Being a stepparent is tricky. You want to support your spouse and you want to find a way to relate to your stepchildren, but you don’t want to overstep your bounds.
When it comes to disciplining step kids, those boundaries can become especially difficult to navigate, and many Circle of Moms members who have step-children or who are remarried struggle with knowing when it's appropriate for a stepparent to "step up" and be a disciplinarian to their spouse's children. The answer is no doubt personal and specific to every different stepparent/stepchild relationship out there. Here are four tips our moms recommend considering as you broach this issue within your own family.
1. Consider your history and the children's ages.
Disciplining other people’s children is a sensitive issue to begin with, but when you're a stepparent dealing with your spouse's children it's more complicated than dealing with someone else’s child at the playground.
The kids in question aren’t strangers and they aren’t your children’s friends but, in some cases, they’re not exactly as close to you as your kids yet, either. Because of this, