...with ideas for how to improve dd's relationship with dp (her stepdad)!!!
Here's the thing: she is nearly four and dp has been in her life for a little over a year now. Things between he and I progressed more quickly than they would have otherwise because I got pregnant; dp and I have a son together who is 6mos.
Things are not terrible. Sometimes she is very affectionate with dp. She especially loves to play with him and he is great at teasing her and chasing her around and stuff like that, which she loves.
But there are some real concerns I have and I feel TOTALLY stuck as to how to address them:
- dp does not discipline dd. Initially he didn't because it just clearly wasn't his place. Now it's complicated. We live together, and he is the father of her brother so obviously he's going to be able to discipline *him* eventually, etc. The other thing is that since he doesn't discipline her, a) she tries to take advantage of him by asking him for things when I'm not there that she knows I won't let her do (movies, candy) and, more troubling, b) I DON'T WANT to constantly feel like I'm in the middle. For instance, sometimes dp HAS to be in the study working (he's finishing his dissertation right now, so he needs to be able to work quietly alone) and sometimes dd really wants to go in there with him and he'll say yes. But then she'll try bugging him and I feel like I'm constantly on edge trying to mediate things because I know he needs to work and yet he won't tell her she has to be quiet or she has to leave or whatever. So I do. And I KNOW she senses that I'm always, I don't know, hovering over the two of them and trying to mediate their relationship. And I don't think that's healthy. But I don't know how he can be more assertive with her, if it's appropriate, and how he can back up his authority if she questions it which I suspect she will!
- sometimes dd gets really testy with him for no apparent reason. Or I should say, there are a lot of apparent reasons, I suppose: he is not her father, he's still a relatively new figure in her life who's never had authority over her, she gets jealous when he pays attention to other people, etc. The problem is that she is sometimes quite rude or hostile to him. Tonight, we were skyping with my sister and her children, my dd's cousins. When we were all signing off, dp stepped over to say goodbye to them, too. Dd started shoving him away and pushing his face and telling him to go away! I know it really gets to him (especially when she's going through a phase where she does stuff like that more often, as she sometimes does) but I really truly don't know what to do. Of course I told her to stop in that moment, I admonished her and I told her she needed to say sorry, but she refused, and then I said no bedtime story so she said she would say sorry, so she mumbled "I'm sorry J" really insincerely under her breath. I was instantly aware of how ineffective that was as a punishment. But what should I have done in that situation? On the one hand, I feel like she needs to learn we DON'T treat each other like that in this house. On the other hand, I worry that if she is constantly being punished for treating dp badly, that that is only going to make her resent him more.
I'm really worried that if we don't all get this situation under control, that they are going to have a very antagonistic relationship forever.
-What should dp's role be in discipling dd--especially as far as his own interactions with her are concerned? (ie, when I'm not there, or she has done something to HIM, etc.)
-How to get her to treat him respectfully? Some sort of systematic punishment? Like what? How to avoid making it into a big Thing?
Thank you so much in advance, this situation can be really stressful for me, I often feel like I'm in the middle of the two and I love them both! Help me find some harmony!
What about making a list of rules and sticking them on the fridge. They could be worded so they apply to everyone... like family guidelines... "We speak kindly to one another", "We respect each others belongings", "We let each other concentrate" "We respect each others privacy" "We be patient with each other" and then it's not HIM disciplining her, it's the list. It could be a "These are the rules we've decided on" thing... if she had a baby sitter/care provider or if another family member was watching her, they'd enforce the rules, right? So it makes sense that he would, too.
Some of it could have nothing to do with him being a step parent... last summer my DD said "You're not my real mom!!" to me, and I AM her biological parent! If she'd happened to be upset with SO that day, we'd have thought it was a step-family issue.
Some of this could be her age... my kids both developed a bit of an attitude around the time they started kindergarten... all of a sudden there was a lot more back talk! It's the age where they really learn to use theatrics... like putting on a pouty face because they know you'll ask what the matter is, then they say "I had a bad day... can we go to the candy store?!" You know, super-stealthy manipulation tactics!
She could be getting testy with him because she IS testing him... maybe she wants to see where the line is. She might actually WANT him to discipline her... that whole 'boundaries are comfortable' thing.
