Dr Phil on Disciplining SKs

Jenni - posted on 05/06/2011 ( 15 moms have responded )

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Alright, I am not a Dr. Phil fan but this topic has been floating around my Step Moms community. So I thought I'd bring it over here. This is Dr. Phil's advice on the role of a step parent including discipline (or not disciplining SKs?)



"There's no doubt that being a stepparent is one of the most difficult roles any adult will ever assume. So much pain can be avoided if you can agree on some very basic definitions of that role, and be alert to sensitivities with it.



To handle this situation with the utmost efficiency, both the biological parent and the stepparent should begin with an open and candid discussion about the fears and expectations regarding the relationship with the children. Each should know what the other expects concerning the stepparent's involvement in guiding, supervising and disciplining the children. Once you understand what each other's expectations are, you have a place to start shaping what the stepparent role will be. I always think it's important to first identify what you can agree on and thereby narrow your differences. How you ultimately define the stepparent role will, of course, be up to you. The following are my recommendations based on what I've seen work, what I've seen fail and how I think it's best to set up and define the stepparent role:



1. It's my strong belief that unless you as the stepparent are added to the family when the children are very young, it will most likely be very difficult for you to discipline your spouse's children. Every situation is different, but in most situations, disciplining your nonbiological children is fraught with danger, since it's likely to create resentment on the part of your spouse. Again, this isn't always the case, and if that's not the circumstance in your family, that's great, because it can give the biological parent an additional resource for handling discipline issues. While I don't believe it's very likely a workable situation for a stepparent to be a direct disciplinarian, it's extremely important that the stepparent be an active supporter of the biological parent's disciplinary efforts. Both biological parents and stepparents should discuss the rules of the house and negotiate an agreement for what standards the children will be held to. This element of family life should be subject to the same negotiation and joint ownership as any other family situation.



2. The stepparent, although not actively initiating direct discipline, should certainly work to maintain the normal boundaries that exist between an adult and a child. Although it may be the biological parent who delivers an initial consequence for misbehavior, it's important that the stepparent be active in support of that decision, and care should be taken that proper respect and acknowledgment of the stepparent be given. In other words, a stepfather is not simply one's mother's husband. He is in fact an adult and an authority figure in the home.



3. In relating to all the children, the stepparent should seek to define his or her relationship as that of an ally and supporter. Whether the stepparent is the same or opposite-sexed parent, their presence can play an important balancing role in terms of modeling and information-giving about life from the male or female point of view. The role of ally and supporter is in no way to be construed as an attempt to replace the biological parent.



4. It's important that the stepparent not have unrealistic expectations about their level of closeness or intimacy with the stepchildren. Relationships are built, and it takes time and shared experiences to create a meaningful one. The stepparent should also be aware that the child may be experiencing a fair amount of emotional confusion — and may in fact feel guilty that they're betraying their biological mother or father by having a close and caring relationship with their stepmother or -father. Great care and patience should be taken to allow the child an opportunity to work through those feelings.



5. The stepmother or -father should actively support the chid's relationship with the biological mother or father no longer in the home. If you are in the role of stepfather, you should make it a priority to nurture a relationship between you and the biological father and to find every possible way you can to support a relationship between him and his children. By taking the high road of facilitation, you'll find it easier to overcome feelings of resentment both on the part of the biological father and the children he no longer has daily access to. This may require some real internal commitment on your part, because supporting your stepchildren's relationship with their biological but absent parent may seem tantamount to also supporting that parent's relationship with your spouse. Don't let jealousy or envy of the bond they share with their children or the working relationship and history with your current mate cause you to be less than supportive of that relationship.



6. If you're the stepparent in a truly blended family, where both you and your spouse have children being merged into a "yours, mine and ours" scenario, you must take great care not to be perceived as playing favorites through a double standard in which your children enjoy a better standard of treatment than your stepchildren. The truth is, however unpopular or politically incorrect it may be to say, you'll very likely have decidedly stronger positive emotional feelings for your biological children than for your stepchildren, at least in the beginning. You'll need to cloak this difference in emotional intensity. As time goes on and you share life experiences with your stepchildren, there will be a leveling of emotions toward all of the children. In the meantime, you should be hypersensitive to the need to deal with each in a like fashion. It can be very helpful in the early stages to actually quantify and balance the time, activities and money spent on biological and nonbiological children.



