Dear Dr. Bill,
I recently married a fantastic man and became the step- mom to his two teenagers. These kids have had little or no discipline or structure since their parents divorced four years ago.
As a result, they refuse to do any chores — like cleaning up after themselves in the kitchen. Both are rude and disrespectful, and I’m concerned their bad habits won’t help them once they move away and live on their own.
Is it appropriate for me to discipline my step-children? Unfortunately, my efforts to bring a little structure into my new family is causing tension and creating friction between me and my husband. What do you suggest we do?
The situation you are describing is fairly common in stepfamilies. Although I appreciate your concern about your stepchildren’s behavior, it’s gonna be an uphill battle to try to change them.
Since they’ve had little or no discipline for at least four years, it’s unrealistic to think you’ll be able to “save” these kids and undo the damage their parents have done.
I’d suggest you have a heart-to-heart talk with your husband when the kids aren’t around. Tell him that from now on, you’re going to leave the disciplining up to him. Let him know you’ll support him in that role, but you won’t be taking the lead.
I’d also suggest you read the book The Smart Stepfamily, by my friend Ron Deal. It will provide you with practical strategies you can use to make your home a more peaceful place.
Thanks for writing Kim.