Girlfriend can’t discipline children around mom
Q: My partner, “Mary,” and I have been living together for a year; we moved in after we had a commitment ceremony at our church. My partner has been divorced for five years and has two children, ages 7 and 11. One of the reasons we didn’t move in as soon as we met, even though it was love at first sight, was because of the children. We wanted our relationship to be as much like a marriage as possible so the children would respect our relationship and see us as a family.
For the most part this has worked out pretty well. The kids and I get along great, most of the time. We all do lots of family things together. I, as well as their mother, are involved with the schools they attend, and we are accepted by Mary’s family as a family.
The problem that has come up several times lately is when I say anything is wrong with her children, she goes ballistic. She can tell me things she sees as problems, but I had better not mention or even agree with her that there is anything wrong with them. Let me give you an example: The other night the kids went to their dad’s for the weekend. Their father brought them back and mentioned that they didn’t want to help much around the house, and it was hard on his wife to pick up after them all the time. I didn’t say anything while he was here, but after they left I said that I thought she babied them too much and that she was always picking up after them.
Well, we got in a big blow up fight where we were both screaming at each other and I could never get her to listen to what I had to say. I can’t say this is the first time this has happened and, usually, it is over the kids and something they do or don’t do. We just can’t seem to have a logical conversation about them.
I think if she wants us to be like a family, I should be able to say what I feel about the kids and discipline them when needed. She believes that I should just be their friend and leave the disciplining to her. And that if I criticize something about them, then I don’t love them. We aren’t like this about most things. Usually we can talk about things and be honest with each other about how we feel. But not when it comes to her children. I think this could end up breaking us up if we don’t come to a solution.
A: It is not uncommon for couples to have difficulty when dealing with a partner’s biological children. It usually takes a long time (well over a year) for a couple to be able to take up the parenting role in a step-family to the extent that they can correct the biological parent’s children, or do any disciplining. Moms tend to be very protective of their children and don’t want anyone saying anything bad about them, even if they are criticizing the child themselves.
My advice is to make sure that your partner trusts that you really do love her children before you start to say anything negative about them. (Do a lot of looking for the good things the kids do, and let the kids and Mary know that you appreciate her kids.) Pick and choose only important negative things that affect you when it comes to something concerning the kids; otherwise, if Mary is complaining, just listen. Be there to support her but not to jump in and necessarily agree with her unless she asks your opinion; then, be delicate. Leave the disciplining to Mary; that doesn’t mean you can never say no to the children or ask them to do something, just leave the discipline to Mary. Come up with a plan between you two about how it will all work.
If this continues to be a problem, don’t hesitate to get into some family counseling; step families can be one of the hardest issues for couples to deal with.
PS: It might not have been wise to have jumped on her ex-husband’s bandwagon when he talked about the kids not picking up after themselves – even though you felt that was true. First, that is his problem, not Mary’s. He needs to establish his own rules in his house. Second, Mary felt criticized by him, and your agreeing with his disapproval made her feel attacked, again.
Have a problem? Send your letters to: “Dear Jody,” C/O Between The Lines, 20793 Farmington Road, Suite 25, Farmington, MI 48336. Or, e-mail: DearJodyValley@hotmail.com Jody Valley spent 12 years as a clinical social worker. She worked with the LGBT community both as a counselor and a workshop leader in the areas of coming out, self-esteem and relationship issues. The “Dear Jody” column appears weekly.