Battle Hymn of the Paper Tiger Step-Mom

Recently there was a lot of furor over the book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom. It was a memoir that featured the tyrannical parenting style of a Chinese American mom and the clash between raising kids in our permissive Western culture of  self-esteem-as-paramount, and the Eastern culture’s value of hard-work-and strict-discipline as the key to successfully raising children. I have not yet read this book, nor can I say that I personally subscribe to any of these philosophies, although I must admit I have a lot of respect for the Tiger Mom who can pull this off and not cause her child to go into therapy over it.

There is one philosophy I do value in parenting, and that is consistency.  I am not saying I can’t be flexible, or that I am perfect, but I do believe that consistency is very important in parenting.  In most two-parent households, no doubt there are parenting disagreements, but it’s usually best if the parents maintain a show of unity and consistency.  What happens when you are in a co-parenting situation with four adults, three households and four kids? Chaos sometimes reigns over consistency.

As a step-parent, I know that I have no real ability to discipline my husband’s kids. My role is chiefly to support my husband in his parenting.  And, in a case like ours, where all the parents are generally amicable, I also support the girls’ mom in raising the girls. Even though I am not supposed to be a disciplinarian, I am sometimes asked to help out with enforcing rules. But truly, it’s the bio parents who should have complete authority.  And when the girls have been grounded for misbehaving, and I am asked, along with their dad,  to carry out their punishment and back up their mother, that is also my responsibility.  Even if it means that I feel like I am being punished too because I have to keep the girls housebound over spring break, a time when they would otherwise be out with friends, at the beach or having fun.  But in the spirit of consistency we carry out the punishment over our custody period, even though we were not the ones to impose the punishment.

We try to be consistent even though it means that the girls will complain and harp endlessly about how UNFAIR life is that they are in LOCK DOWN.  And so, for several days, I turn a deaf ear to the petitions, the cries and complaints about the grounding, just to be consistent. But our girls are stars on the debate team. Their dad and I are lawyers. They know that sometimes, if you plead enough, or if you take your case to another venue, your pleas might be heard, your request might be granted. They know that chipping away has proven effective, and if they chip hard enough, they will break your will.  Today, when we woke up, one of our girls showed us a text that had come in overnight from her mother, long after we had gone to bed, and long after we told our daughter to go to bed. The text read, “Sure, you can be ungrounded.”  This, after we were expressly asked to” ground the girls through the weekend.” Now we were being told by our daughter that she was ungrounded? What happened to backing each other up? What happened to consistency?

Needless to say, I was frustrated. I was going to keep my frustrations to myself, but then my husband encouraged me to write about it. I am sure I am not the only one out there with experiences like this. I know it happens all the time in blended families, and even in nuclear families.  When I decided to write about it,  my husband suggested the title. He was frustrated too, so I knew he was not referring to me as the “Paper Tiger Mom.” But now that I have just written the post, I can see that as the step-mother with no real authority, I too am the “Paper Tiger Mom.” What about you, do you ever feel like a paper tiger parent?


2 thoughts on “Battle Hymn of the Paper Tiger Step-Mom

  1. Wow, this is a big one. My situation is different in that the kids’ mom is not in their lives on any kind of consistent basis; they live with us, the rare visits she has must be supervised, and there are no overnights. But two points I can chime in on. 1) It’s completely maddening when one parent communicates through the child about things that should be discussed only with the other parent. It’s maddening, and? There’s nothing you can do about it. You can speak to the other parent and they will either agree with you or use it against you; either way, you can’t control it.
    2) What’s my real role in the family? It’s a question I ask on a daily basis, and am always coming up with different answers. As much as possible, I try to be the kids’ advocate instead of their disciplinarian. That doesn’t always mean trying to talk their Dad into removing a grounding; on the contrary, it can mean drawing his attention to an infraction that he missed. I’m okay with redefining my role as need be. The important things are that their Dad and I are on the same page with them- they know they can’t pit us against each other- and, I get a say. My voice gets to be heard.

  2. As a step-mother separated from the father, I thought my role would change but it has not really. I see the kids less but they still respect me as their mother and I still enforce the rules in my house. The kids have never seemed to be confused that Papa and I might have different ideas about what is appropriate behaviour in our respective homes and that in my house my rules are the ones in effect. I thought I would have no authority over the children but I still do. But then, both the mother and the father have always said that I was to be ‘obeyed’ and respected as a parent and I had free rein in discipline when I was with their father. Not knowing too many people with blended families I don’t think it ever occurred to me that having full discipline rights was unusual.

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