In this episode, we tackle an emotionally charged topic; should you discipline someone else’s children? It’s often one of the first big challenges you come up against as you begin to build a blended family.
Whilst there’s no right or wrong – parenting coach and education consultant Joseph Driessen provides some parameters you can work within to have success and maintain boundaries/relationships.
So the question was, can I discipline the other person’s child? The answer is yes. But it will take a while you can’t do that before you’ve established a relationship. And once you’ve established that relationship, you are a pretty cautious, careful And I would add skills like, “may I ask you a question: can we come to an agreement that maybe this was not such a good thing? And how can I help you not lose your temper? Or how can I help you with this? And how could we do this better?” And then you might say, “well, I’m going to punish them”. No, I would not do that. I would not do that.
In the blend is a podcast series that helps parents navigate life within a blended family. Join me as I speak with experts and guests to get practical advice on how to have a harmonious blended family life. This series dives deep into the unique dynamics, logistics and challenges of raising a blended family. From new partners, to juggling mixed finances, we will help guide you through it.
Hello, and welcome to the very first episode of In the blend. First up, I thought I should introduce myself as this is the very first episode. So I am Laura Jenkins. I’m a marketing director in the tech industry. And I inherited an instant family just before my 30th birthday when I met a man named Matt. He’s a kiwi living in Australia. And he had two young children aged two and four at the time, and I’ve since had almost a decade’s worth of experience in navigating blended family life, as well as adding another two children of our own into the mix. So over the years, as we’ve faced everything from co parenting amicably with ex-partners, through to setting boundaries in two sets of homes, I’ve often wished that there were more resources available when it comes to blended families, whether it’s websites, books, podcasts, or even communities that I could tap into, to help understand how others do it to support me along the way.
So the idea of this podcast is to bring together the experts to help tackle these topics, and provide you with the resources and the tools to help guide you through.
And in our first episode. Today, we’re going to be tackling a really emotionally charged topic, should you discipline someone else’s children, and it’s often one of the first big challenges that you come up again as you begin to blend a family. And whilst there’s often no right or wrong, there’s certainly parameters that you can work within to have success and maintain boundaries and relationships.
I’m particularly interested in speaking with today’s guests, because there have certainly been many times where I myself have wondered if it was my place to referee arguments between my own step-kids or step into correct poor behaviour. And in circumstances where my partner has been there, I’ve wondered, should I defer to him, and when he hasn’t been there and discipline has been required, I’ve wondered if it’s my duty to step in and discipline in the same way. So my guest today is Joseph Driessen. He is a leading international parenting coach, education consultant and speaker. Joseph is passionate about helping parents become the best they can be. And he has plenty of good advice when it comes to blended family parenting.
Well, welcome, Joseph. And thank you so much for joining me today. I’m so Joseph, I came across a great blended families parenting interview with you on Radio New Zealand, a few months back, and listening to it I thought this is absolutely someone who we need to have on In The Blend. There were just so many good tips and tricks that I took away. And having gone away and research some of the additional interviews that you’ve done and articles that you’ve been featured in Joseph, one of the things that I’ve heard you speaking about is kids being contaminated during a divorce. Can you explain that to me?
Yes. Hi, Laura, nice to be on your podcast. It’s a great privilege. So I’m only too happy to speak. I think fundamentally what we want what step families have to understand that the fundamental force of a step family is difficult. And so contamination would you call it or kind of a partner or an ex-partner influencing the child negatively. That sense actually part of a deeper sense of the children finding this journey very difficult. Because the parents are in love with other new parents, the new set are in love with one another. And they it works for them. And they’ve obviously made quite a big commitment to join their family. So that means that their relationship is good. And the research shows that often second marriages or second relationships are good, because the partners are more compatible. They’re more mature, and they choose wisely. So this all going well.
But for the children, they have very different feelings about that even families lonely; they lost half their parents, you know, when the marriage breakup, they lose their their parents and they might see one parent a lot or not. And then be, they might fear that the new partner is going to take away their own parent. And so those fears plus the underlying grief and sadness and anger of the breakup is already there. And if you’ve got a nice ex-partner who helps him, that’s good, if you’ve got an ex-partner who is actually hostile to another person, parenting their children, or another person, kind of, you know, taking the partner away or whatever, and then using the children as ammunition to kind of, you know, turn them against him or what’s called alienate them in that relationship, that’s going to make it even more difficult for the children to cope with. Because if they live there all the time, that that’s easier, but if they visit their other partner, other parent, they get a dosage of chronic alienation as well. But underneath it is, they’re actually very unhappy and very sad about the journey they have to make.
I know grief is a normal part of divorce in thinking about that, I’m interested to know how can children’s experience of, of this grief that they might be feeling when mum and dad split up? How can that affect their behaviour?
Well, what happens Laura is that grief is actually goes through cycles. And so like, let’s pretend for a minute that we think about we lose a partner. And then we go through the sadness of being attached to our partner, and then we lose them. And then we go through a sense of loss, and then a depression. And then anger, that is the the anger is actually to galvanise us to start again. So when the children go through a divorce, it’s like a funeral in some way. So they go through loss, depression and anger. But when they’re shifting between her two households, that cycle is activated every time. And so what often parents intubate to the children are non communicative, or they are down or they are numb, or they suddenly are disrespectful, or what sorts of difficulties is actually them experiencing that sadness once more. So the strategy, the strategy of the parents should be to realise it’s a fundamental strategy that the parents realise. For us, this is a good arrangement for our children, it will be, but it’s a difficult journey in the beginning.
And so my advice to all parents is when the children come after, say, x visits, or whatever, to realise that there is a period where they just have to chill out and get used to the feelings and then more difficult or uncooperative, and you just got to be careful with that, and just alarm space. And so my advice to parents is that the key thing for your children when they come to the other person’s house, when you have a blended house is that that they feel safe, that they feel well, there’s a space for them. The parents are very caring and respectful. And in some ways, in some ways, you should try and run it like a backpackers. That is, there’s no stress on them, there’s no things this is how we do it here, we’re on here and nothing like just relax, just chill out, you know, and maybe the key thing for the parent, the original parent is that they should parent them. So they should often when they come to you, or when things are not going well, you should take your children away and take them to McDonald’s, your own children so that the children must feel that I’m coming home to my own parents, this place is actually quite safe, and I’ll feel quite safe because I’m not forced to do this without and I can just chill out, especially when I’m upset. And my own dad or mum actually pays me attention. So actually, it’s not too bad, you know.
And the role of the of the other partner is actually to be more like a friendly outsider. In the beginning, don’t presume that you are a parent you are not the children will not accept it. The children will say, “Well, who the hell are you?” You know what I mean? You’re not my mum? And why are you with my dad? I don’t even think you’re a proper girlfriend. So don’t but when you just say well, you know, I’m welcome here and this is our house and let’s try and make it but in the beginning, it’s more kind of I’m a friendly outsider. I’m here to help you. And and you’re courteous and respectful. That’s the initial phase. The next phase, of course, is when you become a more blended family.
Joseph, just just to touch on on that idea of a child come going back and forth between the two houses, how do you come to an agreement on appropriate child behaviour when they are living in those two different households? So, you know, is what’s okay here okay there or how would you approach that?
Well, that’s such an easy question to ask. But actually, it’s quite complex to answer. But what needs to happen is you’ve got to realise that in early childhood, there’s a wonderful saying “you can’t correct until you connect”. And so unless a child feels connected with both parents and the new situation, there is going to be resistance. So initially, what you need to do is, is take things quite easy and just say, “well, shall we just, you know, be the backpackers and we do our own thing”. And, and that will involve both parents actually making sacrifices,
This idea of children going back and forth between two houses, I’d love to know, how do you come to an agreement on appropriate child behaviour across those two different households?
Yeah, so what I propose to you that it’s like building a house, and the foundation of the house is to start, you dig a hole, and then you put a pop up concrete pad, and then you put the framing up, and then you put a roof up to get an agreement of the of the different family cultures. And the expectations is like that, you’ve got the first phases, what I’ve talked about, is to give the children freedom and space and just find our own way of doing things. And then gradually what will emerge, the two families have very, very different cultures. For example, one family expects dinner at the time, and they sit down and everything is for more than that kids do chores, etc, etc. And the other family might actually be quite lackadaisical, when they might just hang out, and you’re getting takeaways and watch TV and all that. So both parents need to realise, okay, this is all different for our children and for us, and we love each other. So that keeps us together. But for the children, this is a different sort of an environment. And the biggest danger you can do is to start too early, to impose your rules, you know, and to force things. So the first thing is to realise, okay, well just take it easy. And then I would suggest that to parents, who are new together – to the new couple – to sit down together, and make a decision that they are in fact, like a senior management team of a new social situation, you might say a word called families.
