By Chrissy Bernal
We’ve had several issues with my step-son’s mother over the years, so I appreciate you all allowing me to share with you what I’ve been dealing with as it’s cathartic for me, and if I can help other parents at the same time, that’s even better.
When you get married, you get married “for better or for worse, in sickness and in health.” You marry your spouse and everything that comes along with them.
When my husband and I got married, we were an instant family of 5—the two of us, my twin daughters, and his son. My girls were young and they developed a bond with my husband pretty quickly. Their father isn’t in the picture, so my husband and I are the only parents they know. His son was 6 and wasn’t too keen on the idea that his mom and dad wouldn’t be getting back together.
He admittedly “hated” me. Having twin girls, I had no clue what to do with a boy. However, I tried my best to relate to him, to make sure he knew I wasn’t there to replace his mom, and tried to let him know that I was there as another person who loves him.
Being a parent is hard, but being a step-mom is really hard. It’s exponentially harder when the divorced parents aren’t able to work together. My husband and I are usually on the same page regarding parenting tactics and believe the families should work together as a team to raise a child.
When divorced parents don’t work together, the child learns quickly how they manipulate each parent to get what they want.
My step-son learned quickly that, despite living under our roof, if he got grounded at our house, he could simply tell his mom he wanted to see her and she would come get him for the weekend. When we would tell her that we had to ground him for a particular behavior, she always replied that he wasn’t grounded at her house.
She may have thought that she was hurting us by not backing us up, when in reality, she was actually hurting her son. She was showing him that his dad didn’t deserve respect, which teaches a lack of respect for authority that flows over into many aspects of life. She was teaching him that consequences can be avoided. It doesn’t take much illustration to prove that that’s a bad idea. And she was essentially insulting her son. Children instinctively love their parents, so when you don’t show respect for the parent, it can make the child feel like they’re doing something “wrong” or that they’re “foolish” for loving their parent.
It is imperative that divorced parents offer a united parenting front for their child. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, "A child living with his/her divorced mother, compared to a child living with both parents is 375% more likely to need professional treatment for emotional or behavioral problems and is almost twice as likely to repeat a grade of school, is more likely to suffer chronic asthma, frequent headaches, and/or bedwetting, develop a stammer or speech defect, suffer from anxiety or depression, and be diagnosed as hyperactive." That’s an awful lot. What a huge difference between a child of divorce and a child living with their original parents. When divorced parents offer a united front, it will better simulate a two-parent household for your child and will help in lowering the chances of them falling into the percentage discussed above.
Important tips for providing a united front:
Agree on the movies, TV, and music your child may watch or listen to.
Agree on a curfew for your child.
Agree on activities your child may participate in and communicate about them. If your child is in a play at school or has a special event, make sure you tell the other parent. Don’t rely on your child to relay the message.
Do not use your child as a messenger. If you have something negative to say or have an issue with your ex, talk with them directly.
Do not talk poorly about your ex to or around your child.
Agree to back up the other parent on discipline in the respective houses—assuming there’s no abuse taking place. If you disagree with your ex on how they handled an issue, discuss that with them in private and come to an agreement. (This does not mean you tell the other parent how to parent. This means you respect their boundaries, express your concerns if necessary, but ultimately back their move.)
Welcome your ex into your home to visit with your child. When your child feels like the parents get along and respect one another as parents, they’re less likely to feel uncomfortable and awkward.
Show respect for your ex’s new spouse. 20% of children of divorce also experience divorce in their parent’s second marriage. You don’t have to be excited about your ex’s new spouse, but showing disdain in front of your child will make your child feel awkward. Having a step-parent can be a blessing. Allow step-parents to help when possible. They can take a lot of the parental burdens off the biological parents and further emphasize to your child that it’s a united front.
Don’t use your child as a weapon. Keeping your child from their other parent simply because you’re mad at the other parent has extremely detrimental effects on your child.
Remember that you’re still the adult and your child is still a child. Do not involve them in your dating life (until it gets serious and then there are a set of rules to go by there) and don’t tell them your adult problems. They may seem like they can handle it, but their brains literally can’t handle adult conflict and problem-solving. You remember how “dramatic” your problems felt as a child and when you look back at them, you realize that most of them weren’t that big of a deal. Imagine how dramatic your child feels your problems are and how stress-inducing that can be.
Aligning with your ex to provide a united parenting front for your child will provide them with the stability, predictability and structure they crave and will make them feel loved more overall.
What tips do you have for divorced parents to provide a united front for a child?