A Jewish Matchmaker’s Guide to discipline and the step-kids…

One of the biggest considerations for divorced singles with children is finding a new partner who is accepted by your children, and optimally, loved by them.

Of course, it’s equally important that your new partner feel genuine affection toward your children, and you for theirs.

Is it fair to expect a non-family member to love your children the way that you do?

Can you love your partner’s children just as much as you love your own?

Those are big questions and I certainly don’t have the definitive answer, but I do know that for most people, genuine love for the children of another takes time and requires lots of one-on-one interaction between the adult and the children.

Yes, there is the aspect of a love that is automatically extended to your children, because of the love your partner feels for you – but you want that love to continue to deepen and strengthen on its own merit.

The reason I start with this question about love is due to the importance of a loving response to children regardless of which parent is doling out the discipline.

A parent has a lot more compassion and empathy toward a child for whom he/she feels genuine affection. Do you really want someone to reprimand your children without that filter of concern and caring? No way!

So it’s important to nurture a loving bond between the children and step-parent so that you can be assured that no matter what issues may arise, your new partner will be responding from a place of love and genuine concern for your children.

Once that loving bond is firmly formed, we can turn to the question of how to handle disciplinary action.

First and foremost, the children should be taught to respect the authority of both parents.

Depending on how much the children are determined to “test the boundaries” (and they most likely will be doing this at some point), this can be a rough ride or any easy one. You may often want to side with your children, which may be the correct thing to do in some cases, but make sure that no matter which side you come down on, the step-parent is always spoken about and responded to with respect.

Show that you are giving equal consideration to his/her opinion and then discuss the decision as a family. Don’t make it appear as if one of you is the ultimate decision maker, because the children will learn not to take the other parent’s admonitions seriously. Makes sure both of you have equal input and that all major disciplinary decisions seem to be have been made consensually.

In terms of discipline style, observe the way your partner interacts with children in general, and particularly with their own, if they have them, because odds are, they will interact in a similar manner with yours.

Are they the stern and disciplinarian-type? Or easy-going and discipline-lax? Most likely, it’s somewhere in between, but expecting an easy-going reaction to your children’s behavior from someone who has a stricter approach, is only going to lead to adult conflicts.

If his/her style of parenting is much different than your own, expect some major disagreements unless the two of you sit down and map out a strategy that you can adhere to and be satisfied.

If you don’t believe in spanking your children, yet this is your partner’s go-to form of discipline, you need to decide who disciplines the kids, and how. If one of you insists on spanking and the other refuses to, you are going to create an unbalanced and confusing situation for the children. If your children get spanked when they misbehave, and your partner’s children only have to go to their room, your children are going to become very resentful.

As the creators of what is now a “new” household, you and and your partner may need to completely re-strategize your disciplinary tactics. Maybe you need to find an alternate method that neither of you has tried before.

One of the benefits of this approach is that one (or both) of you have a history of experience with your own children of what does and doesn’t seem to have worked so far when trying to “punish” inappropriate behavior, so keeping what seems to be effective punishment and tossing what isn’t, can help the two of you create a new response to bad behavior.

If either (or both) of you have very definite ideas of how children should be “handled” in response to unacceptable behavior, you can guarantee that it’s going to lead to some heated arguments between you and your partner because it’s hard to keep your mouth shut if your spouse is reacting to misbehavior in a way that is completely against your own perspective. Constant communication with your partner is truly the key in navigating this very difficult territory.

There are many, many challenges that come with blended families and the issue of discipline in only one. Approach all the challenges from a place of love, consideration, respect, and a sincere desire to strengthen your new family unit.

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