7. If you as a biological parent are having frustrations with the stepparent and what they're doing in relation to your children, I encourage you at a very early point to stop complaining and start specifically asking for what you want and need. If, for example, you feel they're spending more time playing games with their children, ask them specifically, for example, to play three board games per week with your child. Specifically ask for what you specifically want.



In summary, let me say it's true that it's difficult to see things through someone else's eyes if you haven't walked in their shoes. Whether you're the stepparent or it's your spouse who's in that role, talk frequently about how it's going and what the experience is from the other's point of view. If both of you have good intentions and a loving heart, this can be worked out. The key is to remember that the children are passengers on this train. They didn't get an opportunity to choose whether they wanted a new family member, so great care and patience should be taken to help them adapt to the situation."



I do agree with some of his points but is it really possible for step parents to take a back seat to discipline?

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Jodi - posted on 05/06/2011

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Ok here goes on all of these points from my perspective (sorry I think it might be pretty long):

My husband and I had MANY discussions in relation to the children. We have had our ups and downs, and we have managed to find a happy place that suits our family. In the early days, we discussed this often. It was difficult. We had (when we first started to live together, we had already been dating for more than 12 months):



- His daughter – 10 years old (lives with her mum, visits every second weekend)



- My son – 5 years old (lives with us, visits his dad every second weekend)



- His son – 3 ½ years old (lives with his mum, visits us every second weekend)



Since then, we added another one to the mix a couple of years later, so it has been quite the rollercoaster. We are seriously one complicated family, so I am not going to get too much into it.



Anyway as a result of all these dynamics, we have always had our BASIC established house rules. They are rules that both my husband and I agree are rules for EVERYONE. We don’t CARE that “your mum lets you do this” or “your dad lets you do that”. Our house rules, end of story. This is the ONLY way to be fair to all the children. Having rules that apply to all of them. To be fair, there were different rules that were also age based (things like bedtimes, etc).



In the early days, we were careful about WHO disciplined about the house rules. So if a rule was broken, hubby and I “told tales” to each other (pathetic isn’t it??) so that it could be dealt with. Dealing with it ourselves was a gradual process, and more often started to fall to me, because I was usually the one at home. No, there is no spanking in our home….could you even IMAGINE the implications of that? We wouldn’t do it anyway, but just not even an option. However, time out is an option, so are certain sanctions. We do NOT try to impose our discipline, however on the other home (eg, sorry he is banned from this at our house, so you have to ban them there). We discipline independently of their other family.



Here’s where I agree with Dr PhiL:

- It is difficult to discipline your spouse’s children when they are older.

- As stepparents, we should not have unrealistic expectations – it takes a LOT of time and effort to develop a relationship with stepchildren.

- A stepparent should always encourage a positive relationship with the biological parents, BOTH of them, not just the one the stepparent is married to. Nothing worse than hearing a stepmother/father bag out the biological parent to the child. I mean, really?? He/she is just a kid!!! They have EVERY right to love BOTH of their biological parents without hearing about the crap.



Here’s where I disagree with Dr Phil:

- There will always be boundaries between adult and child, BUT when these boundaries are broken, I think it should be the role of BOTH the stepparent and the parent to address this, regardless of age.



Here’s an issue on which we are kind of in-between on:

- Never play favourites with the his, hers, our situation. To be honest, come things like Christmas, Easter, Birthday, we DO actually buy more for our daughter than we do for the other kids……but we have explained to each of them why. She has started to clue up that they get TWO lots of gifts at Christmas, Easter, Birthday, and she doesn’t. She has a REALLY good point. So we have changed the way we do things to make it appear more *fair* to her.



Do you know what she said to me one day? She wished she had two homes like all her siblings did……so yeah, we probably do, with some things, play favourites because if we treat ALL of the kids exactly the same, she misses out…….



On a final note, if you happen to be the only "parent" home to deal with the issue, and it requires immediate intervention, it absolutely IS your right to do so, as long as it is withing the realms of the discipline methods you have discussed with yoru spouse. Quite honestly, when it comes to discipline of stepchildren, I think you have to be so much MORE on the same page than the average parent, because there is ANOTHER parent involved who could make it VERY difficult if you screw up.



Anyway, I’ll wait and see what further comments end up on this thread before posting further….sorry for the essay!!!

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Yellow - posted on 08/04/2013

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I think this is a great article. I just wish that both bio and step-parents could see things this way and could both be mature adults, because lets face it, we all know that not all parents bio/step are able to be civil, even for the children.

