There is a lot that goes into being a good parent or a good step-parent. Guidance, love, care, good communication, and so much more make healthy parents and healthy children. Establishing appropriate boundaries is also an essential part of a blended family dynamic where a child custody schedule will curtail the amount of time a family gets to just be a family. Regardless of the child custody arrangement, all of the same holds true and perhaps requires a great deal more understanding and patience depending upon the relationship between households. The level of quality parenting that children receive over their young lives will shape the way they will parent their own children when they grow into adulthood and on into parenthood.
If you think back to your own childhood, you undoubtedly can recall moments in time where, as an adult, you make a judgment about how it was handled. We establish beliefs regarding situations that were handled appropriately. We establish beliefs regarding situations that weren’t handled quite so well. It’s those collections of experiences that will so often drive our approach as we travel the long, winding road of parenting and step-parenting. Even within your own household, moms and dads will sometimes do things differently. We will pass those same judgments, hopefully in a healthy and understanding way, between partners. We will give some. We will get some. Sometimes, there will be some middle-ground and a compromise will be reached regarding how to handle certain situations should they reoccur in the future. If you’re parenting and step-parenting within the constraints of a child custody schedule, the additional household will offer potential other approaches into the mix. All of these circumstances will drive our decisions to do the same or to do differently.
Managing the differences in genders, personalities, ages or birth order all create the types of challenged that make parenting and step-parenting one of the most rewarding tasks on earth. It comes with joy and happiness. It will also come with it’s fair share of frustration and even heartbreak.
Establishing boundaries and structure for the younger children is essential. We often suggest parents and children come to a reasonable understanding about rules, consequences, rewards, and expectations at a time where there is no upset. Getting together as a family and coming up with a “household rules and consequences” list, in our experience, ends up being a rather fun and entertaining experience. As children emerge from toddlerhood into young boys and girls, they really do have a general understanding about what types of behaviors are appropriate and inappropriate. As that transition occurs, it makes good sense and is quality parenting to move from addressing issues as they occur, sometimes with knee-jerk reactions, to a place where parents and children alike have an excellent understanding of what will happen in many of the common scenarios. Don’t go overboard with an encyclopedia of rules and regulations. Plan to keep it between 8 and 15 of the most common issues that confront your family on a day-to-day basis, things such as:
- Being disrespectful towards another.
- Hitting or other physical confrontations.
- Throwing things in the house.
- Inappropriate language.
- Yelling, screaming, or other types of “carrying on.”
- Cleaning up after yourselves (for instance putting toys and games where they belong).
We’re sure as you read this that you’ve probably recognized that this list can grow quite long rather quickly. Have an idea before the family meeting about those that you will want to be on that list. Also, keep an open mind. The children may just surprise you with something that they really feel strongly about being on the list. You can carefully direct the conversation to achieve the desired results. Do make sure you leave enough room so that most, if not all, of the items on the list came from the children.
As for the consequences, make sure that they are appropriate for the age and the infraction. Expect that almost all consequences will include a short, calm “talking-to” and stick to it! Know that when a parent remains under control, children are much more likely to remain under control, too. They helped construct the list and the chances are good that they already know what’s coming. You can also help head off possible infractions by having everyone regular check out the list that’s posted in a prominent place. It reinforces their knowledge of what’s expected of them and what they can expect from you as the parent and/or step-parent.
Be consistent. You may have a 0-warning policy. You may have a 1-warning policy. Have no more than a 1-warning policy. Make sure you are consistent between biological children and step-children. Make sure you are consistent no matter the child custody arrangement if you’re in a post-divorce situation. Even if the child custody plan leaves you with few days per month, it’s very important that your parent-child relationship remain as normal as you can make it had the family stayed together.
Remain patient and under control at all times. We understand that you may slip up from time to time. Work hard to make sure that those moments are few and far between. Balance your rules and consequences list with copious amounts of positive reinforcement and praise. Let them know how proud you are of them when they’ve had great days. Reward them appropriately if that’s part of your plan.
With teenagers, the approach may be more “business-like and professional.” They probably already have a fine idea of what types or rules and boundaries exist. However, as teens are often likely to do, those “restrictions” (as they see it) may be tested from time to time. Some of the rules on a teen list might include:
- Showing up late to dinner.
- Coming home after curfew.
- Poor grades in school.
- Disrespectful to parents.
- Breaking rules related to use of the automobile (having passengers, getting a ticket, etc.)
- Failing to do assigned chores.
Keeping in mind that you’re also trying to transition these teenagers into responsible adulthood, you don’t want to bail them out of every situation. They should be made to suffer appropriate consequences that come with violating certain rules. As teenagers are working so hard to separate the strings that tied them to their parents as youngsters, expect a higher level of tumult. Ask of yourself to present with even more patience. Let the “little things” go more readily and focus on higher level issues. Remember to teach and to guide. They’re fast approaching adulthood and remind them regularly, whether they understand or not, that there will come a time where you as their parents will not be able to protect them from these issues. When rules and laws are broken beyond the age of 18 (and sometimes before), the consequences can be very steep and affect the rest of their lives.
The primary goal of exercises such as these is to make sure everyone understands the consequences before the offense occurs. It’s to make sure everyone is on the same page. It’s to make sure that both parents and children have a clear understanding of what’s expected of each other. Regardless of what your child custody circumstances are, whether your family is intact or not, whether you’re in a blended family or not – always remember the following basic requirements:
- Patience and lots of it.
- Be calm and rational. Avoid “flying off the handle.”
- Be fair.
- Be consistent.
- Be a teacher and a guide, not “the punisher.”
When the children are part of the collaborative effort and in a non-adversarial situation during development, establishing the rules, the consequences, the boundaries, and the rewards can be fun, entertaining, and most importantly – a meaningful experience that should reduce future upset and misunderstandings that often come in the absence of established structure.
A few final words on communication. Between the parents or a parent/step-parent there will be differences in approach in any given situation. Make sure that any discussion regarding those circumstances takes place away from the children. Try and remember that the different approaches each parent may take with the children are learning opportunities as well. While consistency is key, the truth remains that there is often more than one way to solve a given problem. Give each other the necessary respect to allow one to do a job. Come together later to discuss any issues and come to an understanding on how it may be handled if there is a next time.
Happy, healthy parenting to you!