more of a backseat and be led by your partner).
- Understand your partner’s perspective. What do they expect of you?
- Are your views similar or do they differ wildly? If they differ, try and understand why.
- Work out the major differences and try and compromise. It’s important that both of you consider each other and the children involved.
- Once you’ve reached agreement, try and stick to it. You can always review things over time. Nothing is fixed forever but for now, work together on establishing the roles you’ve agreed on for the family.
Many experts also advise that it’s important to forge a relationship with your step-children based on mutual trust. It might be an idea to get them involved in the “family rules” and discuss together about what will happen and what’s expected when they come to stay.
You might find these articles useful:
- Family Lives: Step-family house rules and boundaries
- Being A Step-Parent: Knowing When to Say Something and When Not to
- Being A Step-Parent: Balancing Discipline and Friendship as a Step-parent
The website familylives.org.uk also has plenty of advice on step-parenting, including forums where you can talk to other people about your situation online or via a telephone helpline.
It’s important to take your time, don’t rush things and keep your expectations realistic. A consistent approach is vital for children but recognise the need to have fun and make shared memories so the time you spend together is quality and bonds your family unit.
Don’t forget to look after yourself – the support of your family and friends is vital for your own mental and emotional well-being. Being a step-parent is a demanding and tough job.
Most importantly, don’t be too harsh on yourself – it takes time to establish a new family unit.
The FamilyPoint Cymru Team
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