Well, a family is a very loaded word, which has lots of implications. So and the two parents can actually fall out quite strongly. When they say, well, in my family, we do this. And in my family, we did that. So what we’re going to do in our family, what do you mean by our family? Is it going to be win, win, lose, lose, or sorry, compromise?
So it’s far better to actually say, okay, we’re both managing a difficult situation with grieving and angry and sad children for a while. And we are kind of realising we different. And so what is the process we need to do to get us to agree as a family, how to go about it?
And you might say, Oh, well, what about the other household? Well, I would leave them out for a while completely, because they might disagree. They might be angry, they might be alienated. So you got to say, what are we going to do in this house? And I would propose that this way, the way to do it is to actually have a little family meeting with the joint children, but not do that too soon, and not know, often, but none of the parents will say none of those two parents will say, Oh, this is what’s going to happen, you know, let’s explore how we can do a team charter, how can we? What would work for us? And you might start with something very simple, what would work for us, you know, when we gotta go to school, when we got to go to kindy, and you got your bag here, etc. And give all the children a say, and just got a niche niche good chairmanship, you know, just say, well, you’re free to say what you like, and some children will in that forum, will actually express their emotions more directly, like, you know, display sucks. I don’t want anything to do with it. And you say, well, can we just, you know, can we look at it more positively and, and you absorb that, as a parent, you say, well, we can talk about it, you know, and so you lay the foundation of a joint family meeting, and then you follow that up with both parents interacting with their own children. And so what did you think of that meeting? You know, and how do you feel, you know, you says the parent who has got the other children coming, how do you feel about them? And so there’s the parents try and get the children on side individually, and then you have another meeting and try and do that.
And so, just to clarify, so when you say had a family meeting? Do you mean both families meeting together or just just the one family?
The one family first, okay, some people are extremely capable. And they don’t need to listen to this podcast because they’ve done so well. Some families, actually, they might get an outside facilitator that I’ve met that, and and on both families sit together and talk. But often that is not possible because of the grief and sadness of the adults themselves. And they’re not ready for that. But some people are, then you can also once but you the key is that the individual families should have an operational process which works for them. And it could be very different than the other family. Let’s pretend the other family is very demanding and regimented and strict and wrote runs a very tough timetable, whatever, you know, I’m just joking. And they all will stay in always play sport, and everybody goes out on the weekend, that’s what they do. But in this particular family, people are more relaxed a day go might go to the library, they don’t they don’t do that much sport, I’m just making it up. But it’s a totally different culture, getting those two for parents to agree. And those, those less pretenders for children age, age children to agree on a common thing is never going to work, you know, unless, unless, you know, you can say well, other some minimum basics what we want. And that’s basically about the about the handover. Because what we need to also discuss, Laura is that parenting actually, there’s sort of four parenting styles. And sometimes parent, people can be really happy together as partners, but there might be not that happy about as parents and the parenting style is authoritative, which is balance you you care for your children have expectations for them, then you’ve got some people who are very permissive, they allow their children a lot of freedom, which other parents wouldn’t. And some parents are very authoritarian, they demand that the children do this, and those and then the fourth parenting style is that a child, the parent is actually quite disengaged, they don’t want to be part of it. So the two new partners need to understand where each other’s coming from, they need to try and find a common common approach that is not easy, not easy. Like if some parents says, I think the children should finished when they finish the table, they should do the chores immediately. And the other parents said, well, I think they should chill out and just watch a bit of TV and a man will get the chores done directly. That is actually very hard to compromise about because the fundamental essence, your personality, and your value system. So the two parents, the key is that the two new parents in the household see themselves as a loving couple, who nurture and love one another. But they realise it’s a difficult journey. And we need to talk to each other and find a compromise, which we can both agree upon. And then have a little family meeting with our children or nudge the children as we go along. As I said, this is how we do it. How do you feel about that?
So your advice is more around control what you can control within, within the new family unit. And, and it’s going to be very difficult to try and expect that the rules are going to be exactly the same in in both houses.
So it’s going to be extremely hard, unless, or the other couple is, has got a tremendous amount of emotional intelligence, and they’ve done the same. And they realise that you’re a little bit different as well. And then you can have some fundamental common things, you know, but it’s often very hard. It’s a bit like running a school, where yeah, there are common rules, but every teacher does it in their own way. And it’s very hard all the teachers to do the same thing.
