Sibling Rivalry in Stepfamilies
'My partner and I had completely different ideas on discipline and rules. We spent ages talking about what we thought was important. Now both sets of children know where they stand'
In many step-families, both partners have children from previous relationships so there needs to be lots of adjustment in the new living arrangements. There are many things to consider in this situation:
- It is important to realise that although both sets of children may enjoy the arrangement initially, this could change once the novelty has worn off. Be prepared to deal with problems once the children begin to settle and realise that the arrangement is permanent.
- Try to let the children sort out their problems on their own as much as possible. Allowing them to argue and disagree will help them learn to settle their own problems in the long run.
- As much as it is important to bond together as a family allow the children time alone with their birth parent so they don't feel forgotten. They may be jealous about having to 'share' their mum or dad with others.
- Remember that all siblings argue whether they are part of a step-family or not, so don't worry about it too much. Try to keep the children occupied and agree ground rules for ideas on keeping harmony in the new household.
Ground rules are important in any household, but when you combine two there are going to be differences of opinion that need to be ironed out in the beginning so:
- It is important that the same rules apply to all children to avoid conflict.
- These rules need to be negotiated between you and your partner and with the children. Explain to the children that things will have to change, but that you are going to work together to make sure that everyone is happy.
Ground rules can cover many different things so discuss with your partner the boundaries and rules you think are the most important. Then, together, you can discuss these with your children. Give the children the opportunity to ask questions. Possible issues to consider making ground rules about could include:
- chores - who does what and how often?
- acceptable language;
- keeping own rooms tidy;
- pocket money and treats.
It is important to find a balance between discipline and fun because, whilst you need to provide the child with consistent boundaries, you also need to develop a positive, happy relationship with them. Being a step-parent is hard enough without seeming unreasonable. It is important that the children see that both you and your partner agree on and enforce the ground rules to avoid confusion and resentment.