Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Disengagement

Being a stepmom brings with it a number of challenges mainly because there are no clear cut job descriptions.

Take discipline for example. A biological mother would have built a bond with her baby from day one. By the time it comes to setting and enforcing rules, there is already a strong connection between mother and child. The child may not always want to adhere to bedtime and there may be escalating tones, but they know their mother loves them anyway. If they get upset, they tend to get over it quickly.

As a stepmom, that bond hasn’t been set so enforcing bedtime can turn into “my stepmom is so mean!”

There is a lot of talk in stepmom writings about disengaging. Disengaging basically means that as a stepparent, you might decide to fall back and leave the “parenting” to the biological parent(s).

I wonder how this method works for stepmoms whose stepchildren have two biological parents in the picture. My husband has full custody of his son, so there aren’t two parents already looking after my stepson. It’s just my husband and me (and my in-laws).

Since I am the woman of the house, I take on a lot of traditional motherly roles like cooking, laundry, and homework reminders.

Personally, I prefer for my husband to do the disciplining. But let’s be realistic. While he is a tremendous father, he is not the best mother. He doesn’t always notice things like bedtime slipping by.

The last thing I want to do is nag or be the mean stepmom with so many rules. I do, however, want to make sure my stepson gets the sleep he needs, minds his responsibilities, and uses good manners.

With him in the house full-time, those things are important to me. I’ve found to save my sanity, lately I have been releasing my hold on those things. I’ve been letting my husband police chores and make sure my stepson makes it to baseball practices. I help where needed, but I’ve stepped back a bit.

In all fairness, parenting is still fairly new to me. It doesn’t help that stepmotherhood is rife with unique challenges.

I guess my question is how realistic is disengagement when you are a full-time stepmom? I think I’m starting to find my right balance, but I’m frustrated with all the advice to leave “parenting” to mom and dad. What if mom isn’t around?

Does disengagement work for you stepmoms whose stepchildren split their time between your husband and their mother? Are there any other full-time stepmoms out there- how do you handle the parenting/disengagement balance?

3 comments:

  1. I think it all depends on your relationship with the stepchild and how much respect you receive in the home. Most stepmoms who choose disengagement do so because the child does not listen or respect her. Rather than constantly fight and struggle with the stepchild, they choose to rely more on the biological parent to discipline. Often it's the only option, when you're at the end of your rope. If things are not that bad in your household, find the balance that works for you.

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  2. Personally, I would say don't engage in any aspect of parenting without the other parent's honest and sincere support of how you are doing it. It has more to do with your relationship with the stepkid than how much time you spend with them. My stepmom was like a second mom to me while my stepdad "disengaged" after we went through 2 years of hell going at each other's throats. This got us from active hatred to bare civility.

    The big difference is that rule changes were minimal when my stepmom came into the picture and she and my dad supported each other. If she told me to do something, I knew that it was because she and my dad were in agreement that I should do it. Also she was a little more permissive than my dad which helped things.

    On the other hand, my stepdad came in and, obviously against my mom's wishes, decided we were spoiled, she was raising us wrong, my dad was remiss, we'd better not be bad role models for HIS kids, blah blah blah. Ironically my behavior went from that of a normal teenager to one of a complete shit in RESPONSE to his attitude toward me and my brother.

    My main problem wasn't so much "he makes me do this" as "I didn't have to do this BEFORE he came into the picture, why do I have to do this now? Why does he have to scream about how I don't need school supplies, so that my mom has to sneak them to me? Why won't my mom stand up for me? Why does he act like my parents are raising me wrong and I'm defective while his own kids can do no wrong? Why does he hate me? I might as well behave like the person he's treating me as."

    Disengagement brought peace between me and my stepdad. It would have deprived me and my stepmom of a loving relationship, though she really was more like an aunt for the first couple years and left the discipline to my dad, so we could have time to bond. But basically, remember this - If you do not have spouse's SINCERE support, the kid will pick up on it and feel you're turning the parent against them.

    ***Disclaimer - I have never been a stepparent and would take it very slow if I were to become one****

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  3. This is so interesting. I am a step and a bio mom. My stepson lives with us half the week, so both of his bio parents are in the picture. But when he's at our house, I'm the mother. I could not imagine disengaging and not disciplining, etc.

    However, like a previous post said, my husband and I support one another. It's not as if my husband is lenient and I am strict. That would probably lead to disengagement.

    Also, I came into my stepson's life at a very young age, so we were lucky enough to form an early bond. I can imagine it would be a LOT more difficult if he'd been older.

    Great topic for discussion, Sherri. I am following now!

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