I have some questions on how to deal with my partner's five-year-old son and am hoping you will be able to provide me with some insight. We have been living together for 5 1/2 months and I am having huge difficulty adjusting to his son, being around half-time (he and his ex have joint custody). His son is an only child and is characteristically very spoiled. He is used to getting his own way and, when he doesn't, he will usually throw a tantrum. As I am not the biological parent, my partner does not want me to discipline his child. In many ways I understand this reasoning, but it is so hard not to! Especially when I feel my partner doesn't hold up his end of the deal when his son breaks the house rules. I get so angry and resentful when this happens and end up ruminating about it for days! I've tried to talk with my partner about this, but I always end up feeling unheard. I can't seem to let go of this rage I feel when I have no control over what happens in my house. I'm the one (instead of my partner, the parent) who always comes up with creative solutions to dealing with his misbehavior and have suggested many of your website's tips on Positive Discipline, but my partner never seems to stick with them, even after we've agreed on how he will handle things in the future. I feel like my partner is more concerned with having his son "like" him than he is with raising him properly. His parenting tactics seem to be primarily motivated by earning back his role as the "favorite parent". I know criticizing his doesn't help matters, but I feel like I have no other outlet to express how frustrated I am with things! On top of all this, I feel like my partner adores his son more than he does me and showers him with much more affection and attention than I ever get. I feel so hurt and neglected by this and am ashamed to say that I'm dreadfully jealous of his five-year-old son. I have never felt so miserable and helpless in my life!
Sincerely, Angry and Jealous
Dear Angry and Jealous, This situation could provide an excellent opportunity for you and your partner and his son to create great relationships and a great family. On the other hand, if you marry, things will only get worse unless you all take steps for improvement.
First let me tell you about a study where two psychologists decided to offer parenting classes to couples who were ready to file for divorce. When couples accepted marriage counseling, only 2% stayed together. Of the couples who accepted parenting classes, 40% stayed together. I don't know how to verify this study, but it makes sense to me. When couples can't get together regarding parenting, they experience alienation and dissatisfaction—often ending in divorce.
You do have a challenge if your partner is not willing to follow through on agreements. As you know, it is impossible to change another person. Perhaps he will read this e-mail and the following pointers and see the positive possibilities of working with you—for his son and for your relationship.
1. When discipline is positive, it doesn't matter who does it – your partner or you.
2. Positive Discipline meets the following criteria for effective discipline
a. It helps children feel a sense of connection? (Belonging and Significance)
b. It is respectful and encouraging? (Kind and firm at the same time)
c. It is effective long-term? (Punishment works short term, but has negative long- term results.)
d. It teaches valuable social and life skills for good character? (Respect, concern for others, problem-solving, cooperation)
3. All of these criteria are important, but most people don't think about the value of discipline to teach valuable social and life skills.
4. Pampering is very disrespectful to children. Instead of teaching them valuable social and life skills, pampering teaches children to develop beliefs that they aren't capable and that love means getting other people to take care of them and give them everything they want. In the name of "getting my child to like me", many parents rob their children of the opportunity to develop beliefs in their own capability. This is very damaging to self-esteem.
It would be very valuable to you, your partner, and his son if the two of you could find a parenting class that you could attend together. You would learn to be on the same page regarding parenting – and you would learn skills to improve your relationship.
My best to you. Jane Nelsen