I Can’t Discipline My Stepchildren

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child with dunce capI am not a yeller. I have never been. If someone pisses me off, I lean towards leaving the room or not talking to whomever has pissed me off for a few days, until I get over it. Or I compose nasty e-mails I never send, but do make me feel better.

I never yell at my daughter, because I have “The Look.” And when my daughter sees “The Look” she knows she better get her shit together, or put her dish in the dishwasher, or do better on a test the next time.

Now that I have stepchildren, I’m finding it extremely hard, if not impossible, to discipline them. They don’t know “The Look,” which is an expression on my face that says, “I love you but I’m not happy.”

My fiancé has told me numerous times that if his children do something I don’t like when they are with us, then I can, and should, say something to them. Which is good in theory, but in practice, I just can’t do it.

My fiancé found me outside in my backyard crying the other day. The reason? I didn’t want to go back into my house, which I no longer feel is my house, because it has been taken over by two teenage girls and a dog, which came with my fiancé, who I love to pieces. Yes, it is no longer MY house, but it is OUR house. All of ours. Still, my stepchildren’s crap was everywhere. They didn’t walk THEIR dog, which resulted in the dog shitting and peeing on a carpet that I had ordered from Italy and was ruined. Because the dog peed in the house, my house smelled like urine. I also found one of their bras on the living room table, their knapsacks in the hallway, their dirty peanut butter knives left on the table, their wet towels on the floor mixed in with their clothes, and their coats lying on the hallway floor.

Because I like a tidy house, I almost had a breakdown, or did have a breakdown, which is why I was out in the backyard sobbing uncontrollably. It wasn’t just THAT day. It’s been happening for months and months. Because they don’t walk THEIR dog, even though when I agreed to take in the dog, after their mother told her daughters, “Either Rebecca takes the dog or I’m getting rid of it,” I had conditions, which was that it was their and my fiancé’s responsibility.

The dog has shit and peed all over my house, because his children don’t walk him. I have no problem telling my daughter to put her dirty clothes in her hamper or giving her “The Look.” My stepchildren even have told me that I can tell them if I don’t like something they are doing.

But I just can’t do it.

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  1. Eve Vawter

    May 14, 2013 at 1:16 pm

    Oh Rebecca… honey. I can’t even. I am totally amused and you know I have shit to say about this but I am just going to pat your hand and keep my mouth shut. 😀

    • brebay

      May 14, 2013 at 11:32 pm

      Bless her heart…

  2. Lashatumbai

    May 14, 2013 at 1:24 pm

    The list is good, but I think you should call a family meeting to go over it with everyone in the house. Schedule it a few days ahead and write out what you want to say. That way you jave time to rehearse and you don’t miss anything. Having everyone there will highlight the fact tjat these are rules for EVERY to follow, so noone feels singled out.

    • Lashatumbai

      May 14, 2013 at 1:26 pm

      Sorry for the errors. This site does not work well with my phone.

  3. Jen

    May 14, 2013 at 1:33 pm

    This has to be tough for you. I’m not a yeller but I have ZERO compunction letting anyone (adult or child) know the rules of the house. The list sounds like a good start….but perhaps add an element of punishment? Like if you don’t walk your dog x,y,z happens (whatever works for your family). Normally I would say “positive reinforcement”! but I don’t believe in rewarding anyone for doing what they should have been doing all along. I agree with Lashtumbai though. Don’t just put the list up. Have a family meeting and talk about it…then they can see clearly dad has your back, you are involved etc. Also…I’m not above shaming, since they are older than your kid, I’d be like um, my 10 year old keeps her backpacks out of the floor…what’s up with you not doing so? But again…I’m not…shy with expectations in my house (and strictly abide by expectations in others homes).

  4. CrazyFor Kate

    May 14, 2013 at 2:12 pm

    I just feel sorry for that poor puppy who obviously isn’t being looked after. PLEASE make sure he gets walked even if your stepdaughters forget, okay? Even if it inconveniences you or your fiance, he’s a living creature and needs that.

  5. Blueathena623

    May 14, 2013 at 2:55 pm

    Did you ever babysit when you were younger? If so, did you ever discipline those kids?

