While the Pretty Lady and I were dating, I remember mentioning something of a corrective nature about her son. After all eventually I was going to be his stepdad and as a highly experienced, impartial observer I was able to see things more objectively than the Pretty Lady. Despite my conspicuous lack of previous parenting experience I knew what worked for me when I was a kid so I must an authority at some level. Yeah right. At the time, I didn’t give much thought about what I said or the way I said it. I must have been thinking I know she knows I mean well so she’ll understand my bull in the china closet approach.
But by the look in her face I could tell she was madder than a hunchback in a limbo contest.
Where’s all this anger coming from? It wasn’t until later I learned parents don’t want to hear criticism about their children or their parenting abilities. So how do you go about having conversations about the children without incurring the wrath of Khan?
Put Yourself in Your Partner’s Shoes
Your partner might be feeling guilty about their children’s present circumstances. Remember the children are grieving the death of their first family either by divorce or death of their biological parent.
If it is divorce your partner may feel responsible for disrupting their lives and causing them to spend their childhood between two homes. Expressing your understanding of your partner’s feelings and your commitment to support their role as a parent will help them keep their defensive shields down.
Where and When You Say It
The conversations about the kids need to take place at a location and time when the kids are outside of hearing distance. The conversation should take place at a time when you both are calm and not still reacting to what the kids did or didn’t do.
How You Say It
Remember to use “I” statements and avoid “you” statements. For example, “I feel upset when Bob raises his voice to you. As compared to, “You need to tell Bob not to raise his voice when he speaks to you.”
In the first statement, your partner may feel some embarrassment/shame but at the same time hopefully they should pick up on your desire to see your partner honored and respected by their child.
The second statement is very likely to create defensiveness and resentment. Not to mention a night out on the couch.
Avoid trigger words like, “You always…”, or “Your never…” and “There you go again.”
Also consider your non-verbal communication. Are your arms crossed, are you glaring? Do you use sarcasm or express contempt, or roll your eyes? Do you use aggressive gestures, like finger pointing or raising your voice? Or are you calm, sitting next to your partner and maybe gently touching?
It’s important to let your partner know you are speaking from a place of love toward them and their children. Let your partner know your goal is to raise a great family with them.
Let It Go
Are you hypersensitive to the kid’s behavior because you are on the outside looking in? Check yourself. How often you react to their negative behavior? Do you respond to their positive behavior with the same frequency and energy? Balance and moderation is the goal here. The phrase, “Progress not perfection” comes to mind. Children are not perfect and by the way neither are you.
To always correct and never praise your stepchildren is a fast way to build resentment and impede bonding not only from your stepchildren but your partner as well. You don’t want to be known as the nag, nitpicker, faultfinder, etc.
Let your partner and stepchildren know they are a good parent and great kids after all that’s why you wanted to be a part of their lives. By steadily building a positive balance of praise and kudos you will eventually have earned the right to speak to your partner about the children.
Your parents probably did an excellent job in raising you to be the mature and responsible adult you are today, but understand there is more than one way to raise a child and achieve the same goal. If it’s not life threatening or illegal ask yourself what would happen if you let it go. Focus on the big stuff and let the little stuff go. Embrace and accept your stepfamily differences.
By faithfully following the above suggestions you’ll find you and your partner will have more productive conversations about the kids and the tension around the subject will eventually go away.