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Tips for stepparents and their spouses

Blending your parenting styles

One of the most common problems in stepfamily life stems from the different parenting styles of the parent and their partner. It can be tough figuring out what style works best, especially when you don't agree. Learn some tips about blending your styles together to create a plan that works for both of you and your family.

A package deal


When you and your husband married, you inherited more than each other's children and mismatched furniture. You inherited each other's history, unique styles and hang-ups of parenting that now may clash like strips of busy wallpaper. It's a touchy, territorial subject, but there are methods to deal with it in a positive way.

The clashes you and your spouse have may be slight or severe. Either way, for the sake of your family, give them the attention they need. These issues won't go away -- they can only be managed. Dealing with them means patience, tolerance and compromise. Here are a few guidelines that should help.

Be specific.

Explain in as much detail as you can why you feel the way you do. Just because something seems obvious to you doesn't mean your spouse will automatically see it. You may have reasons for your actions based on a history with your child that your spouse doesn't know. Try to explain your feelings with as much concrete information as possible.

Listen.

Listen while your spouse explains why he or she feels the way he or she does. You can't understand what you won't even hear, so open your mind and be as objective as possible. Be sure that you clearly grasp what he or she is saying, even if you don't agree.

Be gentle.

There are few things people are more protective of than their children -- and their own ability to parent them well. Realize that whatever you say will hurt because it hits so close to home, so be as gentle and nonjudgmental as possible. This is not a time for trying to win, but a time for understanding. You can't get anywhere if someone feels so threatened that he or she can't hear you.

Give examples.

Blanket statements, especially about someone's children, are worthless for gaining understanding. You and your spouse will both be on the defensive when this topic comes up. If you can offer examples directly related to the problem instead of "always" and "never" kinds of statements, you can have a discussion more about cause and effect and less about placing blame.

Be flexible.

Just because you've always done it that way doesn't necessarily make it right. Sometimes, especially if we've been single parents for any length of time, we become more and more resistant to anyone else's ideas about our children. It's possible, though, that we need a wake-up call now and then and that we've gone too far in one direction or the other. An objective, dissenting voice is sometimes a blessing in disguise. Don't make concessions you're adamantly against, but consider the possibilities that your spouse may see something you can't.

Be consistent.

Once you and your spouse have agreed on a parenting style, keep it. Even if children don't like the rules, they will adapt if they know they won't change --and if they get the same answer from both of you.

Make it a "we" decision.

Dissent in private, but be joined at the hip in public. Stepparenting is not a popularity contest. It's a team sport, and you must share both the credit and the blame. Make it clear that decisions have come from both parents and that all future decisions will as well. When you and your spouse form a united front that is strong and unwavering, your children will find security in that. As you work through the inevitable clashes of your parenting styles, a new style will develop. It will be one that is uniquely suited to your blended family, one that will take the best from both of you and deliver the best to your children.
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