‘A Mom Trying to Figure It Out’ Asked:
Blended Family Rules
I seem to have a mess of questions lately. Most all revolve around my blended family where children are raised in two households. I would like to know how to thrive not only survive (surviving seems to be the best I can do some days). One of many questions I have is how to handle the things a stepchild (age 9) brings into my home that I am not comfortable with or how I am parenting my biological child (age 3).
Specifically, things like violent video games allowed for the stepchild that I don’t allow for my own. I know that as they grow older, there will only be more instances in which I have to explain why one child is permitted some things that the other is not. Can you provide any insight on how to have these conversations in an honest and positive matter to create understanding, not resentment?
A mom trying to figure it out
Dr. Zoe Answered:
Hi Mom Trying to Figure it Out,
I love that you used the word thrive! That is exactly what you are supposed to be doing in this season of your life! And this is a great question because it is such a common issue that needs to get resolved. Step-parenting is not for weaklings. I know this question has some pain and fear behind it, so give yourself a pat on your back for even asking it.
It seems your problem may be more about the age gap, and less about the step relationship. This is good news. Since there is a six-year age gap between your bio child and stepchild, it makes this conversation a little easier. This is your home and there should never be a time when your stepchild has different rules than you would have for your biological child of the same age.
Here are a couple of tips that should answer your question and make your family life a little easier:
1. You and your husband need to sit down and create a set of rules for your family for different ages. For example, 12-year-olds can have a cell phone, but five-year-olds can’t.
2. Make these rules universal for all kids in your family. It is totally okay (and necessary) to have different rules at your house than your stepson has at his other home. As long as your rules are consistent and the other house’s rules are spoken about with respect, children learn very quickly and easily adapt. For example, school rules are different than home rules and no one is having an anxiety attack about that.
3. When kids realize that the different rules are about their maturity (age) rather than stepfamily status, things will flow much better.
This means that you have to think long and hard about how you feel about the video games and make decisions with your husband about the family rules that will be applied to all kids. If this means that his son won’t be able to play certain games at your house, that is okay. Or, it might just mean that he is not allowed to play them around your younger child.
My son is 16, and I have a five-year-old daughter. I don’t censor much of what my son watches regarding movies and video games so much anymore. But we do have clear rules that if he is watching a movie or playing a game that his sister isn’t allowed to see and she is around, then he has to cut it off. Yes, it cramps his style a bit, but the conversation we have is that it is the responsibility of all members of the family to protect each other (including our minds and emotions) and that is what this rule teaches our son. My five-year-old understands that older people in the house have different rules because they are older.
Now it’s time to sit down and have the conversation with your children, explaining that there are different privileges that go along with different ages and that this applies to all kids in the household. Steer clear of this having anything to do with being a blended family issue.
When you speak to each child privately about the rules, make sure you play up how cool it is to be their age. So, three-year-olds might not be able to play the same game as 9-year-olds, but three-year-olds can still get piggyback rides and 9-year-olds olds are too big for that.
When you speak to your 9-year-old, make sure that you also play up the privileges he has at 9 that his three-year-old sibling doesn’t have and how he earns those privileges by following your house rules. Make it clear that some of your rules may be different from his other house rules, but you respect those at his other house and he needs to respect the rules in your home. And finally, provide him with some fun alternatives to violent video games or other activities that may not be allowed in your home.
Step relationships are tough, but you’ve got this! It just takes a little grit and grace!
To hear from Dr. Zoe on this topic, listen to this episode from This Grit and Grace Life podcast: A Therapist’s Practical Advice for Blended Families with Dr. Zoe Shaw – 050!
Read what some of our writers have to say about blended families: Stepmother: the Most Difficult Job in a Family, You, Your Man, and His Baby Mama All Need Grit and Grace, 5 Ways Blended Families Can Be Happy and Healthy, Divorce Was Not in the Plan, The Best Way to Co-Parent During the Holidays, and My Ex, My Kids and a Funeral.