Step-Parenting’s Answer – Supporting the Non-Parent Spouse

Step-Parenting’s Answer – Supporting the Non-Parent Spouse

I like to share newfound knowledge and the things I learn because it reinforces these things in a very personal way for me. One new lesson I discovered very recently pertained to supporting my wife in her relationship with my daughters relating to an important issue for her. My insipid support of her in one small area (for me) was damaging relationships in what was becoming a rather large area of concern for her. It involved bathroom cleanliness.

The general process we followed together to rein this area in was as follows:

1. We asked the children whether they thought having a clean bathroom was important. This encourages buy-in.

2. We sought a commitment for them to help us. This either works or it doesn’t.

3. If it didn’t work, we then stated the standards of bathroom cleanliness we required. We were specific in describing exactly what it was to look like — after use, each and every time. Clean and clear vanity; clean floor with clothes put away; towel hung up; appliances and lights turned off…

4. We asked the children if they had any ideas for us on how we could manage to maintain these standards. Again, this encourages buy-in. It also introduces consequences.

5. If some ideas or no ideas are forthcoming, we had our own prepared ideas of the consequences we could apply.

6. There were to be no reminders — I call this the ‘dripping tap’ method. I found myself reminding the children to clean up after themselves many times daily and this clearly had limited effect in a lasting way. In this way, the ‘dripping tap’ didn’t work.

7. We stated our ideas for a possible consequence and again we were specific. Any time the bathroom was left messy or not to the standards we sought, it would mean computer, internet, and phone access was lost for the day.

8. We again sought feedback on whether this was fair or not. Having the discussion over the evening meal we found was the ideal way conducive to a non-threatening, respectful environment.

The process is fair. It gets out the mokita in the family which describes the concept of “truth we all know but agree not to talk about.”[1] For our family, the mokita was a degenerating common bathroom and dissatisfaction. It was important for our collective relationships that we stated honestly what was important to us, did what was appropriate, and did it in a way that was also appropriate — involving the key family members affected.

As a parent married to a non-parent spouse, I think it’s very important to take their views into account on so-called minor issues. What is minor to one is major to another, and if it’s minor, what harm could it do to cooperate in the first place — that’s right, there’s no harm and little cost. Yet, the benefits of cooperating on this ‘minor’ issue far outweigh the previous ill-feeling that was present. Finally, my wife feels understood. That is critical to me.

Copyright © 2008, Steven John Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

[1] See for more information.

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