In this episode of Blended Father, host James Ferris talks about the complexities of discipline in a blended family. He explains why discipline can be difficult, due to the different relationships between step-parents, step-children, and biological children. He emphasizes the need to have conversations with future spouses about discipline and to be aware of the different relationships between the family members. He encourages a deep and connected bond between parents and children, and the importance of understanding one another. Ultimately, he encourages families to plan ahead and to be prepared to navigate the complexities of blended families.
Any questions or comments. Please email James@blendedfatherhood.com
[0:00:23] James: Hello and welcome to Blended Father. I'm your host James Ferriss and on today's episode, we're going to be talking about discipline. Now, discipline is a topic that is very complicated and especially in a blended family, it gets really, really messy really quickly if you don't plan ahead. And so this is just going to be kind of a general overview of some stuff to think about when you're at the start of your blended family or if you're maybe getting married and going to end up with a blended family. So you want to talk to your future spouse about these things, which will be really helpful and help you navigate some of that kind of hairiness that can happen at the beginning of a blended family.
[0:01:02] James: Because discipline is such a difficult topic, first thing I want to do is I want to talk about a couple of different things on why discipline is difficult. And that is because of the relationships that you have with your step kids and the relationship that your wife has with step kids or her kids and the relationship that you might have with your kid. Those relationships are all different. Now, not to say that one is better or the other. You can have fantastic relationships with anybody, but they're different.
[0:01:36] James: And so when you come into a relationship and you have a child and you've known them for, let's say, eight years, you've known them for eight years, you are well aware of a bunch of different things about them. They are well aware of a bunch of different things about you. They understand your attentions. They know where your love comes from, how love is kind of distributed from you, how they feel love from you. There's a lot of stuff that they know. And you kind of have this bonded relationship that's really, really deep and connected and that's a great thing.
[0:02:07] James: On the contrary, when your wife has a kid who's nine and you get married and you maybe have known them a year and a half, okay, so she's known them nine years, you've known them a year and a half, that relationship is not as strong as the relationship that's been there for nine years. Right? And so because the relationship is not that strong and there isn't that bonded sort of pairing between the stepparent stepchild, there is a lack of grace when discipline is given or situations arise that might be seen as unfair or unjust.
[0:02:46] James: When a parent disciplines a child and maybe it's unfair because it's like a heat of the moment, there is a little bit of grace that happens because they have that bonded relationship and it's easier for them to understand rules and things that are set in place because of that bonded relationship. But when that doesn't exist, it's so much easier for them to think, no, that's just the enemy. They are unfair person.
[0:03:09] James: They are a mean person. I don't like them and they don't give you that grace that they would give to their biological parent. A good instance of this is something that happened at the beginning of a relationship. And I take full responsibility for this because I went into it a little bit like, here we go. Boom. We're a family. Awesome. This is our house. I'm the father. We're going to make sure that everybody is following rules. We're going to be doing the things that we need to do. And I'm like, Bam. Here we go. Let's take care of this. And mind you, I had read a bunch of different books and listened to stuff, and I knew the idea that, hey, my wife needs to take the lead with my two step kids.
[0:03:50] James: And I knew that. And I think we kind of had a conversation where I had said that to her, but in reality, that did not happen. I kind of let that go and it didn't work or I didn't fully have her back and stuff. And so one of the stories that happened at the very beginning of a relationship, we just got married, we're newlyweds, we're spending a lot of time together. It's amazing. It's awesome. And I think the last thing, and even parents who've been married for a while kind of don't like to hear is this whole, like, can I come in?
[0:04:23] James: Can I come in at the door at night. To me, it's like, oh, come on, seriously? And our youngest, he kind of had a bedtime, but not really. And I was very much like, no, you need to have a bedtime. It's good for your brain. You need to sleep. You need to know how to fall asleep. You need to know how to follow a schedule. These are all really good things. And as a teacher, I'm establishing routine because routine is really important, especially for the younger the kid is. And so they don't have a routine. It's like not so great. So again, I'm trying to establish a routine. And this was pretty much immediate. I was like, no. Bam. Boom. Here's the routine that we're going to go with. Here's your bedtime. This is going to happen. You're going to go to bed. Didn't even take into context, I guess, some of his previous sort of things where he didn't really have the most strict bedtime.
