L: James, you mentioned accountability. Creating a culture of accountability. What does that mean? Can you explain that and how, what it means to parents and kids.
J: First of all, when we start with accountability, one of the things that I talk to teachers and parents about is creating a culture of accountability. And that culture of accountability occurs between two people. So when we talk about what’s on TV, what they’re learning in the movies, what their video games is, that, that’s fine. But the culture of accountability comes with, this is how I’m gonna talk to you and this is how you have to talk to me. This is what I’m gonna expect of you and this is what you can expect of me. That’s very clearly learned out. That you’re accountable for the way you talk to me and treat me. You’re accountable for your responsibilities and you can expect me to take responsibility to be accountable for my responsibilities. I’m gonna pay the rent, I’m gonna have food on the table, I’m gonna make sure that we have a place to live. You have to talk to me appropriately, you have to do your schoolwork and you have to learn how to solve life’s problems without hurting other people.
MG: I think it’s important to note James that a culture of accountability isn’t just a parent child thing. We even as adults need to be accountable; we are accountable every day to someone.
J: That’s right, well, I don’t think people are accountable to a culture. I think that that develops between people. Between individual people and groups. So even personal relationships and work relationships.
J: Work. I’m accountable to that job. I’m accountable to my role in that business. I’m accountable to that business. They’re gonna pay me, that’s what I expect of them, they expect me to do the role that they defined for me. They also expect me to do it with some quality and some efficiency.
MG: So as a parent, what you’re setting your child up for by expecting him to be accountable to you is the whole mindset that you will always be accountable to someone. This is a coping skill. This is a problem solving skill you have to learn.
J: Absolutely. Look, when you hold your child accountable, when you develop that culture of accountability, you as a parent have a responsibility to teach that child to acquire the skills he’s gonna need to be able to be accountable. People who can’t be accountable for their homework disrespect other people. People who can’t be accountable for their behavior turn it around and challenge you and act out. So when you’re having a culture of accountability, there’s a two–way thing. I expect you to do the right thing and you can expect me to teach you how to do the right thing.
MG: So my job as a parent then is to set specific standards, to set specific goals, to set attainable landmarks that a child can say, if I do this, I become accountable. If I do this, I’m behaving responsibly.
J: Yeah, it’s not only setting goals. It’s giving the skills to reach the goal. So let’s say I’m a parent and my goal is that you’re gonna sink five throws from the free throw line in basketball out of ten. Well I just can’t put you up there with a ball and tell you do it, that’s my goal. I’ve gotta show you how to do it. I’ve gotta show you how you place your feet, how you place your arms. How you propel the ball. I’ve gotta spend some time practicing with you. I’ve gotta show you how to do these things and I’ve gotta practice them. So it’s not setting the goals, it’s giving the kid the skills. Acquiring the skills yourself for an understanding of what it takes. Using the tools and using the skills.
James Lehman had a very personal understanding of kids with behavior problems. He displayed severe oppositional, defiant behaviors as a child and teenager, and became a Behavioral Therapist specializing in helping troubled children, teens and their families for 30 years.
Janet Lehman, MSW Child Behavior Therapist
Janet Lehman has over three decades of clinical experience working with out–of–control children and teens and their parents. Working in group homes and residential treatment centers, Janet helped children with serious behavioral disorders learn to get their behavior under control.
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When you’re raising or helping to raise a child that is not biologically your own, whether you’re a stepparent in a blended family, have adopted or foster children, or are bringing up your grandchildren, kids may sometimes use this fact against you during the heat of an argument. When a child says “You’re not my mom or dad,” what they’re really trying to do is take the power away from you. Focus on what your role is: caretaker. That means you should inform the child what the rules are in your house. The whole idea here is to avoid a power struggle. What the child is doing is inviting you to a fight. And remember, you don’t have to attend every fight you’re invited to. Avoid the power struggle, and calmly state what your role is and what the rules are. It’s very important that you verbalize no judgments about the biological mother or father. Judgments will only lead to more anger and resentment, which will lead to more power struggles.
Child: “You’re not my mom/dad!”
Translation: I don’t have to listen to you; you have no control over me.