And I’m thinking about a scenario now where the parents in the new family unit, you have an agreed set of rules and in a way of a way of operating in their home. So if the biological parent is not there, is it? Is it best for the step parent to step in and enforce the rules that they have agreed upon, in in that new family unit? Or is there a certain amount of time that you know where it would be more acceptable for for the step parent to be doing that?
Well, again, that takes a little bit of thinking about because it depends on the relationship between the step parent and the child. And so ideally, you should let the other parent do the parenting of care. If there’s a bit of a crisis, you can say, “well, I think when your dad comes home, you know he should do that you know”. But what both parents should be doing is spending time not only with their own children, but the step parents should be starting to build bridges with with the stepchildren. And depending on how far they’ve got with it, they can then merge into a parental figure because the child feels, well, you care for me, you show me that. And I feel actually quite fond of you. You’re so respectful and loving, and etc.
And so when I ask, “hey, do you mind doing this, or I don’t think you shouldn’t be doing tha” then I’ll accept that. But that is not always that easy, because the child is grieving and sad- but actually, the way to do it is actually quite a simple system. It is episodes of care.
So that step parent should show the kid in a very non intrusive way. So what what the step parent is doing is building what is called an attachment relationship that the child feels and those are the, it’s very simple, the child must feel this person cares for me indeed, and they’re reliably there for me when I need them, you know, and, and they are not harmful, they just, I trust him. And that takes a while. And you might think God, a child is just saying, “Yeah, whatever, you know, I’m walking away”.
But actually, every time you show a little bit of care, you know, you might make them a hot chocolate, or you tidy their stuff away for them, which is really the edge or but you do it or you give them some advice, and they like it and you chill out together and watch television or you say show we’ll go to the movies together or show we’ll go to McDonald’s together. Episodes of care which build up gradually a feeling in the child of, ‘you care for me, and you are safe’. And ‘I respect you because of that’. And then what happens they they form a bond with you, they start falling out what’s called an attachment bond. It’s a secondary attachment. And it is ‘you are an important part of my life’.
And so when you then the child makes a mistake, and you say, hey, shall we all go through what to do? I would not get angry, I would not be severe, I would not be kind of authoritarian. That’s a very fragile bond you’ve got – you might say, “may ask you a question?” Something to introduce it. Or, “can we sit down and just have a little chat about something?”. And then I would advise the step parent to be very cautious to be very, but not not a wimp.
I would do the sandwich model. That is you always say to the child, you’re doing so well. I know it’s hard for you, but you’re done really well. I really love the way you done this and that and I’m really proud of you, you know, you’re doing okay, and so I just need to talk about something or ask you something. And you minimise that in your language. Do you mind if I ask you to, you know, when you get annoyed with one of the siblings not to lash out and get angry, and just maybe just walk away or something like that, whatever the issue is, you might say, Oh, God, you always have this is so super, super wimpish, you know? Yeah, you got to be careful, because the child will is like a horse, like when you got to find my kid can give it a whack with the stick. But a racehorse, don’t even think about that, you know, that is the children are still under stress. And they’re very ready to bolt. They were both either To hell with you, or our age, you know, and then things I said, which shouldn’t have been said. So I would, I would jump.
The question was, can I discipline the other person’s child? And the answer is yes, but it will take a while you can’t do that before you’ve established a relationship. And once you’ve established that relationship, you are a pretty cautious, careful, kind adult. And I would add skills like “may I ask you a question?” And “can we come to an agreement that maybe this was not such a good thing?” And “how can I help you not lose your temper?” Or “how can I help you with this?” And “how could we do this better?” And then you might say, “well, I’m going to punish them”. Well, I would not do that. I will not do that.
Yes, that’s what I was going to ask you, Joseph in a scenario where you’re there and the biological parent is there. The role of the step parent should be to let the biological parent do do the parenting or the discipline much as possible.
