One of the most common challenges that will bring somebody in a blended family into life coaching with me is what is called a difference in parenting styles.
It’s a big catch-all category that covers a lot of places where there can be conflict or disagreement.
When it comes to school the role of a stepparent can sometimes be or feel removed. This can also be a place where a stepparent can feel like an outsider. There are a lot of reasons this can happen.
Sometimes it’s not just the stepparent it can be a difference between the two biological parents and between the two houses where the child/ren go between.
A difference in school performance academic expectations
Sometimes one parent expects high grades and another parent or stepparent doesn’t have that expectation.
This can cause big fights.
Or maybe one adult struggled in math but the other didn’t and they just have different expectations.
Or also I see situations where one adult was super involved in extra curricular stuff and the children aren’t super interested – that can cause conflict.
Maybe one house has a strict schedule about when and how homework is done and the other house doesn’t.
Maybe one house is well stocked with school supplies and equipment and the other house is not.
All of these things can build up to conflict and disagreement between the adults.
In my experience and observation these things often get more complex as the children get older and the work and assignments get more complex. It may not be an issue in elementary school but become an issue in middle and the beginning of high school.
There can be big issues with this and also even if everybody is tuned in and engaged and involved there can still be little issues that come up.
I break this into big “P” Problems and little “p” problems.
Whether it’s a big problem or a little problem one thing to try and not forget is that this should hopefully all be about the child/ren.
Big P can be if one house does not take school seriously, have supplies or prioritize school work. In this case a child might do homework when at one house but when they are staying at the other house they may be unprepared for school, have incomplete assignments, or be late or even absent from school. This – is a capital “P” problem because it can dramatically impact the performance of the child in school.
Not all children are top performers in school but in a good situation each child has the opportunity to do their own personal best and the home situation is not creating an extra challenge.
This type of situation often needs involvement of the school administration and maybe others to try to resolve. Unfortunately, in my experience it can be surprisingly hard for a school to identify these problems.
Another big P is that when you have a child switching houses and parents sometimes learning struggles are harder to spot. I have a family friend who after divorce the child was struggling in school. The parents fought and blamed each other. Eventually one parent decided to do a year of homeschooling. There were lots of fights about that until after a very short amount of time they discovered that the child was dyslexic. Then they were able to get the child the specialized assistance to help.
Would it have been discovered otherwise … hopefully. Should the school have picked up on it … I dunno, maybe. I’ve heard that this is a tough thing to spot and it’s not my expertise.
One day the kids woke up at our house and we had exactly zero school uniforms that fit anybody.
We had lots of uniforms … all too small.
We should have checked the night before. We didn’t.
This was a problem that was solved with a little bit of fast driving to the other house to get clothes that fit.
That’s a little problem.
I’ll tell you another story to share an experience of my own as a stepmom with this and a little “p” problem.
Helping with Homework as a Stepparent
My stepdaughter had English homework. This is in elementary school. Probably 4th grade.
For some reason that I don’t even remember I was asked to help her with this. She and I were left alone to do this assignment.
I figured. I was like — okay. I mean I have a college degree. I get paid to write words. I can probably handle elementary school English.
That turned out to be FALSE.
I did not understand the assignment. And what I don’t think I knew was that my step-daughter had already been struggling with this work. Her teacher and her mom had been helping her with this.
I didn’t know.
The assignment was to take a paragraph and analyze it using a formula. Each sentence needed to be broken down and explained in a bunch of specific ways. Primary focus the purpose and intent of each sentence…stuff like that.
Maybe this is great if you’re reading The Brothers Karamozov and having a deep philosophical question but when applied to an introductory chapter in Harry Potter … trying to choose the primary focus of a sentence about Doby the elf …it was super frustrating for me and my stepdaughter was MISERABLE.
As the stepmom I felt like I was failing and I felt like I didn’t have the information or skills to be able to do what was expected of me. This is a crappy feeling.
Anyway, about 15-20 minutes into this living hell of a homework assignment — I called it.
I do not share this story with you because I think I handled it well. I didn’t. I’m lucky that I had support to help me work this out.
I share this story with you because this can be a very challenging situation for a stepparent. People may ask you to do things that you feel like you should be able to do and yet you don’t know how to do them well.
It’s helpful in these situations to remember that all we can do is the best we can with what we have. Try not to take it personally try not to blame anybody not even yourself.
Back to the story.
I said, something like … listen this isn’t fair to you that you are stuck with me as your homework partner. You and your mom have been working on this together.
I remember that she was partly relieved and also still very stressed that it get done and I remember assuring her that I was going to help her work this out. She was not going to suffer or be punished because I couldn’t be a good enough helper.
We took a break. I don’t remember how it worked out. Definitely the homework got done and not with me as the helper.
Here’s the thing. This was obviously a big incident because I still remember it about 20 years later. BUT looking back it was a little p problem because all of the adults were ready and willing to work it out.
That’s a tool. When something feels big you can try to ask yourself will this matter in a year or 5 years?
The bigger problems I see are when there is an overall significant difference in opinion about school between the adults.
School is a child’s community
Early on in my parenting days, I had the opportunity to work with an organization that was involved in school meals. I learned a lot from the leaders of that organization and one of those things is that school is often the children’s first community.
This is where their friends are. They eat there. They make independent social connections there.
Often as adults we may feel like we are going to school. We’re not. The children are. I think it can be helpful to try to remember that.
Often stepparents will come to me and they are overwhelmed by a feeling of being powerless to help a stepchild improve their performance in school.
Perhaps they have a teaching background and they feel their step kids would benefit from tutoring and additional help. Perhaps their offers of this assistance are declined or ignored by one or even both parents. This can be hard to take. There are tools that I can offer to teach you you if a situation like this is happening in your family. Reach out to me for more information on working with me.