  6. Jessica

    May 14, 2013 at 3:20 pm

    WARNING! Long comment ahead-
    My advice is to use every incident as an opportunity to hone your communication skills with them. You will not always be successful and a lot of times you will still be so disgusted that you are even made to deal with things like socks in the yard, but at least if, in the back of your mind, your goal is progress (rather than blind rage) you will have higher odds of preventing these problems in the future.

    You are going to have to get over the, “I’ll tell him and he’ll tell them” mentality; it is a sure fire way to drive both you and your fiancé insane. I speak from experience when I say that I understand this can be a very trying situation, but it sounds like you have a few things going for you- namely that they are teenagers. They have the ability to understand most adult ideas, so be real with them! They will have more respect for you if you talk to them like people, rather than step-children (within reason, of course).

    Tell them, “Listen, this carpeting did not travel half-way around the world only to be destroyed by your dog. The cost of this carpet translates into real hours of my life spent working for that luxury and it is unfair that I no longer have something that I earned because of your negligence. I‘m sure you can understand why this can not happen again. Your dad and I agree, either you take care of your dog or you will not have a dog anymore.”

    Also, try to stay in touch with who you were at their age; it’ll help you in your role as the grown-up in the situation.

    • Aldonza

      May 14, 2013 at 8:28 pm

      I totally agree. The firs thing I thought when I read this was, ‘if they’re not holding up their end with the dog then the dog can’t come, and if that means they don’t have a dog anymore…well, actions (or lack there of) have consequences’. The kids need to know that there is follow through. Don’t make empty threats. Sometimes they need something taken away to appreciate what they have.

    • whiteroses

      May 14, 2013 at 10:41 pm

      This. If you make empty threats kids learn pretty darn quick that they don’t have to listen to you- and why should they? Also, if you put the responsibility of disciplining them on someone else, then they learn not to respect you. If the only person in the house who disciplines them is one parent, then the other parent…lives there.

  7. Rachel Sea

    May 14, 2013 at 4:19 pm

    I used to feel really awkward about disciplining other people’s kids, but the best way to get results is to address problems in the moment. I have never yelled, I go for immediate eye contact, and explain clearly and briefly what my expectation is and what the consequence is for disobeying. Clear, consistent communication gives them the best chance for success and will take a load off you. The first few times are the hardest, but if you can steel yourself and just *do* it, even though you are uncomfortable, it will get easier.

  8. Sara

    May 14, 2013 at 4:40 pm

    I agree with a lot of the advice here. Direct communication, a family meeting to address the issues face-to-face and real, immediate consequences that are directly related to the actions in question. You and your significant other must also be a united team when it comes to discipline–there can be no “my kids” and “his kids”.

    Also, I know this is something that’s been discussed before when it comes to your relationship with your boyfriend, his kids and your daughter….but if you want to have a relationship with them that’s based on respect, you should really consider NOT posting private details about their lives and airing your frustrations with them on the Internet, where strangers can read about them and whatever you write is there forever. One way or another, this conflict will get resolved and it won’t last forever. But the private details of their lives and their private conduct are now on the Internet, for anyone and everyone, to read forever. That’s really not fair to them, especially since you don’t address them by name in your columns, but it’s really not at all hard to identify them.

    You have the right to a reasonable expectation that the people you live with will respect your belongings and not trash them. But they also have the right to a reasonable expectation that what goes on behind closed doors in their private home won’t be splashed across the Internet for total strangers to read.

    • Melissa

      May 14, 2013 at 4:44 pm

      I agree. I so agree. I feel so sorry for those kids getting bitched about on a public blog. I also love that she took a few opportunities to trash the ex in this post too. Those poor kids. Teens know what blogs are. You cannot tell me they won’t somehow see all this at some point (if they haven’t already).

    • DuckDiva

      October 26, 2013 at 12:28 pm

      I disagree, this is the place to vent, to get advice, and to be encouraged. She didn’t post names, but she could have. Now that these young adults know their behavior can and will be made public, they will pay more attention to expectations.

  9. CortCab

    May 14, 2013 at 6:49 pm

    It confuses me that you seem to think that the only ways to discipline are either your “look” or yelling. It sounds like you’ve not verbally corrected the girls at all about any of these behaviors that are driving you to woe-is-mom crying fits.
    You really need to work on communicating with these girls, and not through their dad and not through printed lists. Honestly, just posting a list seems pretty passive aggressive.