Mind if your attachment relationship is good. If you are respected and cared for and used the child sees you as sort of a companion and a caring person, they will in fact accept correction by you, if you just do that in a very gentle, caring way. And rather than punishing children, I would recommend to all my audience to actually ask them to well, you know, you made a little mistake here. And once you calm down, you know, we’ll see how we can make this better, and play it all down. And then you say, well, could you make it up for us? Or how could you How could you make it up to your sibling or to your mom or your dad or to us, you know, you threw everything around, did is encourage the child to restore their relationship, like I listened to Brisbane Boys High. They’ve got a wonderful little mantra for the boys there. And the headmaster says to me under this four things you’ve got to do got to say, to make up there to kind of get out of trouble in my school. And it’s actually really cool. The first one, he says, you know, you got to say I did this. And the second one is, you got to say, I’m sorry, I really mean that, you know. And the third thing you got to say, and really mean, I won’t do this again. And the last one, which I want to talk about in this part of the talk, is how can I make up for it? And I would as a couple, Coach, your children, those four little steps, kind of, you know, in the last one is the most important part, I made a mistake. Okay, let’s, let’s keep calm. And let’s try and do my best. And how could you make it up? No, there there’s two approach, I would advise the biological parent and the step parents are too. But I would in their little weekly meetings, I’d recommend that you have a weekly meeting, a little management meeting, and don’t say how we’re going to do our family where you could say it like that, how we’re going to how we’re going to manage the system, you know, it’s like running a company. It’s like running a management team, or running a team met us at your workplace, how we’re going to manage those. And then and then and during those meetings, so do we think we’re making progress in forming the bonds? And are we able to kind of keep calm? And do that do it that way? How do you feel about I love
I love that, Joseph, I love the idea of a management meeting. And that’s something I’m very keen to take away and implement myself after this call. Yeah, Joseph, we’re almost at time. Are there any other final pearls of wisdom that you’d like to share when it comes to disciplining a child who isn’t yours?
Yeah, I think, I think disciplining a child full stop contains five steps, the first step is to try and manage the behaviour. And you do that very, you know, the best, as you can see with this a tantrum or something like that, or whatever, where they’re not cleaning up, or they don’t come down, or they’re not ready, we need to take them to school or to whatever, you try and manage it. And then you manage it in the moment, as best as you can.
And then the next step is to sit down with a child very calmly, and you are very calm and caring, and you do the counter intuitive thing. And you ask them, “how can I help you?” Instead of telling them off. They will come later, you present the battle later. But don’t don’t tell them off. Don’t be aggressive, don’t be angry, just say, “how can I help you so that we work as a team? And it gets better for us for both you and me? You know, how can I help you get ready in the morning?” You know, let’s take that as an example. And then “Oh, well, you know, would it have helped you, if we packed your bag together. So you don’t need to rush?” And would it help you if I got your shoes and clothes and laid them out?” You know, often the children can’t do it, because that’s too much for them. So they feel supported, rather than told off.
And so and you coach them and show them a better system. So you ideally don’t have this issue again, you know, and then if they made a mistake, like they lost the plot in the morning and threw something around, etc. So well, maybe, you know, maybe you could make it up to whoever you. Maybe you could do a little job for me something like that, that five step cycle of managing that calmly, being supportive and caring and current and ask him how can I help you with his issue?
We are a team of two, then coaching them a better system, and then asking them well, how could you make it up, you know, when you’re ready to that is, in fact, a very superior way to manage children. And the opposite, often doesn’t matter. And if you’re a step parent, you got to do that really with a great deal of patience and skill, but it’s like everything. It’s like, it’s like you’re growing. You’re growing a garden, you know, don’t do it with chainsaws and roundup. They’ll grow in your garden, you grow and gradually the place will come together as your leadership and your calmness and your sense of morality and, and the sense of that child has actually fragile, and on the safe pair of hands with them, and unpredictably and reliable that will get you through that.
I love that. I love that so handy to think of those steps at it’s it’s all about remembering that in the moment as well, yes.Joseph, that is all we have time for today. But I have so enjoyed our chat. And I really appreciate your time.
So Joseph, where can listeners go to connect with you and find out more about the parenting courses that you offer? I know you’ve specifically got one on helping you children with divorce and separation, and also parenting a difficult child.
I think the best thing they could do is email me or they could go to educationanswers.com That’s my company. I’m just renewing my website. Or they can just email me and my email address J dot O dot d which is Joseph Oscar Driessen at extra, which is xtra.co.dot.nz or if you go to educationanswers.com then you find me as well. And they can invite me I speak all over the world – I do parents evenings and do small, medium and large groups in the morning.
Amazing. Thank you so much, Joseph, Bye now.
Thanks for listening to the in the blend podcast. The show notes for this episode are available at in the blend.com.au. And if you like what you heard, be sure to subscribe and please rate and review in your podcasting app. You can also follow me on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn