How I Learned To Discipline My Stepson


I am a stepmom. It's only been a short time and I'm still getting used to it. It's not easy.

I didn't have children of my own when my husband and I got married, so my first experience parenting has been with his 7-year-old son. Discipline is hard for a parent to enforce, at least for one who doesn't look to Mommie Dearest for inspiration, but how do you go about it when the child isn't your own? When you haven't been the one with them since birth, the one they have to love no matter what, because genetics told them so?

When my stepson came into my life, he was 5 years old and very much used to his arrangement of mother and father and grandparents and uncles and cousins. He took to me quickly and I to him and, in the beginning, it was literally all fun and games. His dad would come to visit and bring him along. The boy and I would spend time together having fun, going to the park, watching movies, taking silly pictures. It was a blast. We were smitten with one another. I felt like every awesome kids' character ever, come to life: I was fun incarnate.

Then he and his dad moved in with me. I was in no way prepared for the changes that were about to take place. I mean, I knew I would have to take on a motherly role, but I didn't realize what that really meant. Battling over a dirty room... enforcing reasonable bedtimes... insisting that healthy meals be eaten before dessert be doled out... it was all new to me. But there I was, ranting about "this mess of a room, and do I get paid to pick up dirty socks?" and "You can just stop that tantrum right there, mister, it's not going to get me to turn that television back on." When It Comes To Parenting, Does One Size Fit All?

And then I was just left wondering: what happened to me? What happened to that cool chick he knew and loved, the one I knew and loved, the one who played fun games and let him stay up late? And how was I supposed to handle a position of authority when I had no idea what that meant, no idea what right I had to be that authority figure?

It was interesting.

So I had to figure out how to discipline a child who wasn't mine by birth. Techniques got innovative. Tantrums were met with a lack of interest on my part, thus bringing the screeching to a screeching halt. (No audience means no fun.) Destroying a piece of clothing, such as taking scissors to a pair of school uniform pants, meant using allowance or even tooth fairy money to replace it. Having a fit in a store over a toy that would not be purchased resulted in sitting in the car with me while his dad finished the shopping. The boy is smart, and now knows that whiny voices will get him nowhere, tantrums will get him even less, it kind of sucks to use his own money to buy new school pants, and I am the least fun person in the world with whom you can sit in a car. Flattering? No. But I'll live with it.

It helps that my husband is amazing. We always back each other up when it comes to discipline and, if we disagree, we do it in private. If one says no, the other echoes it. There is no playing one of us against the other. We are a team, an unstoppable team. My husband leaves it to me to set a lot of the rules and lets me know when I'm venturing beyond reasonable parameters. I worry constantly that I'm too strict, too insistent on teaching proper behavior and encouraging good habits. I worry that I'm going to become that Mommie Dearest I really don't want to be. So far, so good, because he tells me I'm doing fine. And he tells me his boy loves me. Parenting Conflict? Make Sure Your Kid Wins

To tell you the truth, I love that kid right back.