Blended Families Part 9: A Plan for Successful Step-Parenting
We’ve all heard the saying, “Fail to plan; plan to fail.” In last week’s post, “You’re not my dad!,” we talked about the challenges step-parents face when children don’t recognize their authority or when step-parents refuse to get involved in parenting issues. Today we’ll talk about a plan for successful step-parenting and a great tool for parents called a “behavior contract.”
Last week I said that God has a blueprint for marriage (Gen. 2.24) and because it involves a one flesh relationship, both biological parents and step-parents have a responsibility to bring their children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph. 6.4) and to not exasperate them or provoke them to anger (Col. 3.21; Eph. 6.4).
So how do we apply those principles to real life step-parenting?
Make a Plan
Some suggestions for getting started:
For the Biological Father:
- Spend more time communicating with your wife. What are her concerns?
- Work on a behavior contract for each of the children (more in a minute).
- Communicate to your children that you support your wife, that she is their authority, and that they must obey her.
- Have zero tolerance for disrespect toward her.
For the Step-Father:
- Sit down with your wife and work out a behavior contract for each of the children.
- Allow your wife to be the initial up-front person when both of you are present.
- When you disagree with your wife, discuss it in private.
- Remember that you are still the leader of the home and ultimately responsible for what goes on in the home, including parenting the children.
For the Biological Mother:
- Recognize you husband is the head of the home.
- Work with your husband to establish a behavior contract for each of the children.
- Explain to the children that your husband is the head of the home. Explain they must obey his authority.
- If you disagree with your husband, discuss it in private.
For the Step-Mother:
- Ask your husband what responsibilities he wants you to handle.
- Work with your husband to develop a behavior contract for each of the children.
- Be consistent to follow through with your husband’s decisions.
- If you disagree with your husband, discuss it in private.
What is a behavior contract?
A behavior contract is merely a tool to help you define your expectations for each child and the resulting consequences and rewards.
Many parents in blended families spend most of their time putting out fires and dealing with bad behavior. But God’s instructions involve much more. Let’s look at those two parenting verses again:
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph. 6.4).
Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart (Col. 3.21).
Disciplining for wrong behavior is only one part of parenting. Just as important, maybe more so in the long run, is instructing children in the right way to go.
God gives us clear instructions. He spells out how we should live and the consequences of disobeying Him (Gen. 2.16-17; Deut. 28; Gal. 6.7-8). We should do the same for our children. Too often children are exasperated because parents are inconsistent or unclear about their expectations. This is where a behavior contract can help.
Writing Out a Behavior Contract
Start by working together with your spouse to make a list of the strengths and weaknesses of each child. Examples might be:
- Good student, works hard at school and with homework.
- Like to help in the kitchen.
- Is generous with siblings.
- Loyal to friends.
- Tends to be a people-pleaser.
- Tends to worry.
- Willing to neglect other responsibilities when focused on homework.
- Friendly and outgoing.
- Loves animals.
- Likes to serve at church.
- Befriends kids who are alone, new or not socially accepted by others.
- Is improving with schoolwork.
- Good communicator.
- Wants his own way, can become disrespectful when he doesn’t get it.
- Doesn’t take care of the dog.
- Does just enough to get by with his chores, needs to be reminded often.
- Bossy with younger siblings.
- Not a good steward of his money.
Make a list of possible rewards and consequences for each child.
- Use of electronic games, phones, iPod, computer, etc.
- Time with friends.
- Social events.
- Snacks & treats.
- Favorite meal.
- Completing a “think paper” (more about this later).
Work on a behavior contract for each child, keeping in mind character qualities you may want to work on based on weaknesses and using appropriate rewards and consequences.
Obviously, behavior contracts are useful tools for any family, not just blended families. If you’re faced with some parenting challenges, why not start working on one for your child or children and check back for more information about how to begin using them.
Next week we’ll talk about how to have a family conference and introduce the contract to your children. We’ll discuss how to get older children and teens to use a “think paper” to examine their own hearts and actions. We’ll also discuss what to say, if desired, to the other biological parent and what to expect or not expect from him or her in regard to a behavior contract and other family goals and decisions.
*Some information for this post was developed from a Bible study by Jeff & Amy Baker.
Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp
Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesus by Elyse Fitzpatrick & Jessica Thompson
Don’t Make Me Count to Three by Ginger Hubbard
Strengthening Your Marriage by Wayne Mack
Some of the subjects I’ll cover in future blogs:
Blended families in the Bible
How to prepare your children for being in a blended family
Damage control—healing the mistakes
Dealing with in-laws and out-laws
Helping your child be part of the “other” blended family
Dealing with “exes”
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