Ineffective Response: “You’ll do what I say anyway!”
James Lehman, MSW was a renowned child behavioral therapist who worked with struggling teens and children for three decades. He created the Total Transformation Program to help people parent more effectively. James' foremost goal was to help kids and to "empower parents."
This is good advice, but I would love to have read more. You don't hear too much on step-parenting, so let's hear more on the subject.
Comment By : Teresa
Well what if I am living in His (14 yr old's) Mothers House? Than what should My responce be? Espec if Mom says He should not listen to Me.
Comment By : A/C Contractor
Would like to hear more. I'm an adoptive parent and I am their mom. They are still young (6 and 2) but I may have to deal with this in the future. Please write more on this.
Comment By : Gina
what if the bio-father encourages disrespecting our rules when the teens come to our house to see their bio-mom? it hurts her so much to not see them yet asking them to respect our rules doesn't seem to hold much weight.
Comment By : lyn
My son is 16 year old and live with real deaf mother and hearing step father.
My son said to everybody that parent's rules are stupid!
Comment By : Antonia M.
I found it effective to say this:
"This is my house and these are my rules. Other houses have other rules. Other places have other rules. My rules operate here."
In response to "Your rules are stupid," I have said, "They may be. But they are the rules of this house."
Comment By : Terry
I would love to see more about this. I've postponed remarrying becasue I'm afraid the conflict between kids and step father would cause such turmoil. He says he needs to be in charge, I agree, but the reality is my 18 year old son will really push the limits and I worry about how it will effect the marriage. I do think having set rules prior to him moving in will help, and maybe the two of them agreeign in advance, when everything is going well, what those basic rules are and what the consequences will be. But when it comes time to adhere to the consequenes,I guess I'm afraid of my son's reaction to another man, not his father, setting those limits, and if he's the right person to be doing it after all this time and the age of my son. Should I be the one to always follow through with the
stepfather supporting me, therby eliminating the power play? Or should he be allowed to follow through and is that better?
Comment By : atl
I am an adoptive mother and my daughter said that to me many many times. I just say that I am sorry that you feel that way but I am your mother and I consider you my daughter no matter what. It was mostly said from the age of 14 to 16. She is now 17 and has since stopped saying that. I guess she has matured in her thinking. To anyone, just hang in there and never give up on your child no matter what even though it hurts they do love you deep down inside.
Comment By : Karen
I have a son, and my husband has a son. Most conflicts are between us, as my husband does not see the conflicts among the boys on the same playing field. For example, if his son retailiates to a push, or comment from my son, it is self defense. If however, the reverse happens, my son is overeacting, or seeking revenge....I would like to see more on blended families.
Comment By : Kathy
Let the child know that by saying "Your not my parent I don't have to listen to you" translates into - "I'm mad, I disagree, I won't help you figure out what's wrong or how to fix it" and so until he/she can assist in working things out the right way they are stuck with the same rules and same consequences. If we do not teach the children how to effectively speak up by just dismissing their viewpoints from a power position when their angry - we contribute to the rebellious nature of poor conflict resolution habits. (AKA: screw you)
Instead we as parents have to remember each moment in parenting is an opportunity to teach. So another way to work the scenario is: "Your not my parent......" and the teacher/parent says "what I hear is - I'm mad, I disagree, I won't help ...fix this..." the child tries to engage in a power struggle argument and the same response - we can discuss this for real when your ready.
When ready means tempers have cooled - the child can be told what the safety, responsibility, reason for the future skill that the limit or direction was put in place. Also don't forget to mention that things are only "stupid" when they do not suit us :) they are always perfectly fine when they do - and smile a warm knowing smile not a sarcastic smirk.
Children know and understand when a parent is truly in the moment and teaching - they are the ones learning impulse control and self modulation - not us - the parent is the model and teacher (fallable yes) if we are not congruent with our children we invite them to treat us with disrespect. I am the mother of three (one step-son now married with five grandkids) and a 20 year-old who asks "how come you still love me after how I was when I was a teenager?" and finally, the 15 y/o with autism and mental health issues "mom, I love you" (normally after a fussin and apologies are finished)
I do enjoy raising my kids because I think it is a facinating task trying to explain the complex world that surrounds them. The double standards are the most difficult and we all discuss them for hours not always seeing eye to eye but they know they have opinions and I do mine.....