It's not realistic for her to grow up in a house where both parents can discipline her brother but only one parent can discipline her. That could set up a terrible dynamic between the siblings as they get older. Both kids need to be treated the same by both parents.
As for the stuff where she's bothering him in his study, he's allowing that to happen -- I would stop refereeing. Have a discussion with him where you tell him that it's up to him to set boundaries with her and get his work needs met, and then stay out of it -- if he wants quiet time to study, he'll have to figure out how to enforce that.
I think he needs to start discipling her. The way that she treats him is because she is testing her limits with him, she wants boundaries. Same thing goes for children whose parents do not discipline them at all, they turn into hellians because they are begging for limits. This is also about learning to respect adults, if she can walk all over him, then she is not going to learn about respecting other people. I wouldn't jump into him discipling her, you should ease into it so that she doesnt become really resentful...he should show her limits, Not in an overly harsh way. When he starts discipling your son she is going to feel seperated from the family, like maybe he cares more about your son. Discipling is a form of caring. You need to act as a whole family. A whole family doesnt discipline some of the childrens and not the others. I have a boyfriend and a two year old who is not his daughter. He does very good with her, he helps me alot....he watches her while I am at work, he takes her to the park. The best bonding time they have is when I am gone. She is much better behaved and she knows that he is the boss. He knows that he has limits as far as his discipling goes, if she does something really bad, then I will deal with it. They have a good relationship but sometimes she is mean to him, but she is also a two year old and thats what they do. She tells him she loves him and gives him kisses and gets upset when he leaves. ANyway, good luck to you. But I do feel like it would be best if he was seen as an authority figure....you dont want your 6 month old son to grow up disrespecting his father because your daughter does that, do you? That might make the father of your child a little resentful.
I was in your SO's place when I first became a SM. I didn't want to be the evil SM. The kids already loved me before I moved in and I didn't want to mess that up. But after a while, they got out of control (their mom lives on the other side of the world so I'm the primary caregiver). It wasn't realistic for me NOT to discipline them. Bascially, set HOUSE rules and consequences for breaking the rules, so she knows what to expect. As to her bugging him when he's studying, let him deal with that. And as to the last problem (getting her to respect him), apply the same rules that you would to respecting all adults. Teach her how to talk respectfully and talk to her about the behaviours that are not respectful (sometimes kids think what they're doing is funny). Whatever you do, don't force a relationship. She could end up resenting him (personal experience!!).
SAHstepM to C and N
I agree. If he's not doing any discipline, then why should she see him as anything more than a guest in her home? I'm assuming you plan to be with him the rest of your life, and so the two of you are the heads of the household, and both your children, no matter who gave birth to them, are supposed to abide by your rules and show equal respect for you. Kids test parents, whether birth or not, and they want to feel secure both because of the comfort and nurturing you give and the guidance and structure you give. I have been living with my DSD for 4 years now. She is 7. And I am equal partner in parenting with her father, unless I choose to defer to him for certain things. Granted her mother passed when she was a baby, and I have been with her father and in her life in a big way since before she was 2, but the only time I didn't do much discipline was when she and he lived with his parents. I think that as long as she's living in HIS house, in the house you two share, that he has the right to set rules, with you, and be a party to making sure she follows the rules. I often feel, when SO doesn't care that much about something I care about as far as DSD's behavior or "house rules" (I don't even think we really have any), that it's "them against me" and that I'm more like a guest in "their home" - thankfully it's not often, and for the most part he supports me 98% of the time and tells her so. We remind her that she needs to listen to me same as she listens to him, and that if I say no to something, she can't then expect to get a different answer from him, and vice versa. Even if I hadn't been in her life as long as I have, even if her birth mother were alive, she lives in my house, and I'm the adult, and for most things (because I'm not against being flexible or taking her feelings and opinions into account when it comes to how we raise her or run our household) SO and I make the rules and decisions and she needs to follow them. I am a parent, whether biological or not I am still the adult and the parent. And that's what she wants me to be. We may butt heads sometimes, and I may be more irritable and have less patience than her father, but she loves me, and she feels secure and safe with me, and sees me as her parent.
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