A stepmom overheard her 13-year old stepson say to his custodial dad, “Mom says — and I totally agree with her – that if you let your kids drink when they’re young, they have less issues with it when they’re older.”
A stepdad reports that his 10-year old stepdaughter reeks of cigarette smoke when he and his wife pick her up for from weekends with her biological dad. Not that the child is smoking; the bio dad is.
Yet another stepmom hears from her adolescent stepson that he just met his mom’s new boyfriend – and that boyfriend slept over that very night.
While each of these scenarios may or may not necessarily be indications of bad parenting in and of themselves, the issue is that they are examples of parenting styles that the stepparent disagrees with. Strongly.
The stories are endless. What our stepchildren are exposed to with the “other parents” may be totally counter to our own value system, to how we behave with them and to the example we are trying to set. It may sadden us. It may even sicken us. But it is beyond our control. So what is a stepparent to do?
One thing you want to be certain not to do is disparage the child’s biological parent, no matter how strongly you feel.
Jeanette Lofas, Founder & President of the Stepfamily Foundation advises us to “teach children to honor each parent’s point of view . . . Know that when children must judge, they lose half of their sense of self.” She goes on to warn, “Don’t make kids choose!”
So what are your options? Should you or your partner talk to the Ex about the offensive behavior? You should definitely not as it could set off a whole new set of problems that aren’t worth dealing with, possibly even encouraging that negative behavior to increase.
As for your partner speaking to his or her Ex, that’s a possibility, but it all depends on their current and former relationship. In many cases, it’s unlikely to change anything. These conflicting values could be the very reason they got divorced! In addition, if the Ex learns that it’s the stepparent who is questioning the behavior, we’re back to possibly encouraging spiteful actions.
The article Stepfamily Discipline Issues on FamilyEducation, advises us that “The only time you and your partner should interfere with life at the ex’s house is if you suspect or know that there is abuse—mental, emotional, sexual, or physical—going on. As your stepchild’s ally, you do have a responsibility to do something.”
But assuming no imminent danger, you still feel the need to do something. One very wise biological father whose Ex’s values conflict with his and his current wife’s says that he has spoken to his child and said the following: “You will be exposed to many different people in your life and to many different ways of behaving. Eventually, you are going to make choices about what behavior you agree with and what you don’t. I want you to make good choices, so if you ever have any questions about anything you see anyone doing, please know that you can talk to me.”
You will notice that he did not specify that he was referring to his Ex’s behavior, as he knows that his child loves his mother very much and he did not want to get in the way of that relationship. But you can bet that he and his wife are always sure to behave in ways that they hope their son/stepson will want to emulate.
So no matter how frustrated you may get, follow this piece of advice from Stepfamily Discipline Issues which sums it up best:
“You and your partner have little control over the rules and customs at the ex’s house. All you can do is stress your own values, and trust that your behavior modeling will rub off on your stepchild.”