[0:05:07] James: She was a single mom. They lived in a two bedroom apartment. She's doing the best she can. She did an amazing job. But he doesn't have his bedroom, really, by himself. So he's co sleeping with a couple of different people, a sister, sometimes, whatever. Doesn't matter. He doesn't have the set. Sort of like, boom, here's your room. Boom, here's your bedtime. You need to get some sleep. And then here's this guy, me, who comes in kind of like the enemy and is like, no. Boom. Here we go. 08:00 P.m.. Bam. You're going to bed. Goodbye. See ya. Because I want that alone time with my wife. Now, I did not say goodbye, SIA. But again, to him, I'm pretty sure that's probably how it came off. He's like, this guy's trying to come in and ruin everything and whatever. And so it was a lot of nights of screaming, crying, terror, I don't even know, yelling, slamming a doors. It was not good, and I don't think we handled it the best.
[0:05:56] James: Eventually, it got better. There's still a lot of the can I come in at night? And then also just a lot of, like, procrastinating when I'm like, hey, you got 30 minutes till bed, and it's like 20 minutes go by, no movement, no go to brush your teeth, nothing. And I'm like, okay, you got ten minutes to go to bed. I think even last week, maybe I grounded him because I was like, dude, I told you 30 minutes. I told you ten minutes. And now you got, like, two minutes. You haven't showered, taken a bath, or brushed your teeth or whatever, right? And you got to do that in two minutes. And then he misses it, and you got to be more responsible.
[0:06:32] James: You know this. But at the beginning, it wasn't like that. So it also kind of delved a wedge a little bit between me and my wife, because if you think about this idea of bonded relationships and grace to somebody when something happens. So when you're a kid and your parent disciplines you, you show them a little bit of grace, even if you don't like it, because they're your parent and you have a relationship that's set in stone. And the same thing applies, too, when you have, like, a good friend, anytime you have a relationship that's over a long period of time, you have more grace for them when something bad happens or something they do you don't like. And that's just kind of how it goes because you know them, and so you know kind of like where their heart is at, and maybe it was a mistake, and you give them a little bit more grace. So when you're in a new relationship and you have multiple different new relationships that you're trying to navigate and you say something like, hey, go to bed, or know, you're grounded, or this is really frustrating, you need to follow directions.
[0:07:31] James: And they take that as something that's, like, very hurtful, and you don't have that grace from them because you don't have that bonded relationship. It's way easier for them to be like, you're the enemy. This is your fault, instead of them being like, okay, dad, and kind of getting over it and moving on and giving you that grace. The next thing that's a little bit more complicated is when you do discipline a kid. And this happened, like, if you've ever had your kid kind of chastised by a teacher or they got disciplined and you think it was maybe a little bit unfair, which can happen sometimes.
[0:08:05] James: I mean, life isn't fair. So unfair disciplines do happen sometimes, and it's not something that's amazing, but it does happen. And if you think it's unfair, if you don't have a relationship with whoever is the person who gave that unfair discipline, it's going to be a little bit of a problem. And if you have a relationship with them, but maybe it's not the best relationship, then it's going to be something that's like, okay, that was not good. I don't like that at all. And so, again, there's a lack of grace. So let's say your new relationship. You're married six months in, and you get really mad at your stepdaughter, okay, and you discipline them. And maybe it wasn't exactly how you should have, and maybe it was a little bit unfair because you were just really angry, which happens. And if you're a parent and you've done this, it happens. Sometimes people make mistakes. We're adults, we're human.
[0:08:54] James: That's okay. But because it happened to a non biological child, number one, they feel a little bit unfairly, kind of chastised by you, and that's not good. But then if your wife sees it too, she's like, man, I don't know if I fully trust you to discipline and my kids, right? And so there's a weird sort of, like, outsider feeling that kind of happens because of this lack of emotional sort of grace in this area. And so that is something that has to kind of be reined in and just kind of identified because it can fester and make it feel like, okay, my wife doesn't think I'm good for this job. My kids don't think I'm good for this job.
