Q: As a single parent, how much input or control do I give to a ‘significant’ other who is either living in the house or is around the family a great deal of time, before they have committed to a long term relationship, especially if my children are questioning that person’s authority?
A: What makes this question so difficult is that there are a ton of variables, obviously, too many to have an exact answer, so we offer a ‘rule of thumb’ at best. Without a commitment to a long term relationship (including to the children) their authority is, and should be, severely limited. They should be able to address immediate safety issues and hold boundaries about their own person and belongings (but not set boundaries for the children). All adults in the home should have some power to enforce, or support the rules established by the parent. Making new rules should be reserved for the legal guardian of the children, and if the ‘significant other’ wants input, they need to go through the parent for their approval. However, all limits and structure need to come from the parent. Children need to know that all adults are watching to make sure they are held accountable for the ‘established’ rules. Next, evaluate the stage of relationship. If this is an established commitment, (i.e. engagement or ‘living together, non-married commitment) and it appears that this person intends on being there for the foreseeable future, then it becomes critical that they be included in the setting of the rules for the house as well as the children, even if they have never had children. The main reason for this makes reference to the fact that if the ‘secondary’ adult feels powerless and non-valuable to the home, it will create a plethora of issues for both the relationship and the children – most of the time it fosters resentment and hurt. A happy, healthy home is one where the rules are clearly established for everyone to know and understand, and all of the adults are fair, firm, and consistent.
Q: Whenever I get into a fight with my 12 year old son, he just turns to me and asks with teary eyes, “why did you even have me?” This makes me feel terrible, like I’ve done something bad and let him down. What do I say to him?
A: It is difficult to give specific feedback to this question without knowing what a “fight” between you and your son consists of, the frequency of the fights, what they are over, and what happens after them. It is important that you talk with your son about this at a time separate from the fighting and ask what he believes the answer to that question to be and what he hopes to hear from you, what he fears to hear from you. You would also want to reflect on what you verbalize to him during “fights” and ask yourself if any of it may give him a message that he is a burden, annoyance or other negative force in your life. However, generally speaking, your son’s actions are most likely a ‘button pusher’. A button pusher is a phrase, look, action or sound that is intended to arouse, irritate, or stir bad emotions with their parents. The use of button pushers are, in a true sense, the only real ‘power’ that a child has over an adult. It is one form of manipulation. At some point, most children do this, it is natural and normal. What do you do? Prepare a ‘non- engaging’ response, like; “I always value and love you – now please take out the trash” or “I always value and love you, but I am not changing my mind about staying up late.” This interrupts the child’s power plan and re-establishes your decisions as firm.
The questions above are from parents who live in the South Bay. The responses have been provided by members of the South Bay Coalition whose expertise and experience lies in parenting, counseling, and or substance abuse prevention. The South Bay Coalition is a non-profit partnership of agencies working to prevent substance abuse among our community’s youth. For local resources or to order our booklet: A Parent’s Guide To The Prevention Of Alcohol And Other Drugs, please visit our website www.sbcoalition.com or contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.