My fiance has 4 wonderful children, ages 6, 9, 12, and 14. While we always have a blast when we are together, when it comes to chores and calming the kids down when they get to bickering with one another, it can be an awkward situation when I’m caught up in the middle of it. Based on my experience, here are the do’s and don’ts when it comes to keeping your significant other’s kids in line when it’s needed.
Don’t interfere if the situation doesn’t call for your immediate attention. Most often, I hear “Dad! So and so’s picking on me!” and he jumps right on it. If the kids aren’t addressing you directly to help them in a situation, or if they’re being stubborn about chores and they’re not being defiant towards you directly, allow their parent to handle it.
Do jump in, however, if you’re the one they call for, or if you are the one trying to get them to do something and they are just refusing. If you are the one the kids go to for a mediator, or if you are the adult on-hand, take care of the situation calmly and with authority. You are, after all, an adult who should be respected, even if you aren’t the immediate parent.
Don’t go running to your significant other’s side if you can’t get the kids to listen to you if you are the one trying to get them to do something. Today, I had my fiance’s youngest throwing a tantrum at me about vacuuming the living room, and she covered her ears to drown out my (calm) requests to get her chore done. Did I run to my fiance who was doing dishes within earshot? No. Using your significant other as a “buffer” when the kids are being stubborn simply reaffirms that you aren’t an authority figure to them. Kids will test you and your ability to hang in there. Don’t give in to them by making your significant other take control. Simply remain calm about the situation and they will do as they are told.
Do thank the children for listening to you and doing as they were told. This simple confirmation that you are grateful they listen to you goes a long way, and shows you respect them.
Don’t assume you are hurting the kids’ feelings or “being mean” when you have to tell them to knock it off or give something back, or to quiet down. You won’t gain any brownie points by letting them walk all over you. Also, don’t be offended when they tell you “You’re not my mom/dad”, this is just their way of expressing frustration, and they’d do it with their teacher or babysitter if they thought they could get away with it. Just simply reaffirm that no, you aren’t their parent, but you are still an adult, and repeat that you would PLEASE like them to do what it was you had already requested.
Do bring in the parent when the situation gets out of control, or if you are overwhelmed. Every now and then I just plain can’t handle 4 bickering kids at once, and I’m not used to it. Do your best to control the situation on your own, but if it gets to the point where you just can’t take it, bring in the parent to help you stand your ground. The kids will see that your significant other has your back, and it helps to affirm your authority in the relationship.
Do play with the kids, often. I love my fiance’s kids, and we always have a blast. Kids will listen to you better if you are involved in their lives. They may not be my kids from the womb, but they are my kids by proxy, and to gain that relationship it means going to school functions, taking them out for fun “dates”, and generally being involved in their lives. Don’t shrink in the background just because they’re not “your” kids. They are a huge part of you and your significant other’s lives.
Don’t think because they aren’t your kids you don’t have to discipline them, or that their parent has it covered. If you catch a squabble and the parent is missing it, speak up. The more you jump in, the more the kids will take your discipline as just another part of the parenting life, and they won’t be shocked when you berate them just a bit. But don’t try to be a show off about disciplining them. If you overdo it by trying to “prove” you can be a parent as well, you’ll only be met with stubborn defiance or fear.
It’s a fine balance to know when to step in and when to let it alone, but the more you spend time with the kids the more they take you into their lives and look at you as just another “parent”. It’s all about loving them patiently and getting to know them, and not stepping on the toes of the parent without letting yourself just shrink into the background. I’ve handled a few tantrums in my time, and the kids still love me all the same. The more I get to know them, the more I get to step into a lot of those “parenting” roles that are initially awkward but just part of the game when you take on a ready-made family. In the end, you get to help balance out that family life and your significant other gets the benefit of not having to parent alone, and you get to be a real authority figure to a bunch of great kids that respect and love you, and you love and respect them right back.