(The Root) —
"I don't like the way my husband disciplines my 9-year-old daughter from a previous relationship. He doesn't speak down to her or hit her or anything, but he seems unnecessarily hard on her sometimes by taking away her electronics or TV access for long periods of time or restricting her activities excessively. He doesn't have any children yet and insists that he would discipline the children we have together the same way, but there's no way to tell because, again, we don't have children together. I asked him to let me handle any discipline from now on and told my daughter that would be the case. I was trying to solve the problem, and instead it started a big argument with my husband. I want to respect my husband, but I also want my daughter to be treated fairly. What do I do?"
Disciplining children is a common point of disagreement between partners, and it's even trickier in blended families like yours, where there is a nonbiological parent taking on the full-time responsibility of raising a child. From your letter, it's clear that you are frustrated (and your husband is, too). But the good news is, with improved communication between the two of you and your daughter, this can be fixed.
I'm going to guess that since you married him, your husband is a good guy who wants the best for your daughter, just as you do. It's time for a candid conversation to fix the discord between the two of you. You have two major issues to address: disciplining your daughter and fixing the rift that you caused by pushing him out of a necessary family dynamic.
Even when parents disagree, it's important that they put up a united front … well, in front of the kids. As the child of parents who were all too aware when they didn't see eye to eye, I learned early how to exploit it to my advantage, which only caused more problems (more so for them than for me, but still). By taking away your husband's ability to discipline and informing your daughter of this, you've undermined his position in the household. No adult would take kindly to that.
Earlier this year, The Root did a series of interviews with black couples who are making love work. Two of the couples — one part of a blended family and another a lesbian couple — were asked about the difficulties of raising families, and disciplining children led the list.
The blended-family couple — Lamar and Ronnie Tyler, the founders of the site Black and Married With Kids — had a scenario very similar to your own. Ronnie entered the marriage with two children from a previous relationship, and Lamar had none. Initially she believed that he was hard on her son, who was about the same age as your child. (Ronnie's daughter was a baby, so the discipline factor didn't come into play as much.)
Lamar insisted, much like your husband, that he would treat his own biological children similarly — and when the couple had children together, he lived up to the promise. I share their story with you so you know that your husband's stance on what he would do with his biological children isn't so far-fetched.
In order to work through this issue, the Tylers told me that they had to have several frank conversations — note the plural, because the matter wasn't solved overnight — about their differing styles of discipline. Through their communication, they recognized that they both wanted what was best for the kids, but they just had differing ways of going about it.
They talked often — and out of the earshot of their children — about their differing styles of discipline, their expectations for each other as disciplinarians and, of course, what was best for their children. They realized that both of them had some changes to make for the benefit of their family. Ronnie had to ease up on some on her protectiveness, and Lamar had to adjust some aspects of his discipline style. When both of them made concessions, they were able to find a comfortable middle ground that worked for them and the children.
I hope you can follow the Tylers' example and reach the same place.
Demetria L. Lucas is a contributing editor to The Root, a life coach and the author of A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life. She answers your dating and relationship questions on The Root each week. Feel free to ask anything at firstname.lastname@example.org.