They're a great bunch of kiddos :)
Comment By : MsWood
I would like to hear more on step parenting. I have a blended family and the oldest is just 11 but I know what's around the corner. Her step father takes everything personally and he fights with her over little things. I feel he holds her to a different standard than his own children who are half mine biologically and because he pays the bills. The funny thing is she truly loves him. I second guess myself though and worry because she is the oldest and will go through everything first.
Comment By : duel
* Dear atl: The experts advise that a stepparent NOT join a family and be in charge of the children. As you have identified, this might be something that does need to be worked out between you and your fiancé before you decide when to marry. A stepparent's role is to support the biological parent. The two of you work together on decisions that you make for your children. A stepparent can say such things as, “Your Mom and I decided that this rule makes sense,” but as the biological parent, you should always be a part of discipline decisions and take the lead role. You also do not want to ask your son and fiancé to negotiate the rules between themselves. Kids should not be allowed this authority and they are not emotionally capable of this job. That is the job of the parenting team. So you’re asking the right question at the end of your comments, “Should I be the one . . . with the step-father supporting me . . . ? Yes. You should be the one in charge with your fiancé supporting you for this to work smoothly for all concerned.
Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor
In my house I saet the rules. I do not care what the relations is to me. Rules are rules and in my house I am the rule maker.If you can not abide by them (do not come in my house).
Comment By : chas
Good comments. I'd like to add a little more. It is crucial the parents of a blended family establish their own house rules and expectations. These expectations need to be followed by all children that live in or visit their home (biological or step kids.) If any of these kids do not respect the house rules, there should be consequences. The consequences should be fair and equal to all kids, and enforced by the biological parent living in the home. For more information, go to my Blended Family Website: http://www.blendedfamilyadvice.com Shirley Cress Dudley, MA LPC Blended Family Coach.
Comment By : Shirley Cress Dudley, Blended Family Coach
My husband opens mail addressed to me from school that has to do with my children then calls their biological father to complain about kids grades. This really irritates me because they are MY kids and their DAD is still alive. I feel it is the biological parents who should decide the disicpline on bad grades. Not my current husband going behind my back complaining to my ex about our kids. My husband has children of his own that he can worry about.
Comment By : lisa
Interesting. In our case, however, the children's biological mother is the one who has told my husband's children that they do not have to listen to me. Any thoughts on that one?
Comment By : KitKat
* Dear ‘KitKat’:
It’s always difficult when extended family members are in conflict. It’s a delicate situation. You want to be very careful not to criticize the kids’ birth mother. This will cause harm to your relationship with your step-kids and probably in the relationship with your husband as well. Besides, you get your ‘authority’ so to speak from your husband and not his ex-wife so there is no need to bring her into discipline conversations with the kids. When the kids say they don’t have to listen to you, reply, “These are the house rules your Dad and I have established.” Author of the Total Transformation Program, James Lehman, wrote a series of articles on blended families that you can find on this web site. “My Blended Family Won’t Blend—Help!” and “Differences in Parenting: How Your Child May Be Using it Against You.” We appreciate your question and hope these articles will be helpful. We wish your family the best.
Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor
I am a step mom and we get the boys, age 16.5 and 11 every onther weekend. I have been verbally abused by them and their mom. My husband allows them to do what ever they want when ever they want and if I say something about this he gets upset and says, we only see them a few days a month. I try telling him we need to be consistant and on one accord with the rules of our house. My husband says, I am over reacting. The 16.5 yr old is not in good healt ad has a weight problem. He weighs 347LBs and the 11 yr old is getting fat also. Whe I prepare dinner my husband says, I am trying to manage how much and what they eat. I agree, I am because someone has to care. I feel my hsband is an enabler and it has been 6 yrs and I am ready to throw in the towel. If I could do this all over, I would marry someone with grown kids and I do mean grown. I love my husband and his kids, I don't like his lack of parenting. I too have kids and they are grown and they love and respect my husband. Our friends and even people who know us all say the same thing, your husband is not a good parent. He gets defensive and shuts down or starts cursing. HEKP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Comment By : Debbie
* Dear Debbie: We’re sorry to hear you’re feeling so frustrated. Being a step-parent can challenge your patience at times. James Lehman would agree with you that parents should “be consistent and on one accord with the rules of [the] house.” What works in step-parent relationships is when the step-parent follows the lead of the biological parent. There will be times when you won’t agree with the biological parent’s discipline decisions, and it may be hard to find a way to accept those decisions and support them. But it’s ultimately up to the biological parent to make discipline decisions and house rules for their kids. For more tips on effective step-parenting, read this article by Carri and Gordon Taylor: The 5 Secrets of Effective Stepparenting
You should speak up for yourself, however, when the boys verbally abuse you. Whenever they are abusive say “It’s not okay to speak to me that way. I don’t like it.” Try stopping the conversation at this point. Talk to their father about a consequence for when this happens, such as losing a privilege for a few hours. Also, ask their father to support you and join you in having a problem solving conversation with his kids. Ask them what they will do differently the next time they feel like being verbally abusive. Refer to this article for more ideas on handling verbal abuse: When Kids Get Ugly: How to Stop Threats and Verbal Abuse (Part 2)
We wish your family the best and invite you to keep in touch.
Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor
I am a step mother who has raised my 16 year old step son since he was 13 months old. My husband and I met when my step son was 13 months old and we have had full custody ever since. He still visits with his biological mother occasional during the year. we have not received any financial support from the biological mother at any point. Until now we have not had any problems. Just recently my step son has been accusing me of blaming him for every problem commenting that in my eyes he can do no right and has just 2 days ago told his father that he wants to go and live with his biological mother because of me. How do I handle this. The situation is that his mother has no job moves from house to house and we don't even know where he will attend school. My Husband has told him he will remain with us untill he graduates from high school and then he can make his own decisions he is a sophomore.I have to say I am a little worried he may just leave. Any Advice
Comment By : Helpme
* Dear ‘Helpme’: It sounds like this is a really challenging situation. James recommends that in blended family situations, the biological parent should take the lead on setting limits and making decisions about the child. It sounds like you agree with your husband’s decision to keep your step-son at home and that’s a real positive in this situation. It can be helpful for you and dad to try some problem solving with your step-son. Sit down with him and share your observations about what’s been going on lately. Ask him, “What makes you think I blame you for everything and that you can’t do anything right?” Listen to his answer fully- this will help you figure out what problem he is trying to solve here. Let him know that trying to escape the situation isn’t going to fix the problem and talk about something he can do differently to cope with whatever is going on. We can’t change how your step-son is feeling, but you and dad can try to help him develop some skills to manage things more effectively. If your step-son does take off without permission at any point, then it’s time to look into some local support, such as a counselor, support group, or legal counsel for example. We wish you and your family luck as you work through this.
Comment By : Sara A. Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor
Im a 27 years old women and my future husband has a 16 year old girl. She really has a attitude. She shout out to the another kids, used bad words, dont clean up,and just has a bad attitude. Her dad has full custody. But if i text her to come home because its getting dark outside she will not until about 30 mins-1 hour past. Now i talk to her dad about things all round the house but sound she just
like a Conn Artist...[edited]. I really cant take it no more
Comment By : Sara A. Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor
I am a step dad to a 16 year old daughter who lives with her mother and I. I have been married to her mom for 6 years, and we dated for 3 years prior to that. Her mom and I always were very careful to make a very structured and value centered environment for our home. My three Biological children live in the same town and we get them Tuesdays, Thursdays, and every other weekend. The problem is, my step has become very defiant, arguementative, untruthful, and disrespectful of all of us. She has recently gotten into trouble with the law for fighting, she never is where she's supposed to be, drinking, smoking, sex, it's all coming into play. When I try to step in and help, I'm met with "your not my father" and then she tells her mom she's acting this way because she has always hated me. Threatens to go live with her real dad (he lives in town) and scares her mother to the point where she has completely withdrawn all my respect and authority in the home. I know she's just using the dialogue to manipulate her mom into letting her get away with whatever the present incident is, She adored me when she was a few years younger. My wife and I are simply not on the same page anymore when it comes to parenting, she allows her daughter to hang with a much older crowd and whatever the friends rules are, that's what her daughters rules are for the night. I keep telling my wife that two sets of rules for kids just doesn't work. My ex and I agreed that 16yrs old has a curfew of 11, 17 will be 12, 18 will be negotiated based on circumstances. In reality, my step daughter just wears her mother out until she just throws up her hands and lets her get her way. The bio dad is no help because he is detached from the day to day defiance. We have just started family counseling, but I'm not allowed to go!How do I re-establish my value in this home??
Comment By : frustrated
* Hi ‘frustrated’: It can be very exasperating to have a stepdaughter who is very defiant and disrespectful. James Lehman recommends that the first step would be to get on the same page as your wife, and try to find some common ground in what the rules are for the children in the house. We recommend focusing on 1-2 of the most abusive or troubling behaviors, and doing this in private during a calm time. James also recommends, in blended families, letting the biological parent take the lead in disciplining their child, and the stepparent taking on more of a supporting role. It may be helpful to reach out for local support to help you and your wife as you work through this together. I am attaching a few articles that you might find helpful: “My Blended Family Won’t Blend—Help!” Part I: How You and Your Spouse Can Get on the Same Page, “My Blended Family Won’t Blend!” Part II: What to Do When Your Stepkids Disrespect You. Good luck, and we wish you the best as you work through this.
Comment By : Rebecca Wolfenden, Parental Support Advisor
I am the step parent to 4 amazing children. Each is an unique individual and my husband and I both try to parent them an that basis. However; (of course) their mother has no morals and I know that sounds mean but it is true she has been married twice and in three relationships in the last 2 years. The example she sets for her girls is shocking. Only the two youngest live with her a boy 13 and girl 17 the older two girls, one 20 lives on her own and the other 19 now lives with us while she is going to college. Our problem has been sexual prominences (sp?) Explaining why their sexual behavior is wrong has been difficult due to their mothers example and living environment. Helping them evolve into young woman and handle boys liking them with out them making out or sleeping with them is a tough subject for us with them. They want to feel special and boys do that but we what them to feel valued and have more self respect then that.
Comment By : Jeri
I'm feeling just like a twin, reading your comment, JRP! -quote
My husband is constantly defending his kid's bad behavior; therefore we fight all the time about it. I get yelled at by my husband, if I complain to my step son, or my husband - Not my step son. Because I've upset everyone. Shouldn't a husband and wife be a team? My husband thinks it's just easier to let it all go - the kid is who he is. We've been married 12 years and my stepson is now 21.
I'm married to him for 6 years and he thinks it's me who has issues with all his 5 kids! But believe me, it all boils down to disrespectfulness to me, while they respect him, and he blames me for my lack of parenting or skill set to deal with them.
They are 24 through 18. This time, it's his daughter, turning into 19. Again the same words came out of him - you must solve the issue with her, knowing her character/personality. You cannot just insist your idea and you must understand where she comes, etc. It's not the point. As you said, what matters is if you as a partner are okay to let them treat me that way. He calls it arrogant and pride. I'm almost finding everything else attractive about being with him, anymore.
Comment By : JRP
Comment By : K
Such a timely article, and thank you so much for broaching this topic. As a Step-Mom myself, I heartily agree with many posters regarding the lack of resources and support systems for blended families. There are several great blogs addressing the topic, and I hope the niche continues to grow and improve. From my experience, a step-parent should not handle the discipline in the home for at least 18 months, if ever. It is always better to just work on developing and nurturing your step child in the beginning. I made my personal mantra, "relationship before reigning in". For the first 3 years of my marriage, I made the mistake of trying to be the authoritarian, and I can confidently say it caused long term damage taking many additional years to undo. As far as how to respond to the "you're not my mom" outburst, collecting your own emotions and responding with a calm, "but I am an adult in this home and I would appreciate your cooperation". Let the bio parent take it from there. Cheers!
Comment By : MomMilkshake
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