My husbands ex is this way. My husband and I are always trying to make efforts to be civil and make transitions as smooth as possible for the kids. She will purposely do things just because she thinks she can. She always fails to tell my husband things that are going on with the kids and decides to make decisions without talking to him. She has always been this way. She is the type of person that feels she doesn't have to inform the father of anything simply because they live with her primarily, even though their divorce decree specifically states that she is to inform him of all things when it comes to matters with the children.

In order for Dr Phil's method to work, it requires all adults in the situation to be adults and not act like children.

Amber - posted on 05/06/2011

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I've only been on the receiving end too. My mom remarried when I was 15, but they have been together since I was 13. I've had my issues with him, but for the most part he's a wonderful man. He's my son's grandpa because my real father is not in the picture. He can be an ass, but he usually defers to my mom for all discipline which made it easier. We were always treated the same at birthdays and holidays, but we were older so it wasn't as much of an issue.

He does favor his son, but my SB lives out of state now so I can kind of understand that. His wife died in a car accident, so he has always pampered his son a little bit to make up for it.

However, my SF's family.....that's another story! All through out my teens years, his mother and one of this siblings would tell anybody who would listen what a bad influence I was and blah blah blah. Even though I worked, was involved in school activities, and always made good grades.

Now that I've graduated hs and college with honors and am well-off in my own right, they claim that I've ALWAYS been their favorite. They brag about me to anybody who will listen. I just want to tell them to shove it. You can't treat a person like shit for 7-8 years and then decide you like then because they turned out well and you want something from them!

So, I think number 8 should be added to say:
Always treat them nicely, they might make a lot of money one day and refuse to share it! :)
(I'm being sarcastic just in case you didn't know lol)

Lady Heather - posted on 05/06/2011

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Tip of the iceberg. She told my aunt whom she'd never met before that she had a drinking problem, told my cousin that my mother has no sense of style (and believe you me, if you saw pics of them both you would laugh hysterically at that), complained to my SIL about having to attend my sister's wedding shower and proceeded to roll her eyes throughout the whole thing and the actual wedding ceremony. But probably my favourite one ever was after I had Freja I was a total mess. I have fibromyalgia so I tend to have a lot of pain anyways. I was really bruised from my stitches and couldn't walk. I got mastitis and couldn't even lift my arms. I was severely anemic. Basically the first two weeks were physical torture. My dad invited us over for dinner but I wasn't going anywhere. The Sequel came to pick up my sister and started ranting about how there's "always something wrong with Heather". Hilarious because she never knew me when I was actually couch-ridden. She's only known active, running, hiking, healthy eating, just had the Norwalk virus that one time Heather. I put so much effort into being this way despite my physical issues that it's kind of a piss off to hear that said about me. My sister told her to fuck off and then it was a really uncomfortable car ride.

See, could totally go on all day. We have still just barely scraped the surface. It's also one of my favourite things to rant about though, so I should be thankful for that aspect of thing. Everyone loves a good rant.

Jenni - posted on 05/06/2011

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I have a step grandmother who is totally whack. I can relate. It was hard dealing with her as a child. Luckily, we only saw her once a year on christmas eve. She was French Nana because she was from Quebec. She's always saying really weird, disturbing, insulting or judgemental shite. I housesat for her once and she told me "Don't steal my jewelry Jennifer, I have some to give you when I get home!" I mean, WTH? Why on earth would you think I'd steal from you? and why the heck would I want your cheap old lady costume jewelry? Please, don't even bother giving it to me because it will just sit in the bottom of my jewelery box. (or at least that's what I thought in my head). I've learned as an adult to take what she says with a grain of salt, laugh it off and just chalk her up as being batty.



She calls me every couple of months to try to give me furniture I don't want because she just wants to get rid of it. She's really pushy and I don't understand a word she says on the phone! Sometimes I can pick out just enough words to somewhat make sense of what she's talking about.



She's terminal right now. So I am trying to talk to her more and visit with her before she passes. I do love her. She is the only grandmother I've known on my mom's side.

Lady Heather - posted on 05/06/2011

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She started calling us her daughter and son-in-law after a few months. DISTURBING. Now all of this is different when it comes to Freja. Freja has always known the Sequel (we call her that because she and my mum are both Sharon and the sequel is never as good as the first one), so she's Grandma. I'm pretty sure one day she will figure out that one of her Grandmas is totally whack, but I will let her come to that realization on her own.

