Discipline can be a point of contention in a blended family. Differences in parenting styles can literally make a couple split -- if you don't take measures to build strong relationships and to ensure that your marriage bond is strong.
When Lamar and I were engaged, I got my first glimpse of this step-family dynamic. We had an argument about how I disciplined my kids. I can't even remember exactly what we argued about, but I remember he said the word "ridiculous" and he also said the words "You need to..."
I was so angry with him. I was hurt. I was insulted. I thought, "The nerve of him... he does not even have kids, so how dare he tell me how to raise mine?" I almost threw my rings at him and wanted to tell him #$%^&*%^&*%^&. But thank God I didn't. I shudder to think that some other woman would be getting this good loving right now instead of me. I have to admit, it was very hard to see someone else discipline my kids.
I was a single mom and I did all of the disciplining at my house. And his style of discipline was very different from mine. I thought that he was a lot more strict than I am. And deep down, I was thinking, "Is he hard on my kids because they are not his kids, or is he hard on the kids because he is just more strict than I am?" It turns out that he is just more strict on certain issues.
Now that we have some years behind us, I would love to say that everything is just perfect and we are just one big happy family -- the Brady Bunch. But I would be lying if I said that. What I can say is that our relationship is stronger than ever.
Here are some things we did to keep our relationship strong:
- Communicate. I can't stress this enough. We really had to talk about our styles of discipline. We had some very tough conversations and some tears were shed. But after I told him how I really felt, and after he explained how he really felt, we were able to make some progress. Don't let anger and resentment build up. Please talk to each other, make a plan, and come to an agreement about how you are going to discipline the kids.
- Compromise. Don't assume that your style of discipline is the right way and that your partner's style is wrong. There is more than one way to raise a child. Learn to compromise with each other and be flexible. Since I am the biological parent, we defer to my parenting style for the most part, and Lamar supports me in my decisions. But there are some occasions where I need to consider Lamar's views.
- Stick together and support each other. No matter what, we support each other, especially in front of the kids. There have been times where I had to literally bite my tongue. I did not agree with how Lamar was handling things. And I am quite sure he does the same for me. But we talk behind closed doors. We do not disagree with each other in front of the kids.
- Build relationships. You need to work on building strong relationships in the family. According to Gordon and Carri Taylor, creators of the Designing Dynamic Stepfamilies curriculum, discipline can not take place if the relationship is not strong. But how long does it take to build relationships? It could take weeks, months, years or sometimes they never develop. The Taylors say time is a key factor in stepfamily development -- the older the child, the longer it takes. I found this to be true in our case, too. My daughter was just turning 2 when Lamar and I started dating. To her, Lamar is Daddy. My son was almost 11 years old when we met, and let's just say... they are not the best of friends.
One day after we had a really heated argument about the kids, Lamar told me that he loved me and the kids and was willing to do whatever it takes to make it work. I can't tell you how much that meant to me. It put things into perspective for me. We're not perfect, we are going to make mistakes... but we are working on this together and we are stronger because of it.
Essence family, do you have any tips from experience in a blended family? Share them with the group.
Lamar and Ronnie Tyler are the creators of the award-winning blog BlackandMarriedWithKids.com. They also are behind the Amazon.com bestselling DVDs Happily Ever After: A Positive Image of Black Marriage, You Saved Me and the upcoming film "Men Ain't Boys," which will explore manhood in the African-American community. The Tylers are also the proud parents of four children.