[0:09:29] James: Am I good for this job? Am I good at doing this? And all the things that we talked about were, like, the lack of praise, the kind of urine job that you're not really supposed to be in, and maybe some of the jelly she sits in because their dad doesn't get that same treatment. So that's all not so great and stuff that can definitely well up and come up when we're talking about discipline. So you have to be aware of it and have a conversation with your wife about it. So how do we combat some of those kind of negative aspects that appear in our situation that we have as a father in a blended family?
[0:10:06] James: The most important thing is that you and your wife are on the same page. You have had conversations. You have laid out a plan for how discipline is going to work, specifically with how the nonbiological parent is going to discipline the non biological kids that they have. Doesn't really matter what kid is involved. Both you and your wife need to be on the same page. So everything is dealt fairly between both of you to any kid that is in the family.
[0:10:35] James: If it is unfair across between the different parents or somebody gives a discipline, and then the wife's like, no, that was too harsh. And they do it in front of the kid. You're not showing unity, you're not doing it together. It's not going to end well. And so you have to have those conversations with your wife and figure out how everybody can be on the same level and then explain that to the kids and say, hey, here's how this dynamic is going to work.
[0:11:00] James: I know you're still working on your relationship with your stepfathers, but he has my permission to kind of make these rules and have you follow these rules because these are the rules of the house. And just have that conversation. If that conversation never happens and there's nothing that makes it seem like mom is on board with you giving out discipline or you making some rules that need to be set, then they're going to kind of still think, okay, outsider, not exactly going to listen to them. And even if you do have this conversation, they still might think, okay, outsider, not necessarily, but you have the backing from your wife, and so it makes the whole family stronger because there is a unity there between the relationship that keeps everybody together, which is you and your wife.
[0:11:48] James: The second thing that I want to talk about, to help kind of deal with some of these discipline issues that arise is another consistency thing, but it has to do with specifically the kids in your family, right? So your family dynamic is different than mine, but we have or I have two step kids technically, and then I have one biological kid that's from both me and my wife. It's not from a previous relationship.
[0:12:13] James: And so with that, I have to deal fairly discipline across all three kids, and even not necessarily from a discipline aspect. I need to deal fairly with all three of those kids regardless of whatever it is. Right. And that's not always the easiest thing. It's not always the easiest thing when I think you're dealing with just your biological kids. But making being a blended family kind of makes it a little bit more difficult because you have a lot more divisions that already just inherently exist. Right.
[0:12:43] James: There is a division between me and my step kids just by the fact that they have another dad. And I'm not their biological dad. And even if I don't call them my step kids because I don't they're my kids, it's not something that just kind of melts away because I don't say stepkid all the time. And so you have to be consistent with your discipline. Now, my wife has called me out on this. She always thinks that I'm being too harsh.
[0:13:09] James: I like to think that I'd be consistently harsh, but in reality, I think I'm a little bit harsher on my son, who's ten now. Right. And I was harsh on him from the beginning. I'm not as harsh on our eldest daughter. And I don't really know where that comes from. I do need to work a little bit on making sure that that is fair. And especially when my biological son, he gets older, I need to make sure that there is a fair sort of discipline and not as harsh or just equally harsh to all the kids because it's going to drive division up.
[0:13:43] James: My son will see that I'm being harder on him than maybe my other two kids and he won't like that and any kid wouldn't like that, right? So you need to make sure that you're being fair and your wife, just talk to her about it. Have her be the person who will call you out. And that's going to be very difficult, very humbling, very something that you're probably not going to like because nobody really likes being called out when they do something wrong.
[0:14:03] James: But you just need to work at it continually. And again, it's okay if you're not perfect, but as long as you're aware that this issue is something that has to be fixed or that you are treating something unfair and you can take that in, then it's going to be way more beneficial because there's nothing that'll hurt it worse, is if you're completely unfair. And the reason they think it's because you're being unfair is because you're not their biological kid, right? That is demoralizing. It's not something that anybody really would like to think.