I call my stepdad Stepfrenchie because he's from Quebec and has an awesome accent. They got married when I was 27. He drives me a little batty sometimes because he's not the most focused person and he makes fun of me when the Canucks lose, but he loves my mum to pieces and he's a great grandpa to Freja so he can stick around as long as he wants.

Jenni - posted on 05/06/2011

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Yeah no kidding, eh? That is absurd! Is she completely out to lunch?

I'd have a heck of hard time holding my tongue in that restaurant!

*who* does that? Upon first meeting you adult SKs you critisize them?? Upon meeting *anyone* for the first time you critisize them? Yikes. I don't know how you deal.



My mom remarried when I was an adult (24 yo). I love my step dad. ;) He's awesome but he certainly never tried to play daddy. I have an adult relationship with him because we are *adults*. When I first met him I'd go out partying with him and my mom... go see bands play and hang out. He never has treated me like a child. Always just as another adult.

Lady Heather - posted on 05/06/2011

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By older, I mean fully adult. Hahaha.

The first time I met her it was my dad's birthday and their first date. They were just meeting for coffee and he asked if he could bring her to dinner with us if things went well. So of course we were fine with that. So they show up and she decides to lecture me on how spoiled my siblings and I are (????). At this point my sister and I are fully independent mid-20s and my brother is in his last year of uni. She decides that because my dad is paying my brother's car insurance that we must all be spoiled. Nevermind that my brother paid his own tuition, rent and all other bills through student loans and a part time job. Rent was expensive near school so my dad paid the car insurance because it was the cheaper option and the bus system was crappy. Nevermind that my sister and I started working and contributing at 14 years old and my brother started working at 10. For real. He begged to be a child labourer because he wanted to be able to buy his own stuff. Hahaha. She might know this if she had ever met him or something.

Then she told the waiter it was my dad's birthday so he brought a cake and some singers. I deliberately didn't do this because my dad hates that crap. She says "well, somebody had to do SOMETHING to make this special." I'm sorry, but a $200 meal doesn't count as special? And it's not like she offered to pay for any of it. We bought her 50 bucks worth of food and alcohol and we'd just met her. Didn't even say thanks.

omg. I could go on and on and on. She can't figure out why the extended family doesn't treat her as nicely as they do my mum. Well, let's see. My mum has been in the picture since 1974. She is my cousins' aunt no matter what. And she doesn't tell them they look like whores and she can actually remember their names.

I think when you come into a relationship with someone who has independent adult children you need to take what you can get. My stepdad never tried to force the issue and we have a fine relationship. The first time I met him he just told me how great my mum was and we had some standard chit chat. You know, like normal people.

Jenni - posted on 05/06/2011

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@Heather... yeah, I can completely understand that. A step parent (especially one joining the family later) should definitely take into consideration that it takes time to build a relationship with the child. It is upsetting enough for a child to endure a divorce and have such drastic changes made to the family dynamics. An outsider coming in and immediately wanting to play 'mommy' and do the discipline can be damaging to their long term relationship. When entering a family the step parent should be cautious and give the relationship time to build slowly. A step parent should never try to replace the biological parent. That much is true.

Every situation is different though. But I think with older children, maybe 3 years and up.... A step parent should cautiously and gradually build a relationship. I don't see how discipline can be completely avoided though for the rest of the child's life... except maybe in much older children. But I can see how discipline should be for the most part the biological parent's duty. At least until a relationship has been established between the SP and SK.

There are situations where it is impossible for a SP to take a backseat during the entire relationship. When the step parent is the main care provider (the biological parent works). When the step parent has been involved with the child from a very early age. When the step children live full time with them. When the step parent is the primary disciplinarian. Of course I still think it's reasonable for the step parent to take a back seat in the beginning of the relationships. I don't think it would be right to enter the family and start disciplining the moment you move in. That's asking for trouble. Or for a step parent to discipline older children.

Lady Heather - posted on 05/06/2011

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Having only been on the receiving end of step-parenting, and only much later in life:

Dear dad's wench, See number 4.

Jane - posted on 05/06/2011

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Absolutely! A step-parent can indeed take a backseat in discipline. That's what I did with my stepson. I could listen to his problems all day long, and I could and did expect him to treat me with civility, but when it came to rule-breaking m y husband was always the one who imposed punishment. He also was the only one who gave my SS money. The kid had a history of manipulating his mom and I did not want to get into the middle of that so I always made sure that he knew that I always discussed him with my husband.

