Step-Parenting Win: Reward System

As I've said in previous posts, being a step-parent is hard work; incredibly rewarding, yes. But hard work. Now, before I get started, this is not a rule bashing or rule encouraging post. It is just my experiences. The type of personality that I have dictates that I have to have a fairly set schedule. I like to know what is coming, what my options are and make a distinct plan. Some of you may call that being a "control freak" and yes, that is partly true (HA!); however, this is what works best for me to keep my arms around the many things that I am responsible for (uh, just being a mom!).

Structure and schedule work best for my son as well. He thrives in an environment where he knows what to expect. When it comes to step-parenting, those things can be a big challenge. I don't get to make the decisions. I get to handle what happens at our house and our house alone. That's ok! It just makes it a challenge to be consistent when it comes to creating structure and rules in a child's life. I struggled for years trying to come up with a way to balance the time we had with my step-daughter between fun times and times of structure. Having her so little time meant that we did not want to always be jumping on her case for behavior issues, and at 2-4 she had quite a few, like any normal child that age!

How did we make sure she understood boundaries without making her feel like our house "had too many rules"? It's a constant struggle with blended families. I racked my brain trying to come up with different ways to help her be responsible for her behavior and to really take control of what happens at our house. She is school-aged now and the independence is just bursting out of her in so many ways! She should be able to have some say in her time with us!

So, I came up with a reward system that has proven to be extremely effective in both letting her visualize her progress and having an obtainable goal.

We created a chart with ten large squares across the width. Each square has three smaller squares in front of it. The idea is that each day she starts off with three check marks in those small boxes. The key is that she started her day positively! If she is a normal, polite kid all day, she keeps those checks and gains a sticker to place in the large square. After she has earned her ten stickers, she completes her goal and gets to do the activity she set to accomplish (ie - Bowling, trip to Amazement Square, fun at Chuck E. Cheese, etc).Photo courtesy of

The BEST part about this system is the opportunity for her to gain additional checks or to lose checks. Negative behaviour (i.e. back talking, not listening after repeated reminders, being rude, etc.) results in a lost check. Positive behavior (being helpful without being asked, being kind, thinking of ways to consider others, etc.) allows her to gain additional checks and put her ahead!

She LOVES this system! There have only been a handful of times that I have had to take a check away and the devastation on her face made me want to give it right back to her. But after a few minutes of thinking about why she lost a check, she is up and asking about ways she can earn it back. She now asks for chores. She is now incredibly thoughtful when she has other children over to play and is so considerate in making sure they have an equal share in everything they do. I got to overhear her making sure her cousin had the same amount of candy and she intentionally stopped playing with the toy he wanted a turn at to share. I was elated! Isn't that all we can ask of our children? To consider others? Wouldn't that make our world such a better place?

Recently she completed her goal of a bowling trip and she is over the moon proud that SHE accomplished that activity. SHE reminds ME that manners need to be used. SHE thinks of ways to be helpful around the house by clearing dishes without being asked. SHE is in constant control of her outcomes in terms of behavior. I believe she has finally grasped the concept that no one else dictates how her behavior can be, it is all up to her. I am so thankful I found a constructive way to teach her this lesson without harping on her constantly! She's still a kid and she has some growing and learning to do, but she is on the right track with understanding the responsibility of her actions. Just the other night she said to me out of the blue, "Bre, thank you for teaching me how to act and use my manners." WOW! I guess parents need some positive reinforcement sometimes too!! I'm so proud of my big girl!!

Do you struggle with manners, chores and discipline in your house? Have you found any successful ways to encourage good behavior? share with us in the comments.

Thoughts From an Evil Step-Mother

Being a step parent is hard. If you have step-children you understand the gravity of that statement. My step-daughter is 5. I came into her life at the age of 2. She was a spunky little ball of fire then and continues to amaze me with her wit and intelligence. She’s an awesome kid and I love her dearly! But, being her step-mom is hard. When her dad and I got married, I told her that I thought it would be a good idea for her to start calling me her “evil stepmother”. After all, every mention of stepmothers in Disney movies are all negative. So, I thought I would just head that off with a bit of a joke and diffuse any kind of bad feeling that would come with this change. She would laugh at me and refuse! I told her it was a joke and it was ok.  She looked me dead in the eye and said, “But Bre, you’re not evil. You’re the best stepmom ever!” HA! What a sweet girl! Now I realize she has little frame of reference, but I’ll take it.  I’ll take it because those kind of sentiments are few and far between when you’re a stepparent.

I’ve heard often that parenting is a thankless job.  I have a son of my own and I agree with that statement, but being a stepparent is even more of a thankless job. When she is with us, I am her mother. I do all the things a mother must/gets to do. Yes, it’s on a part-time basis, but that doesn’t make it any less important. I don’t believe that you can be a “part time” parent. We may only see her part of each month but she is in our hearts, thoughts, and plans everyday! I love being her stepmother, but sometimes it’s very difficult.

I will never be her mother, and I have never tried to assume that role, but my heart is hers! When I hear her telling a story and the words “my real mommy” come out of her mouth, it makes me twinge a little. She is my kid in so many ways. I just don’t get the Mom perks. That’s ok. I’m not looking for that. School Bus She starts Kindergarten this year. Her parents get to take her to registration and ride the bus with her on the first day. I miss out on those things because I’m not her “real” mother. It hurts my heart to know that I only get to participate in some of the events in her life in the “mother” capacity. I invest so much of myself into her and it is hard to have to step back and just watch her experience those types of milestones.

She has been such a huge part of my life for so long that I owe a great deal to her for teaching me about life and love and parenting. Before we had our son, she was the be-all end-all to my life as a parent. Now she shares that with her little brother, but is still my “first” kid love. I may not get to ride the bus with her and I may have to stand back and watch her parents participate in her events, but that can be ok. I get to love this kid like she is my own child. I get to be in her life. I get to watch her mature and blossom into a beautiful young woman. I get to impart some of my knowledge and *cough* “wisdom” that will hopefully stick with her and help her along the way. So, it’s ok that I’m “just her step-mom”. It’s hard and stressful and trying…but so worth it!