[0:14:32] James: And so the opposite effect of he is fair to me and he loves me and I am not his biological kid, is a way better feeling to kind of promote just for the betterment of their life and your life in a blended family. And then last is just making sure that you're thinking about everything as a relationship. Even as a father, you want to have a relationship with your kids even if you're not in a blended family. But especially in a blended family, you want to be trying to have a relationship with all the kids.
[0:15:02] James: Doesn't matter where they are or what they're doing or how old they are. Your job is to have a relationship with them. So make sure that at the forefront of your dealings with them is make sure it's not discipline. For one, make sure that it's relational. You're doing the things that they like to do with them. You're being a good father. You're asking them about their day. You're doing all those things that have you building a good relationship with them and not disciplining them. Sometimes discipline happens.
[0:15:32] James: But the main focus is that you should be trying to build a relationship with them and listening to them, asking them for what they think, being patient with them. And it might take years to bond and develop a trusting, loving relationship with your nonbiological biological kids. But be persistent in the relationship building aspect. The more and more and more you do that, the easier it will be and the better your relationship is going to be.
[0:16:03] James: I'm kind of lucky in the sense that as a teacher, my youngest not our youngest, actually, so our son, who's ten, he goes to school with me. I take him, drive him in the morning, and while my wife was working, I would drive him everywhere. We're basically together 24/7 all the time. So I spent a really good amount of time with him, like getting to know him, figuring out what he likes, dislikes hanging out with him, being kind of his biggest champion. We spend a lot of time in the car, like talking, listening to music or doing those sort of things. I know all about everything that's going on in school. So I spent a lot of time trying to build that relationship up because at the beginning, I didn't do a good job.
[0:16:43] James: I was really harsh on him, and that kind of took its toll. And many different times he kind of shouted like, I hate you to me. And sometimes I think that's still there just a little bit. I can see it across his face where he's like, this guy, and that's okay, and I'm okay with that. Again, I'm still trying to build a relationship. I'm still trying to figure him out and just kind of make sure that he knows that I love him and I always will love him. And no matter what I did in the past or if I'm hard on him or not, that I always love him. And the same thing to do with my daughter taking that foot off and then now trying to sometimes put the gas back on some of the discipline and kind of talking to her, that wasn't a good thing either. Because now it's just like, well, okay, I don't fully know how to relate to you, but I also want to make sure that again, is our relationship good? And how do I build that relationship?
[0:17:42] James: The age of your step kids kind of helps or hinders this. So the younger they are, the easier it is to kind of establish a relationship because they're going to be in the house longer, you're going to have way more time to actually interact with your step kids. The older they are, the less time you're going to have because they're going to be either leaving the house, they're a lot busier, they spend a lot more time doing other things that don't relate to their parents at all. And so you have to be very intentional about how you're spending your time to make sure that everything is coming from a relationship standpoint and that the interactions are more relational rather than your interactions only being disciplined. If your interactions are only disciplined, you're not going to build a good relationship and you're going to be stuck in this like I hate you mode, you're the enemy mode for a lot longer than you want to be.
[0:18:28] James: Now, I know that was a little bit of a whirlwind of information real quick about discipline. We'll dive a lot deeper into some very specific issues in some later episodes. Again, I just wanted to kind of give a general overview of discipline and a couple of different things that you want to think about, especially when you're first starting out. If you've been doing this for a long, long time, this might not have been the most helpful because you kind of know some of that stuff. But if you're just starting out, there's some really good information that you should kind of key in on.
[0:18:57] James: Thank you so much for listening. I really appreciate it. If you like the podcast, please subscribe. Please like, please follow. Please share with any fathers you know who are in blended families who might need something to listen to that can help them out or help them relate again. Also, if you have any questions, comments, love to hear from you. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And next time we're going to be talking about those specific relationship building things you can do or a couple different specific relationship building things you can do.
[0:19:29] James: Again, thank you so much for listening. See you next time. Bye.