He tried to get around it a few times but quickly discovered that I was unrelentingly polite and interested but that everything having to do with discipline or money was deferred to his dad.

It wasn't easy but I was the grownup and he was the kid, so I stuck to my guns. I can't say he loves me particularly but he did as I asked and didn't try to break anyone up.

In one sense I had it easy in that his mom was dead, and my husband and I had no other children for several years after we married. I did make sure that my SS got mementos of his mom such as her jewelry and family photos. but above all I kept my relationship with him completely transparent as far as my husband was concerned. A few times I did speak with my husband about penalties that I believed were too harsh for the crime, but he made all the decisions and imposed punishment.

In addition, when we added children to the family I insisted that all of the kids were our kids so our family, however it changed, was still a united team.

I agree 100% that frequent, polite communication is key.

Jenni - posted on 05/06/2011

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Oh yes. Good point on the holidays/birthdays. Ours are in complete disarray! We haven't managed to sort that out. Both of our parents live close. So we have to do two seperate holidays (xmas, easter mostly). We all (my parents included) get together at my inlaws to celebrate birthdays so far. Which works out ok. We do spend the same amount on presents for SD as my BC even though she gets two birthdays.
Christmas and Easter are a mess though!!! We celebrate Christmas twice... once at my parents, once at hubby's parents. SD usually misses out on one of the celebrations because she is spending it with her mom. So she still gets presents and winds up getting them a day or so after my BC opens his. Which does NOT work. We've had to save one present for him to open on that day but he (at almost 3 yo) realizes she gets more than him that day. I honestly, don't know how to make it streamline.

I remember when I was a kid how hard it was to understand why my step cousins got totally kick ass gifts (whatever the top toy of the year was) on christmas eve at my mom's dads. While we got imitation barbies and a pair of pjs. They explained it to us that it was because this was their main christmas while we celebrated our main christmas with my dad's family. As a kid it was hard for me to understand that and while I watched my cousins open up their big gifts I couldn't help but feel they were favoured over us.
So I'm so torn over this one.
Any advice would be greatly appreciated! :)

Yeah, we don't use physical discipline either. I am curious how families work that one out if one family believes in physical punishment and the other doesn't.

From the get-go we realized that it is impossible to have the same expectations between households. We do it our way at our house. BM does it her way at her house. I will not get into the "but Mommy lets me do it!" or "we don't do it that way at mommy's house". Every household is without doubt going to run differently and there are no exceptions to rules. I laid that one on the table for my husband early. He would always make excuses that he had to put her to bed later because that's how her mom did it. Or we couldn't expect her to do things a certain way because that's not how she does it at her home.

I explained to him that we could not possibly make exceptions for her in front of our son. How completely unfair that would be. Also, he was under the assumption that it would be unrealistic to expect certain things of her that isn't expected in her house. I used the school, daycare, visiting friends houses and how she would have different behaviours expected of her in life in general based on where she is. Luckily, we managed to find common ground on that one.

Jenni - posted on 05/06/2011

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I'm very curious to hear your views on this one Jodi.



I'm a SP too. I have been in my SD's life since birth. I have a very strong bond with her and I do not treat her differently than my biological children. This includes discipline. I know Dr. Phil does take into consideration (or at least makes a point of mentioning) that some situations are different ie: SP that have been in their child's life since they were born. But it seems that he is talking about a stereotypical situation involving a step father who enters the relationship later. Or that the step children are only visiting/living with the parents while the biological parent is at home. It doesn't take into account when the biological parent is at work or any other situation they are absent.



In my situation I believe it's best to treat all my children exactly the same and I do feel like she is one of my children especially since I've been in her life since birth.



The discipline in our family often falls on me with all of our children. My husband isn't a big fan on disciplining. ;) Although he does, just not as much as me. It's that classic scenerio where he works a lot and doesn't want the moment he steps in the door to start handing out time outs. I don't mind taking on the role as the primary disciplinarian.

Jodi - posted on 05/06/2011

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I don't think we have in this community Jennifer. I will read through this (I haven't read it yet) and comment back. i have my own very strong views on step-parenting, being a step-parent to 2 children for the last 7 years (now aged 18 and 12 - although I have been in their lives longer than 7 years - that's just when we were married) and what has worked for us.



But in a nutshell....no, it is NOT possible to be always taking a back seat with discipline - this is my house too, and my husband is not always here.

Jenni - posted on 05/06/2011

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I'm not sure if we discussed this topic already. So if we have let me know. :)

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