How can my spouse and I reduce the unfairness when it comes to disciplining his children and my children?
You may feel that your spouse never lets your kids get away with anything, while his kids seem to get away with murder. You want to bring this up to your spouse, but you don’t want to start World War III either. Even you have to admit that you quickly go to the rescue of your children, while you don’t feel the same compassion towards your stepchildren.
This kind of divided loyalty, or perception of it, is typical in the blended family. And it’s bound to affect your relationships with your spouse, stepchildren, and stepsiblings. Parents can, however, lessen the tendency to be one-sided by considering some of the following life principles:
First, it’s important to be honest about your special feelings for your own children. There’s probably no bond as strong as that between a parent and his or her biological children. That’s natural. Therefore, a parent will tend to “protect” one’s natural child by showing favoritism. But there’s not a “natural” bond between stepparents and stepchildren. Their bond is socially, not biologically, created. The biblical ideal is to love equally and act fairly regardless of blood ties, and this is not “natural” either. With God’s help, though, we can overcome the natural tendency towards prejudice that interferes with a harmonious blended household. ( Genesis 37:3-4 , James 2:1,9 ).
Next, spouses can talk about the reasons for not dealing with certain issues with their children. For example, many non-custodial parents say that because they don’t have much time with their children, they don’t want to spend that precious time correcting their behavior. While their feelings are understandable, giving up the responsibility for training is not in the best interest of the children. They need their parent’s individual attention when it comes to good character development ( Proverbs 19:18 ). Each parent, custodial or not, should prayerfully commit themselves to investing in the proper behavior development of each child by guiding them through structured discipline ( Proverbs 13:24 , Ephesians 6:18 , 1 Thessalonians 5:17 ).
As you consistently uphold household standards for each child, also devote time to look into the deeper concerns he or she has. Sometimes, for example, a child may be acting up because he has feelings that he can’t express related to the divorce and remarriage. Talking with the child not only about his behavior, but also his feelings communicates deep love and care.
Children will inevitably challenge the rules of conduct in your home. Remarried couples must meet that challenge with a strong united front. Children need to see that each spouse has equal authority in the home and that each spouse will appropriately support the other. This is important because kids want their way, even to the point of trying to strategically position a parent against a stepparent. But what children need is loving parents who can’t be manipulated. This provides security for the children and gives them a real chance to mature because they know their parents can’t be “controlled” that way.
Parents should do all they can to reduce the perception of favoritism in their stepfamily. All children deserve love, care, and training in life, whether they are your biological offspring, or children added to your life and love through a remarriage. This is hard work, but work that can deepen your trust in God, develop greater intimacy between you and your spouse and help build a safe, fair, and Christ-honoring home for each child.