future stepfather

used2bsaneJuly 2, 2010

I am new to this forum and after browsing many different forums thought this would be a good place to get advice. I apologize in advance if this post seems really long.

My girlfriend and I are talking about getting engaged in the next year or 2 and she has a 3 (almost 4) year old son. I love him a lot and have started building a very strong bond with him. His father is a great father and as of right now they have a 50/50 verbal custody agreement although since I and his new girlfriend came into the picture they are going to court over custody and things have been very messy and tense. He doesn't like me and my girlfriend doesn't like his girlfriend. I understand both of their concerns and am trying to do my best with being a support system for my girlfriend as well as staying out of the battle for her ex's sake.

My concerns are about my boundaries as a father figure in this boys life. I have no intentions of trying to step in on the father's territory. And I'm glad that even though he doesn't like me he keeps his comments to himself when his son is around.

My girlfriend is having trouble controlling her son's behavior sometimes and looks to me to help discipline him. Her son is starting to get to the age where he tells his parents what happens at the others house and with the tension building between my girlfriend and her ex as they near the court hearing I am scared that any discipline actions I do will come back to bite her in court if he tells his dad. I don't believe in spanking so we use time outs, but when it comes time for him to stand in the corner he likes to put up a struggle which can get messy. I'm worried stories he tells his dad might not be told truthfully or some of the details be left out, making his dad think I am hurting him or something along those lines.

Another issue I am having is with how my girlfriend's son acts around me after a long stay with his father. For the first day or 2 of him staying with us he almost acts like he is scared of me or hates me. He won't talk to me and doesn't let me play with him or help him with anything. I am sure this is a confusing time for him, even with him being so young so I just wrote it off as him having a hard time adjusting, but lately I have been feeling like there are others factors in this situation, for example his father or his girlfriend telling him bad things about me.

As a new "father" I am just looking for advice on the situation and what I should do.

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Physically placing a struggling objectioning three/four year old in a corner is not your place. Not only will the child resent it, it leaves room for trouble for you and your GF should be well capable of time outting her own son.

I don't know exactly what you mean by 'messy' but don't put yourself in that position. No child likes punishment nor to be sent to a corner, but with a fighting child, it especially needs to be the parent dealing with the time out and getting child through it.

Perhaps it does not need be a corner. Time out is time out. If Mom can have him sit in a certain chair or go to his room for say 10 minutes, it might be easier than dragging him to a corner. Be sure at this age the time out is very short also, as to this young child 10/15 minutes should be sufficient to know the offense was wrong.

Maybe she needs to rethink the 'punishment'. Putting his toy away say, might do just the same 'lesson' without the physical confrontation.

She should also if possible discuss with the child's father about consistent discipline between the two homes. This way if offenses occur child will learn that it is the behavior that causes the time out or toy took away whatever and not 'hate' the home/parnet/step who does things much differently.

Dad and Mom need to be the ones dealing with child when child does something. If you were not in the picture this mother would be having to deal with her son...don't it for her. Don't struggle physically with this child and never ever do anything that you fear might be repeated. If you're afraid it will be repeated, it probably is not the correct way to have dealt with it.

    Bookmark   July 2, 2010 at 4:11PM
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We are talking about a different approach to discipline and we are taking "parenting a toddler" classes since she is a young mother and I never had to really take care of a child before.

As for the standard discipline between both houses, the father resorts to screaming, yelling, and intimidation (which we don't want to do) and doesn't really communicate well with my gf anymore when it comes to consistency with their son's upbringing. He is gonna do things his way and he is not changing it. Which, hopefully after the custody battle is over, they can forget about their issues with each other and work on what's best for their son.

Unfortunately my gf has a hard time staying strong when it comes to discipline time and usually caves which makes the whole situation even worse the next time there is a behavioral issue. Which is why I try to help out.

My parents split up when I was younger and I know how much stress can be placed on the child(ren) involved. It's kind of weird being on the other end of the situation now.

    Bookmark   July 2, 2010 at 4:37PM
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I definitely feel for you as I have had concerns about boundaries since I started living with my fiance.

First, the discipline method and primary responsibility needs to fall on your GF since she is the legally responsible parent in the situation. Obviously this doesn't mean you never help enforce rules, but she should be the one deciding appropriate punishments for her child. This can be extremely frustrating when you see her being lax about things and aggravating the problem. She needs to learn that children need boundaries and punishing them appropriately when they misbehave isn't cruel or mean but a necessary part of learning to become a functional person. Sounds like you are on the right track with the classes, but you should not let her off the hook for her responsibility as a parent by assuming the disciplinarian role.

Second, the issue with your future SS's behavior when he first gets back from Dad's house sounds SO familiar. My future SD used to do the same sort of thing (acting strange when she first came home from BM's). The behavior was based on how BM would (over)react to SD making her tense and anxious a lot of the time afraid of making a mistake. After a day or two she generally relaxed and acted more "like herself". The situation is similar to the way adults modify their behavior when they are around friends vs their boss for example. Your future SS probably acts scared of you because he is used to being intimidated by his own father and expects you to treat him the same way (not because he's heard you're some terrible guy). It's natural behavior and is not a reflection on you. Think of it this way, if an adult left a relationship because their partner cheated on them wouldn't they automatically be suspicious of their next partner cheating on them too? So, if dad yells wouldn't you expect that father figure #2 might yell too?

Overall, I would say it's great you are planning to take the engagement/marriage plans slow with your GF. If she doesn't learn to control her DS through proper discipline you might have a really tough time on your hands. Also, this forum is very helpful to get lots of real perspectives instead of the "just pretend like you're one big happy family" BS that seems to exist in so many places. At least that's why I ended up here in a pretty similar situation to you as well (got engaged & I don't know s*%@ about being a mom but even less about being a step parent) lol.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2010 at 3:00AM
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Thanks, and I definitely like the community here from what I have seen so far. I'm a straight forward kind of guy and prefer to hear the honest truth rather than advice being sugar coated.