  10. TaiDollWave

    May 14, 2013 at 8:09 pm

    I can’t speak for your stepdaughters, but I’d have a hard time respecting an authority/parental figure who made someone else come and scold me. I’d probably figure it REALLY didn’t bother you all that much if you couldn’t tell me yourself, or that you just liked to nitpick and nag my dad. But that’s my thought.

    Also, if you don’t talk to them about it WHILE it’s happening instead of “sending their dad to have a Talk”, it sort of loses meaning. Saying “Hey, this is our house, and I want everyone to be happy, and that means we all work together to clean, and we all take care of our responsibilities… Like dirty dishes and taking care of our dog.” is fine. Hiding behind Dad is not.

    Sorry about your carpet.

  11. drinkpepsi

    May 14, 2013 at 9:22 pm

    Just when I thought you couldn’t sink any lower…

    1. Rebecca, sweetheart, you have publicly outed your stepdaughters now for making racist jokes. You have also allowed their full names and photographs to be printed in The Toronto Star (a major Canadian newspaper). You really don’t give a damn about them, do you?

    2. Why don’t you or the girls’ father or the nanny remind the girls to walk the dog when they get home? If they don’t do it even after a gentle reminder then let them know that you’ll be looking for a new home for the dog. It’s simple really. You just like to make things complicated.

    3. You really need to leave the ex-wife/still wife out of your stories. It just makes you look petty and vindictive.

    4. I cannot wait until your teen stepdaughters write a tell-all about you. It would be so poetic and I bet their grammar is a heck of a lot better than yours.

    • Molly

      May 15, 2013 at 12:55 am

      My personal favorite was the added comment about the carpet being ordered from Italy. It’s just like, “here, let me rub your nose in my wealth while I play victim.”

    • drinkpepsi

      May 15, 2013 at 8:04 am

      Yes…OF COURSE it was an expensive rug from Italy. And Kate Hudson walked on it once. And Angelina Jolie has one that looks similar. And the rug matches her Prada bags…

      Who is this woman kidding? She has a nanny and writes a few blogs a month. The kids assume the nanny will clean up after them because the nanny probably cleans up after Eckler. She had a nanny before her son was born. She had a nanny for her then 8 year old who was in school full time. (Basically, a cheap housekeeper).

    • Amanda Gerber

      May 16, 2013 at 9:44 pm

      Seriously? That’s what you got from this? Not that she feels like she can’t discipline her kids and is miserable because they’re little assholes?

      She paid good money for a nice rug. People do what they want with their money. Who are you to be so judgey judge about that?

    • drinkpepsi

      May 17, 2013 at 1:07 am

      Sure…I feel terrible about the rug. It’s a huge loss.

      I feel more terrible for those poor teenage girls whose stepmother repeatedly bashes them in a public and permanent forum.

      You do know that these girls aren’t anonymous, right? Rebecca has been good enough to name these girls (first and last names) and she has also seen fit to publish their pictures.

      I’m sure you had fights or disagreements with your own mom or stepmom, especially during your teenage years. How do you think you would have felt if your mom – or worse, your step mo mom – decided to air your dirty laundry for all to see?

      Becky might have money, but she’s white trash nonetheless.

    • Amanda Stanley

      May 20, 2013 at 11:03 am

      I don’t think white trash can afford a nice Italian rug. White trash does commonly talk down to/about people to make themselves feel better though.

    • Daniela Cortez Vassallo

      December 19, 2013 at 5:05 pm

      on the other side, if the damned dog pissed on MY italian carpet, it would be SO GONE.

  12. whiteroses

    May 14, 2013 at 11:01 pm

    You shouldn’t go in there guns blazing. Of course your daughter responds to “the Look” and your stepchildren don’t. They don’t live with you full time and that makes a difference.

    Your list was a lot of “no”. I didn’t read much positivity in there. The trick with disciplining children is to offer positives. If all they ever hear is a negative response, they’re going to want to avoid your house like the plague. Your fiance’s children are teenagers, which means you’re going to have to put on your big girl shorts and talk to them in person. If you really are a family, then you need to act like you are, which means explaining to them what you expect of them and sticking to it. Outline what you want them to do, explain the consequences if they don’t follow your rules, and explain about possible rewards if they do what is expected. If you don’t offer a reward system, they won’t have much incentive to do what you want.

