Earning your step kids’ respect can be a struggle. Sometimes, being there for them and spending time together may not be enough. Being placed on the bottom of their pedestal while you are doing everything within your power to make your family work can feel very lonely.
I remember feeling that way during my first years as a step mom. I tried to be a good mom for my step kids. The problem was I started feeling more like a doormat than a respected parental figure. I was giving too much respect and getting little in return.
In a way, it was shocking to help raise children that didn’t see me as step “mom,” after all. Instead, I was still “Melissa:” The woman their Dad married who now asked them to do their homework, help with dinner and clean their rooms.
We’ve all heard the saying: Respect is earned, not given.
I’m going to share a slightly different belief: To me, respect is the only option when it comes to creating a happy, unified home.
Disrespect between kids and adults will certainly lead to dysfunction.
To avoid that, respect and courtesy must be demanded from all.
I learned early on how easy it was to build resentment toward each other. Mr. Right helped change that. If you are a step parent, your spouse can help change it in your family, too.
How to demand respect (a guide for biological parents)
Call a family meeting. The biological parent should take the natural lead, gathering the family in a comfortable place like the kitchen table or family room. Turn off distractions like music or TV. Set some early expectations with the kids about the meeting. Tell them everyone will get a turn to speak, but ask that they simply listen when others are talking.
R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Find out what it means to me. Share your views on respect. Explain what respect is and why it’s important to you. Use stories from your personal experience. Next, tell the kids you expect them to respect their step parent. Give them specifics they can easily apply to their daily life like:
- I expect you to listen to your step parent. If she gives you a chore, I expect you to do it.
- I expect you to speak with respect. Even if your child doesn’t like what the step parent is saying, they should still respond with respect. Give specific examples of respectful talk versus disrespectful talk.
Zero-tolerance policy. Explain how you and their step parent are a team making sure the family runs smoothly. They are part of the team, too. If they choose to act or speak disrespectfully, you expect your spouse to tell you about it. Let the kids know you will not be happy about it, and there will be consequences.
Follow up. Now that your expectations are clear, check in with your spouse. Ask her if there are any issues and if so, address them in a family meeting setting. Be sure to take the lead as the biological parent.
Now, follow up with your child. Ask him why he isn’t following your expectations. It is important that children are heard at home, even if you disagree with their logic. Often, the child is acting out as a test, or because he feels his loyalties are divided between the bio parent and step parent.
Let the child know this is a safe place to talk about problems and feelings – but reiterate the importance of respect within the home.
Speak up. As the biological parent, speak up when you hear your child being disrespectful to their step parent. Just as you would correct their behavior toward you, it is your job to speak up when they are misbehaving toward their step parent. This will require extra effort to tune in and be aware of what is going on around you.
How to demand respect (a guide for step parents)
Support your spouse. Use his expectations as a cornerstone for raising your step kids. As often as you can, let the biological parent be “the bad guy.”
Now you can place your focus on building a positive relationship with your step kids. Do fun things with them, include them in projects and get to know each other. Yes, there are chores to be done and routines to be followed. With your spouse’s support, these things will get done and respect will become second nature. That’s the good news.
The fact is, your step kids are desperate to know they are loved and wanted. You are one of many people that can reassure them they are, each and everyday.
How have you encouraged respect within your blended family?