I knew never to make empty threats or give too many warnings. I knew constancy was crucial. I knew I could handle playing the bad guy for the greater good. I knew nothing.
Sure, I could blame the newness of my stepmother role or any number of circumstances, but I don't think anything prepares you for the first time a child you're responsible for does something truly awful and you have to punish them.
I remember Isaac's nasty words and defiant behavior vaguely, but I vividly remember Mike voice booming from behind me. I remember the punishment being handed down and having to stand beside Mike presenting a united front when all I wanted to do was cry. I completely agreed the behavior was awful and the punishment fit, but I wasn't ready for this responsibility or the kind of "poker face" parenting consistently requires.
It was too much reality. I remember turning to Mike after Isaac left the room and watching his expression change to one of concern for me. I broke down in sobs unable to articulate what it was exactly that had freaked me out so completely.
Again, not being sure of my "place" was part of the emotion, but I think more of it had to do with suddenly having to be in the role of the disciplinarian not just for a few hours but forever. It's a big responsibility and not to harp on this but it made me feel old. Not just old, but of a different generation than I ever associated with before. Displaced in time suddenly and tied down in a way I'd never experienced before.
These days it's just part of the day to day around here, but not by any means the easy part. After some observation of how things were run before me and some acclamation to being an alien in "their" household I found my way. It's funny because that's exactly what the rules are about keeping them safe, happy and healthy to find their way in the world.
I have to say starting from the beginning is simultaneously easier and far more confusing. One minute everything Riley did no matter how inconvenient, repulsive, annoying or frustrating was ultimately humorous. Mainly because she had no idea what she was doing and therefore didn't know how annoying it was. The other factor were all those new mom infatuation chemicals that ensure you keep and care for your demanding, non-sleeping newborn rather than leave them in a stranger's cart at the grocery store and go home to bed.
Mike, always a ray of sunshine, used to tell me often to "just wait until she does stuff to annoy you on purpose." Well, some time around 12mo that time arrived. She's so little that sometimes I can't tell whether her offenses are intentional or accidents and bad timing. The world is a confusing place for a toddler sometimes it's encouraged that you climb, scream, make a mess and sometimes it's not.
I do my best to see the world through her eyes and exercise as much patience as a given day allows. In the end it's my job to keep her happy, healthy and safe. That's always the bottom line. So if she accidentally rips a book I'll be understanding, but if she tries to make a grab for the scissors I have to intervene. If I can reason with her I try for example “Riley don't touch, hot!” On a good day that's the end of it, but if she persists it's time out time.
I'm lucky my toddler is really impacted by how her behavior makes mommy and daddy feel. My 8yr old on the other hand seems harder and harder to reach every day.He tends to not only do completely annoying things that require punishment he waits to do them until it will effect the most people possible. Out in public, while his sister's having a good time and behaving and above all the Friday before a long weekend (or any kid friendly event we've planned our lives around taking him to). I can take away his TV, computer, Legos or dessert, but sometimes nothing seems to have an impact.
Isaac has a marble jar now. I give him a marble goal at the beginning of the week. If he completes his responsibilities list, behaves at school and is generally helpful and pleasant he earns marbles. If he makes bad choices he loses them. If he falls short of his goal there's always a fresh start next week. If he meets or surpasses his goal he gets a reward.
I like the tangibility of it, but it waxes and wanes in effectiveness. When he gets in trouble he tends to wash his hands of trying at all. It can be quite a challenge to rally him. Some days I'm just too tired to engage in a battle of wills.
In general this job has long hours, unreliable pay, no vacations and crushing responsibility.