3+ME: Not all unicorns and rainbows

Being an Adult With Kids can be magical.

Really, it can.

Some days, your miniature humans can make any day feel like a weekend, a carefree space full of innocence and fun. You can almost picture playful little unicorns leaping under the metaphorical rainbows in your sky.

But then, there are Mondays.

You know the kind, the days that feel a month long. String a few of those together, and your week feels like it’s lasted a year.

It starts with an email.

Your husband shows it to you when you get home from work.

“And that isn’t the only one,” he says, navigating further down in his inbox.

The emails are about about your stepchildren. Not just one kid, mind you, but both of them.

Their teachers, independently of each other, have reached out to tell you the children are slacking academically.

Your plan for the evening goes up in smoke, now replaced by long talks with your husband, who then calls the kids’ mother (whose house is where the kids are tonight). That’s followed by more talks, some research, soul-searching, and bouncing ideas off your friends.

You’re an overthinker, after all, so this isn’t something you take lightly.

“Maybe the kids are stressed,” you make excuses for them. “Maybe they’re struggling because they have anxiety over other changes in their lives.”

And that may be true.

But that doesn’t change their responsibility to do their work.

School issues have come up before. Conversations have already been had, at your house and their mom’s house, regarding those previous infractions.

In those conversations, you’d given the kids the benefit of the doubt. They were stressed. There were distractions in class. Life is hard sometimes, but you and their mom and dad and teachers are all rooting for them.

You found outside support for them. You offered at-home support for them. You routinely praised any successes you saw.

In summary: You tried the positive route.

Now you’re staring at emails saying that didn’t change anything.

Your unicorns have fled the field, and that rainbow has been shrouded by just plain old rain, a pestersome drizzle.

Let’s also mention that you hate discipline and conflict, and are generally inept at being angry at someone because it feels uncomfortable. You want to be happy. You want your stepkids to be happy. You want the unicorns and rainbows to be permanent fixtures in your family life.

Or, ya know, not.

Discipline has to be a thing. You and your husband have to be OK with being uncomfortable, because it’s up to you to make the kids uncomfortable. If they’re not uncomfortable, they won’t learn there are consequences to wrong behavior.

You can’t roll over and comfort them this time. You tried that. Now you have to be the stern adults.

It isn’t the weekend anymore. It’s a Monday.

Times like this, you wish you actually liked alcohol. (You don’t, but those chocolates sure look inviting…)

You sit the kids down, one at a time.

And you don’t say a word.

Instead, you stand by your husband while he does the talking, because you both know it’s his job to be the disciplinarian.

Your role as a stepmom is before and after the conversations. You helped him edit his thoughts as he prepped for what to say and decide on appropriate consequences. And now you hug and reassure after the talks are done.

The kids cry.

They’re uncomfortable.

That was the plan.

You’ve taken away electronics and screen privileges. You’ve taken away fun outings. You’ve taken away some toys, too, for the next two weekends they’ll be at your house.

You’ve set down consequences.

But you’re not doing any of this in anger, and neither is your husband. You both make clear you’re disappointed, that this behavior is unacceptable. And you still reassure them you love them, and you want them to succeed.

You feel terrible.

You feel exhausted.

Discipline sucks. And in the grand scheme of life, this little infraction is nothing. They’re not talking back, they’re not yelling at you, they’re not doing drugs or anything illegal or even hanging around with the wrong group of friends.

They’re just not doing schoolwork well.

But it’s still important, and needs to be addressed. If you do this right, while they’re still only 7 and 11, maybe all of you will fare better when they’re older, when it’s harder, when the issue at hand might be much more severe.

You dig into the stash of chocolate bars in the candy drawer. And you hope the unicorns won’t wait too long to reappear.

Originally published in The Herald News on Feb. 17, 2019.

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