When Hers Get A’s and Mine Get C’s ….or worse

The carefree days of summer are over and the kids are back in school.Children Problems are already surfacing over school performance differences in his and her kids.

Her two daughters are excellent students – always have been. They’re active in sports, get almost straight A’s and even have time left to text message or chat on their cells. Yeah, they’re high achievers – PERFECT kids!

His son is far from perfect in school. He hates school and is lucky to make C’s. He rarely takes time to do his homework. He’s very popular and has tons of friends. People like him, but school is not his thing!

During the weeks when the son visits his Dad and stepmom, there’s tension. The standards for school performance are high in that house. There’s constant arguing between the stepcouple. The stepmom begs her husband to “Do something! Just go into his room and make him do his homework. I don’t understand what’s so hard about that. He’s just lazy!”

Dad has a different point of view. He says, “I don’t think homework is all that important. I think there are more important things in life. I never did homework as a boy and look how successful I am!” They fight about “her perfect students” vs “his social animal”.

Both are frustrated. The new stepcouple marriage is definitely feeling the pressure.

The truth is: In the beginning, it’s unreasonable to put kids – biological and stepchildren- all in one basket and raise them exactly the same. They’re not the same. Children have different genes and temperaments and different upbringings. And the parents who raised them have different values and styles about child rearing…including schoolwork.

Stepcouples need to approach it differently. They need to raise the level of communication and understanding. As a stepcouple, they should develop a process of learning more about each other and more about each other’s kids. It’s not about forcing a partner to just do it your way but rather about talking and listening to each other about their kids’ different strengths and personalities. They should also discuss expectations and responsibilities around school performance. Remember, in stepfamilies, there’s no one blueprint that fits all. The stepcouple and stepfamily has to come up with their own values and standards and then develop ways to reinforce them as a stepcouple and individually as a parent and stepparent. This is a work in progress! It takes time and patience.

A good way to discuss school performance as a stepcouple is to learn more about each other re: school and school related issues – past and present.

As a stepcouple, you might discuss with each other:

  • When you were a child, how did you like school? Was it easy or hard?
  • Did you have supportive parents who made sure you did your homework? Or were you on your own?
  • Were good grades highly valued or were other activities more important – e.g. sports, friends, family responsibilities, music lessons, religion, etc.
  • How was schoolwork handled in your previous marriage? What were the responsibilities and expectations around schoolwork?
  • What are your kids’ academic needs and interests, and how can you best support them as a stepcouple or as a biological parent or stepparent?

It’s important to recognize the individual differences in kids. Some kids need to be dragged out of the library and introduced into group activities. Others need to be dragged into a quiet place away from distractions, e.g. friends, cell phones, computers, and TV. Your challenge as a stepcouple is to understand the children and to support them to achieve the best they can. Certainly, if there are problems with learning disabilities, ADHD, or other barriers to school success, you need to address them within your stepcouple as well as get advice from the school.

Open communication and understanding sets the stage for uniting the stepcouple. A united stepcouple can cooperatively support their children to achieve the best they can and should.

As a stepcouple, how well are you dealing with school performance in your stepfamily?

Susan Wisdom
September 2008

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