    Being a family means that both parents discipline all kids, whatever that means. You and your fiancé should both be very clear with each other and your respective children that you are a united front. If your fiancé can’t discipline your daughter and you can’t discipline his girls, then your family dynamic needs a rethink. Part of that united front is being respectful to your fiancés wife. If you care about these girls at all, you’ll stop trashing their mother in a public forum. Even if she means less than nothing to you and your fiancé, she means something to your fiancé’s daughters. Eventually, this constant and public trashing of their mother is going to tear at them.

    Also, I agree with the idea that you should stop posting about your fiancés daughters. I don’t doubt that they know about your career, but they have an expectation of privacy that you haven’t respected. Even if they don’t care about it now, they might later. Having the entire world know where they occasionally put their bras is too much information.

    • Sara

      May 15, 2013 at 6:00 am

      OH MY GOD YES. Yes to all of this.

  13. brebay

    May 14, 2013 at 11:31 pm

    Do they get to yell at you when you trash their mother on the internet? No doubt they’d be in trouble if they did that to your daughter…

  14. Molly

    May 15, 2013 at 12:48 am

    Oh, no!!! The carpet that was ordered from Italy!!! …and I thought I had seen it all.

  15. Pingback: Step Parents And Disciplining Stepchildren You Have To Do It

  16. Justme

    May 15, 2013 at 1:22 pm

    That’s why I don’t have rugs.

  17. drinkpepsi

    May 15, 2013 at 1:53 pm

    Is your “fiance” really okay with you outing his kids -online (i.e. forever) as being racist jokesters?

    If your daughter were to make such a joke, I assume you would scold/correct her and move on. You wouldn’t be so vindictive as to leave a permanent record of her bigotry, for all to see, right?

    Then again, maybe you would…

  18. Rachelle

    May 15, 2013 at 4:21 pm

    I’m going to go ahead and state something I haven’t seen anyone mention here yet: your daughter probably already looks up to the teen girls and, I hate to break it to you, but they’re going to start rubbing off on her pretty soon. If she notices that you’re not disciplining them, she’ll quickly see that you have buttons, wiggle room, and she’ll start testing you, (they do anyways). That “Look” won’t have its power anymore and if you have wiggle room, she’ll pry you open like a can of sardines and your next post might be entitled : My Stepkids Have Corrupted My Sweet Daughter.

    You need to put your foot down firmly, not necessarily loudly. They’re teens. If you don’t claim your authority and territory FAST, you will have none, whether you have a marriage certificate with their father’s name on it or not. You see bags and you don’t want them there, you ask nicely once with a timeline. Timeline’s up and the bags aren’t picked up? Give them one more chance. Still no answer? Boom, consequence. Bags on the porch, in the trash, whatever.

    Teachers aren’t the kids parents, but they’re authority figures and they state the rules in the space they have. Same goes for you. You might not be their immediate parent, but as the adult in the place they live in, and as their father’s fiancé, and as the mother of their step-sister, you need to pull up your thong, put on your boss-lady heels, and start acting like an adult instead of going outside to cry like a little kid.

    Otherwise you’ll be having much more problems than dogs shitting on your rug, love. You’ll have ZERO kids who respect you and most likely a big bone of contention in your couple.

  19. PandaZ

    May 15, 2013 at 10:23 pm

    Rebecca, I’m not a long-time reader, I just clicked on one of your article not too long ago (the rotating picture one) and I though it was pretty immature, but the vitriol in the comments directed at you made me read some (not all) of the other articles that you wrote. Here is what I have to say: you are mean. My comment, my rant, so I’ll explain my point of view.

    One of my aunt married a man that already had a daughter – who was about 7 (let’s call her Eve) when they got married and then they had three kids together over the next 10 years. She never considered Eve her daughter, just her husband’s first child. She would even mention it in front of Eve (“How many kids do you guys have?” “Oh I have three, but my husband has four”) She bitch about her ALL THE TIME. EVERYTHING that Eve does, is wrong. If you listen to her, Eve is the worst kid ever. But you know what? Kids, teenagers, whatever, they KNOW when somebody doesn’t love them. And when you speak to Eve, she tells you how much she really hates living there, because her step-mom is a total bitch to her and never appreciate anything she does (and I do love my aunt, I just think she’s horrible with her step-daughter). And Eve is a good kid.

