Dear Dr. Dave and Dr. Dee,
I've been married for 5 years, and my wife has 2 sons, now 13 and 17. They possess very little discipline whatsoever, mainly because my wife refuses to instill it in them, nor does she allow me to do so.
The 13-year-old consistently manages to forget at least one of his daily duties. The 17-year-old, who has always been rebellious and has had several run-ins with the police in the past, has most recently come home with C's and D's on his high school report card. His poor performance, however, has not changed any of his behavior at all. Six days after totaling his car, he was given another car.
Most recently, over Christmas vacation, since they've nothing to do, the boys have invited their friends over and stay up to all hours of the night, so I cannot get a good night's sleep which affects my health and performance at work. When I bring up the subject, they say that they don't mean to wake me up, but will take no measure to curtail their late-night activities. My wife backs them, saying that they never wake me intentionally. After several failures to NOT wake me up, I suggested that they have shown that they aren't capable of such responsibility, that these privileges should be revoked. However, with my wife's blessing, they still have a wide open ticket to stay up all night with their friends in our house, as long as when they wake me up, it's a mistake and not intentional.
I just want some rest every now and then. This completely lax attitude is destroying our marriage.
A husband and wife must always be united on issues of importance such as house rules, discipline, and consequences. It doesn't matter that they are not your kids, only that all of you are living under the same roof and need to have respect and consideration of each other.
Your wife's lax manner on disciplining her children may be due to feeling guilty about the breakup of the marriage to her children's father, or she may be unsure of her parenting skills, or simply afraid to discipline so as not to lose her children's love. (Actually, discipline is love, see the link below).
It is natural for children to divide and conquer, and they learn this at a very early age - go to Dad for one answer and then go to Mom if the answer isn't what they wanted from Dad. As long as one parent gives them the green light, they've succeeded.
You and your wife need to sit down together without the kids, and discuss this matter in depth. You need to convey to her the importance of being united, and how you feel the marriage is in jeopardy. If she still refuses to unite with you, then you need outside help via joint marriage counseling.
You and your wife have many issues on which to set rules. If rules are broken, then set realistic and appropriate consequences. Let the kids know beforehand what the consequences will be if rules are broken. Discipline firmly, but in a loving way.
For example, regarding the staying up late with friends. It doesn't matter that they disturb you "unintentionally." The fact that your sleep is disturbed is enough to set a curfew rule. Don't just tell your wife's sons the new curfew time, when the friends come over, tell the friends directly too. Your wife's sons may be too intimidated by peer pressure to enforce a curfew on their friends, or their friends may not listen to the boys. But, you'll find most friends will listen to the parent when told directly. Let them know that if they violate the curfew, the consequence will be to not allow any friends over the next time.
Poor school performance should not be ignored. The consequence of low grades should be to withhold the activity that seems to be causing the poor performance. Limit TV, or friends coming over, or computer games, etc. Totaling a car should have the consequence of their paying for the increase in insurance rates, or help pay for a new car. Forgetting a chore should be met with not being able to do something (i.e. watch TV) until the chore is done.
Your wife needs to know that having rules, consequences, and sticking by them is important for children to grow up with a sense of responsibility and self-discipline. They will not only respect their parents for it, but they will respect themselves as well.