And I will definitely try to stay on my GF about keeping up with the discipline. I guess I will try to sit back and be the cheerleader for her when she starts giving in.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2010 at 4:49AM
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Disciplining a very young SS is a really tough one. My first thought is that step-parents should not be involved in physically wrangling kids into time-outs. But then my second thought is that the teachers' at SS' school have done so, especially with the kindergarten age kids. I'm going to have to defer on this one because I really don't know - I do agree that it is far and away best that Mom do it; maybe with you providing moral support to all that would work better.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2010 at 9:19AM
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If mom is having trouble with discipline, take her to a parenting class and be supportive of HER parenting & disciplining. The time to start discipline routine is when they are 1-2. If he is 3-4 and fights his consequence, it may be because he hasn't had consistency in following through on whatever discipline methods his parents have used.

With my SD, her mother used to complain that no matter what she did, SD would not listen to her. At our house, she listened to us so we didn't think she had any behavioral problems at her mom's but later found out that she had different rules in each house & both parents had different parenting styles & mom's house was a lax, do what you want... until I am annoyed & then I tell you to stop. By then, SD had learned that there was a chance mom would not follow through with the discipline & she took her chances a lot. At our house, if we told her she was losing a toy, she lost the toy. She knew we meant what we said... even if it was inconvenient for us. (ie, staying home or having to stay up to follow through) Of course that cause other problems when she decided that telling her mom about our discipline could result in mom reaming dad & me over it.

Some kids take advantage of parents not getting along & it's particularly sad to me when the only reason they are not getting along is because there is a new person in the others life. Unless the new girlfriend or you, have done something wrong or are bad for the children, both parents should be happy there are more loving adults to help raise and love the kids... and not be all territorial & jealous/insecure. That is not a good example to show their children and THEY are causing their children pain when they engage in that behavior... even if they behave themselves, kids know when people don't like each other. They feel the tension.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2010 at 9:46AM
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I have a 10 yr old SS and have been in counseling for a year. My counselor told me it is not my place to discipline my SS. If his father is not around when he does something that needs discipline, I'm supposed to tell SS that what he did was wrong and his father will deal with him when he gets home. The counselor explained to me that the child and his bio parent have a strong bond and he can handle being disciplined by his bio parent. He can't handle being disciplined by a step parent. I stay out of discipline in our house. My husband will ask me what he should do and I offer advice to him (not in front of the child, of course) and he dishes out the punishment. Trust me, don't get involved. Your role is not to discipline child. Like you said, support your GF. Maybe do something for her while she is in the middle of disciplining, like do the dishes, or clean the bathroom or something that will help her out in a different way than interfering with the discipline. Explain this to her though, so she doesn't feel like you are avoiding the discipline.
Good luck!

    Bookmark   July 3, 2010 at 11:49AM
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I agree with brookem, EXCEPT that there is a significant difference between a 3-4 year old & a 10 year old. The "wait til your father gets home" or "your father will deal with you later" may work on a 10 year old, who will remember what they did wrong when dad gets home. A 3-4 year old does not have that kind of attention span.

Also, I grew up with a mom that told us "wait til dad gets home" and consequently, tried to make dad into the bad guy all the time. Fortunately, he did not come home and spank us when whatever we did happened while he was at work. Mom lost credibility when she did that but I know families that had fathers that came home from working all day & spanked kids. It affects the relationship between parent/child. My dad came home & might talk to us about what we did wrong & make us feel guilty so we won't do it again, but he didn't live up to the fear my mom tried to instill with "oh, just wait until your father gets home!" lol, of course, the way dad handled things... we couldn't wait for him to get home~

Discipline is for parents to administer, however there should be set rules & set consequences to breaking those rules. Then it is more like a babysitter or teacher, doling out the pre-set consequence. Waiting hours for a parent to get home to administer a consequence on a small child is not effective form of discipline...

    Bookmark   July 5, 2010 at 11:46AM
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Ditto ditto Ima.

I agree, if at all possible, the stepparent should not be the one to discipline. But it does depend on the situation, age of the child, time spent with child, time spent in caregiver role for child, etc.

For example--my SS(8) is with us half the time. I am responsible for him a lot, a lot, a lot; it's me who picks SS up from school on our days and DH does not get home until 5-6ish. DH works on Saturdays, so when SS is with us, I am responsible for him (and my own DD).

In the summer--like now--we do an every other week schedule, so I have SS all day every day when he is with us b/c DH is working.

In this case--it just doesn't work for me to say "wait til your dad gets home." Especially considering the fact that I have my own DD(also 8) and have to discipline her from time to time.

We have set rules in our home and I am comfortable doling out consequences, which range from a 10 minute time out to loss of priviliges (ie--DS, Wii, tv, etc) to loss of planned activity, like going to the pool or a movie.

IMO it is not any different than a teacher or babysitter doing the same. If someone is responsible for a child, they have to have authority to set and enforce clear limits for the child's own good.

Now---all that said--if we are talking a situation where a stepparent sees this child EOW, and rarely watches the child without the other parent's presence...then discipline is a different story. Like I said, it depends on the custody arrangement, time of marriage, age of child, etc.

OP, I definitely think your role for now is to support your GF. I would not get in the middle of disciplining, let her handle it, since it sounds like you're not caring for him by yourself. This is HER job if she is around to do it. Given the custody drama that's going on, that is all the more reason for you to just be a quiet support to HER on the sidelines.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2010 at 2:07PM
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It is just beginning and it will go on and on and on and on, forever.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2010 at 10:22AM
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