    So, seriously, WTF? You’re just constantly airing out your dirty laundry in public. Do your step-daughters know that you write that blog? Do they read the shit you write about them? And then you SERIOUSLY WONDER WHY THEY DON’T RESPECT YOU? I wouldn’t respect either! You get respect when you EARN IT. You are fuckin mean writing that way about your step-kids and their mom. And your partner lets you write that garbage about his kids? On a public WEBSITE? What it wrong with the both of you? It’s not like venting to your best friends! INTERNET IS PERMANENT! It’s really fuckin ironic that STFU Parents’ Blair Koening is on Mommyish too (the reason I’m on this site) cause ALL OF YOUR POSTS belong on her blog! (yes I know she just does it with Facebook posts) WOE IS (STEP)MOM!! Get your act together lady.

  20. Amanda Geyer

    May 16, 2013 at 4:40 am

    Did I accidentally click over to “the onion” ? This is so petty and simple to fix. Maybe you should tell the nanny to take care of the dog and kids so you don’t strain yourself…

  21. Carm

    May 16, 2013 at 10:25 am

    I hope the list works!

  22. Kat

    May 16, 2013 at 11:17 am

    I normally feel that most commenters are too harsh on you, but this article is ridiculous. When my husband and I got together, my daughter was 2. She’s now 6, we have a child together, and there is no “her kid, my kid” going on in the house. She knows that her step dad (and step mom at her dads house) are parents, too, and better follow the rules. My husband disciplines/corrects my daughter just as much as I do. The kids, the dog, the house, everything, is no longer “yours”. There is no “yours” anymore with things like that. You’re living together, you’ve got a blended family, it’s “ours”. Shame on you for leaving a poor dog to do it’s business in the house because it’s not “your” dog. If your fiance had an infant, would you not feed it because it’s not “your” baby?! Yes, you have to remind teens and pre-teens to do chores. Hell, I had a chore list until I moved out. Not because I didn’t do my chores, but because when I added in homework and work, I just forgot a lot of things. A chore list helps because everything is spelled out. Decide on consequences and follow through. Step up and act like the step mom you claim to be.

  23. Amanda Gerber

    May 16, 2013 at 9:48 pm

    I would have had a breakdown long before you did, darling.

    Here’s the problem, in my opiniong; your stepkids told you (according to you) you can tell them if you don’t like what you’re doing. You say you can’t.

    YOU CAN! If you do not speak, nothing will change! You earned the things you have. YOUR house should be clean. They should respect that – but they can’t if being lazy jerks is easiest and no one tells them to do otherwise.

    The racist jokes thing though? Speak up now because that shit is not cool. Not at all, ever.

  24. Marina

    May 19, 2013 at 1:20 pm

    I don’t mean this necessarily in a negative way, but you must not be very close with them. I’m not close with my step-mother- lots of kids aren’t. The reason I say this is that you seem so uncomfortable around these girls. When your truly comfortable around kids you won’t feel weird about having to “discipline” them. Also, maybe you need to do more to earn their respect? Kids need to be polite and courteous, don’t get me wrong on that! But- it can take some time for kids to truly respect their step-parents. Personally, I would start by not writing about them or their mom. How would you feel if one of them wrote articles about the crappy things you and your daughter do, not that you do crappy things but you see my point?

