Thu 12 Jul 2012
Everyone in the family looses when kids are encouraged and/or rewarded to disrespect their stepmom and their father.
As part of the “What Would You Do?” series, I’m sharing with you a collective question I received from many stepmoms: how do you handle it when you feel your stepkids are encouraged and/or rewarded by their mom to be disrespectful to you and their father?
It doesn’t seem uncommon for stepmoms to struggle with a bio mom who openly encourages her children to be disrespectful to her and the children’s father. Some stepmoms even shared that their stepchildren are rewarded for being disrespectful and/or disobedient.
Often it appears that a child isn’t openly encouraged (or told) to disrespect their stepmom. Rather, the mom verbally rewards their child when they share that they spoke disrespectfully to their stepmom and/or dad. I’ve heard from some stepmoms where their stepchildren are physically rewarded.
This not only wounds the stepmom and dad but it really puts the kids into a loyalty tug of war. A tug of war where the child is the biggest loser. When any parent encourages their child to be disrespectful, it’s a form of alienation and it plays havoc on a child’s emotional well-being: “someone I love is telling me to be mean to someone else I love….how do I make sense of that?”
I believe it is essential for a child’s emotional health and for the health of the child’s future relationships that no parent ever bad mouth another parent in their presence or verbally or physically reward their child when they share any disrespectful talk or action toward the other parent and/or stepparent. If and when an unkind word is spoken, it’s important for the adult to go to the child and apologize.
One stepmom wrote to me that her eight year old stepson came home from his mom’s with a new ipod touch. When she asked where he got the “new toy” he told her “mom took me out and bought me this when I told her that I refused to do my chores for you.” This stepmom was first speechless and then furious. She admits that she told her stepson how wrong that was of his mother and regrets ever saying it. She later apologized to her stepson for her reaction.
I’ve heard from other stepmoms that their stepchildren are told by their mother that they don’t have to listen to their stepmom because she isn’t their real mom. Another stepmom shared that her kids are physically rewarded for disobeying she and her husband (their father). The kids will come home with new stuff and say their mom bought it for them because they told her how they didn’t follow the rules at “dad’s house”.
The reality is that these stepmoms can’t stop the mom from saying and doing what she is doing. While the kids may love the “stuff” they get from mom, it has to pang their hearts to comprehend why she is doing it. I say stay firm with your rules and in enforcing the consequences for those rules. At some point the children will have to decide if the consequence for disobeying you and their dad is worth the “item” and/or verbal praise they get or it. A child will at some point wonder “what does mom’s actions say about her if she is rewarding me for being disrespectful?”
While your stepchildren may not like your rules they will come to appreciate your consistency. They come to learn they can depend on you. You are the same today, tomorrow and the next and that brings peace to a child especially when there can be many “unknowns” living in two homes often with two sets of rules.
It’s important for all of us to remember that kids are kids and to try hard not to take it personally. I know it sounds simple but what kid is going to turn down a new toy or gadget from a parent? Having said this, I’m suggesting that regardless of whether a child is rewarded for disrespecting a parent, that disrespected parent/stepparent has to take the high road and not condemn the parent in front of the child and not condemn the child for accepting the new “toy”. I would even caution against approaching mom. If her goal is to upset you and you give her that, she is getting what she wants and your reaction may validate her actions for her and may motivate her to continue her choices.
I also think it’s important to remember that if the other home is truly encouraging disrespect that their words/actions speak volumes about their character and not about you and your spouse and how you run your home.
As hard as it can be at times, maintain “your house. your rules” and reinforce that you set the rules in your home and all the kids are expected to follow them. You can stress that respect is fundamental to every relationship and that respect need be extended to everyone in the family. No exceptions. This rule should come down from the father. It makes a strong impact when dad backs his wife (the stepmom) to the children.
And I must note that this issue is not just limited to moms against stepmoms. I’m discussing it in this context given that the struggles have come from stepmothers however, I believe some parents in general (moms, dads and stepparents) encourage their kids to disrespect the other parent. I also believe that many parents don’t consciously set out but due to insecurities they find themselves rewarding their kids for a disobedient attitude and actions at their other home. No excuses just pointing out that pain unfortunately governs many parental decisions especially in co-parenting situations.
In closing, a stepfamily is a family and the greatest blessing a child can experience who lives in a stepfamily is to feel love, acceptance and peace. A parent may not like that their child has a stepparent but accepting them and encouraging love and peace is a gift that will bless the child beyond words. The truth is that no matter how much a child loves and embraces their stepparent they will always love their mother and father: it’s a bond that even distance can’t break. This is something I wish every parent whose child has a stepparent would understand. There is no need for jealousy and no room for it either.
What suggestions do you have for a stepmom who struggles with this issue? Do you struggle with this? Does the mother of your stepkids encourage them to be disrespectful to you? Have your stepchildren ever been physically rewarded for being disobedient and/or disrespectful to you? Thanks for sharing.