Instead, the biological parent should strive for objectivity and empathy toward their spouse remembering that understanding does not make rejection more likely. “I can hear how anxious you are about my kids coming this weekend; what can we do to make things go a little more smoothly for you?”

Paralyzed part-time parents should strive for balance. If you, like Jackson, find yourself afraid to discipline your children due to the fear that doing so will alienate them further, explore with your spouse what a balanced response might look like. It’s helpful as you have this conversation for the stepparent to acknowledge how fearful the parent is and validate the legitimacy of their feelings (negating this only makes your feelings on the matter less important to your spouse). But even then, choosing to take a risk with what feels to be a fragile relationship is extremely difficult. In some situations, the relationship really is fragile; in other situations, the parent judges it more fragile than it really is. The point is this—if there are other children living in your house (e.g., stepchildren) most of the time you cannot afford to have night and day expectations for different children based on fear. Doing so jeopardizes the stepfamily relationships and often the marriage itself.

Instead, find a balance between having some expectations and letting go of others. Finding this balance can only be achieved through careful and intentional conversation with the stepparent.

In a moment of clarity, Jackson recognized the complications of his stepfamily. “When parents are separated by divorce, parenting gets a lot harder. I’m back on my heals with my own kids which means they have more power than I do—and I can’t be the father I really want to be.”

Part-time parenting is challenging and parents do give up some influence in the process. It is unavoidable. But completely giving up out of fear is never a good solution and rarely helps anyone. Take the risk of acting like a parent and perhaps your children will respect you as one.

Finding Balance

The following discussion guide for couples may help you make important decisions about how you part-time parent. Work through the items together.

  • Pray together over your discussion and ask for the Lord’s wisdom.
  • If your children lived with you full time, how would you parent them differently?
  • List reasons and fears that keep you from parenting them this way now.
  • Rank the potential costs of each reason or fear from low to high. For example, wanting kids to leave your home with nothing but positive feelings about you (because they had fun the entire time) has low potential costs, while the fear of having children tell an antagonistic ex-spouse that they dread coming to see you has high potential cost.
  • Discuss which low to moderate costs you are willing to risk experiencing in order to move toward a stronger parenting position with your children.

Ron L. Deal is president of Smart Stepfamilies™, director of blended family ministries for FamilyLife®, a popular conference speaker on marriage and family matters, and author/coauthor of a series of DVD’s and books for stepfamilies including The Smart Stepfamily, The Remarriage Checkup (with David H. Olson), The Smart Stepmom (with Laura Petherbridge), The Smart Stepdad, and his latest Dating and the Single Parent. Learn more at www.smartstepfamilies.com.

Publication date: August 14, 2012