  25. ana

    May 23, 2013 at 6:53 pm

    i’m not in canada so i have no clue who you are and i didn’t see any full names posted – so not sure what people are talking about.
    anywho — your post reminds me of my own life.
    -dirty underwear and other things left around the house
    -racist jokes
    -deeming and cruel comments about homosexuals, poor people and overweight people (why????)
    -no compassion for anyone with any problems
    -breakage of household items (brand new dryer broken, brand new car ran into garage, etc) without so much as an “I’m so sorry” (NOT KIDDING HERE – who is raised like this?)
    -seemingly deliberate maltreatment of their youngest (half) sibling – my bio kid – when “baby-sitting”: letting him piss/crap himself in same diaper for >6 hours (urine actually and truly running down his legs – again, NOT KIDDING)
    -taking things that do not belong to them (my car keys, cell phone charger, and other items found in one of their purses)
    -simply gross and inappropriate behaviors such sitting legs-spread on couch in shorts so short that parts that shouldn’t be seen can be seen (or shorts/pants so low that pubic hair can be seen upon them leaning back, as in a chair)
    -rooms so dirty that the housekeeper called me to complain about it and says they will have to charge more for the extra work (i started to pay for housekeeping since kids moved in because house gets so filthy); you LITERALLY cannot walk from more than 2 feet from the door without stepping on clothes, school books, old maxi-pad wrappers, empty food containers, etc
    need i go on
    my question: WHY???
    kids are 17 going on 18 and 19 going on 20
    i mean: WHAT THE H** IS REALLY GOING ON??? is this mental illness?
    no one can tell me that this is just teens being teens – this is beyond normal – am i right or just from a different planet?
    i was a step-kid my WHOLE life (lived through my dad’s 2 wives after my mom). my one step-mom was abusive and CPS was involved on occasion (dad left her after she moved in with a drug-dealer and got into a bad car wreck while high on crack) — still i didn’t hate her and i NEVER, EVER disrespected her or the house with this kind of behavior (i’m not joking here when i say that i think my father would have punched me in the face and knocked me out). i had it tough – yet still never acted this way. and, as a stepmom, i’m not abusive, intrusive or demanding in any way, shape or form.
    i encourage the kids to stay connected to their mom (which, at the same time, would give me some breathing room!!!) – but apparently they “hate” her
    meanwhile i’m paying mortgage, electric, water, gas, cable and half of groceries (not to mention paying off cars) – which these kids enjoy at their leisure because they have no jobs (reason i pay all the bills is cause the hubby spends all his money paying for the EXACT SAME expense for his ex-wife, as child support/spousal support) — yet they refuse to spend any time with her (so she’s eating bon-bons and watching cable and dressing in designer clothes, cause hell, why not? no one else to spend the money on)
    GOOD LORD. tell me that it ends and all kids eventually want to have their own life and space. this IS true, right? right?

    • Daniela Cortez Vassallo

      December 19, 2013 at 5:23 pm

      omg, why do you live there??? do yourself a favor and leave them asap!

  26. Reesa

    May 31, 2013 at 3:20 pm

    I’m a step mom and I totally get you Rebecca. People expect mothers to be able to slip into the role of parenting children that don’t belong to us, and it isn’t easy! I hate disciplining my step children, and my husband has no problems disciplining his step kids.

  27. Olivia Marie Wall

    September 18, 2013 at 10:06 am

    There is a difference between discipline and punishment… discipline is routine, schedule, expectations… and a step parent can have that for themselves, their partner and their children and step children. To make sure their homework is done before dinner so they can go play… making sure they just put their dishes in the dish washer and keep their room clean is not something a step parent shouldn’t be allow to do. They are a person in this child’s life who is in authority like a grandparent, coach, aunt, uncle, teacher, pastor… they are on the same level and those people can expect respect and so can a step parent… should they punish a child… no, I don’t really think so unless they are alone with the child but they should never lay a hand on their child but they should be a shining star of an example of what it means to be appreciative, understanding, and love.

  28. bossymom

    April 28, 2014 at 1:02 pm

    I have stepchildren, ages 9& 10 who have the attitude of entitlement, and control. I took it all away in one clear swoop when they started doing the things you mention your blog. I simply told them that if they weren’t going to pick up their things I would give them to someone else. And I did. Now mind you, I have many other issues going on with them, they are disrespectful and try to argue when getting punished, I took the keys to the control bus- I have three grown children so this isn’t my first time, but when I take control, and I am calm and I keep my promises (giving their things to charity if they can’t keep them picked up.)

  29. Pingback: Do Not Discipline Other People's Small Children

  30. farmacia 1 maggio corbetta

    October 25, 2020 at 6:18 pm

    -La belleza es cómo te sientes dentro, y cómo se refleja en tus ojos.-Sophia Loren.

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