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I think step-parenting is one of the hardest thing in the world, whether you're the step-parent or biological parent with another spouse. My husband is the step-father to my oldest daughter (12) and the father of my 2-year-old daughter and the baby that I'm currently pregnant with. My oldest is spoiled, mouthy, disrespectful (mainly towards me) and we've had a number of issues with her attitude problem (a lot of it stems from her dad moving across the country and only seeing her for a couple weeks in the summers, and he encourages her to be as evil towards me as possible on the hopes that I'll let her move in with him permanently - he has a diagnosed personality disorder that has put her safety in jeopardy on a number of occasions and has made some terrible parenting decisions, so he's really even lucky to see her at all at this point; no matter how evil she is towards me, we're stuck with each other - and of course these are all adult issues between her dad and me that I can't talk to her about which makes it even harder to deal with).

Anyway, in our pursuit so far of trying to figure out this whole step-parenting thing, the best advice we've gotten (and learned through trial and error, mostly error) is that both partners have to be consistent with the "house" rules, punishments and be a united front to the kids. You and your fiance need to agree on what's acceptable behavior and what's not and what the consequences are for breaking the rules. That's the hardest part, but honestly, if you cannot come to any sort of agreement, it will never work between the two of you anyway and you'll only end up fighting all the time, banging your head against the wall and being miserable (I say this from experience). As far as enforcing the house rules, if the biological parent is around at the time, the punishment should come from them, but if not, it's your house too (I assume you live together, but if not, unfortunately you get no "parenting" authority until you're an official member of the household) and you have just as much right to enforce the rules of the house. If the child runs to the mother to tattle on you, she should support your decision and reiterate your united front, so there's no room to play one parent against the other, and they eventually learn that the rules are the same, no matter who's around. If you disagree, the punishment stands but you should discuss it outside of the child's presence, then whichever parent gave the punishment, that parent should tell the child that the punishment was reconsidered and go from there (meaning it was a JOINT decision to revise the punishment).

My husband and I started out with differing views on parenting, which caused a lot of stress between us. Our situation was the opposite, though, I'm the strict parent (and biological parent), and he would constantly decide for himself if he agreed with my decisions, and without discussing HIS decisions with me, he'd talk to my daughter behind my back and let her off the hook, therefore completely undermining my authority and ultimately making the whole situation with her attitude problem towards me even worse over the last few years. She figured out that she can treat me however she wants when he's not around and run to him and tell on me to "get me in trouble." Instead of an equal to my husband and a parent to my child (remember, she is MY biological child), I felt like both my daughter and I were his "children," equals trying to convince dad who's right and who's wrong, he would make his decision and often times side with her and she'd be even more smug with me. I can't tell you the number of fights we've had over this "method" of parenting which were tearing apart our marriage. I felt like throwing in the towel too (with both my husband and my daughter) but I'm the biological mother and don't get that option.

Since my 2-year-old came into the picture, my husband has realized that what he was ultimately doing is causing MORE stress and arguing in the house instead of solving the problem. Now he sees things a little more clearly and he's also at his wits end with how my daughter treats me, so he's done being Mr. Nice Guy with her and more willing to work with me to get this resolved so our other children don't repeat this pattern. We've also put together our list of house rules and together have decided on the consequences of breaking those rules, which has really helped with our united front and my daughter has backed off some. The rules are the rules and the consequences are the consequences, so now there's a lot less arguing between my husband and me over my daughter's behavior (thank God!). My daughter still can't seem to follow the rules and continues to do whatever she wants, but at least my husband and I are now on the same page with the rules and consequences and aren't arguing all the time about my daughter. She still tries to run to him to get out of her punishment for breaking the rules, but he listens and now tells her, "the rules are the rules and if you choose to break the rules, then you choose the consequences, end of story." It takes time, but we're on a better road now.

In addition, we've recently enlisted the help of a family counselor so my daughter can work through her issues that are a result of my divorce from her dad, him moving out of state and not seeing her much, his bad parenting choices that have affected her, etc. that are the "why" behind her unacceptable behavior (I know why she acts the way she does, I just feel powerless to change her bad behavior that is unacceptable). The counselor will also meet with me separately to discuss different strategies of how to parent my daughter in light of those issues. She wants to meet with her a few more times and then sit down with me, so I haven't gotten much advice form her yet. The bulk of the problems are with me and my daughter, so at this point, my husband doesn't need to go separately and I can relay any suggestions that she makes to him.

I wish I had more answers, but we're still working through the issues at our house as well. I know I've seen books on step-parenting at the bookstore. Perhaps some of those would be helpful for your and your fiance to both read. You BOTH have to figure out how the step-parenting thing is going to work in your house, it's not something you can do on your own. I hope you can work through this hurdle with your fiance. Your marriage will be a lot stronger when you're not fighting about the kids.





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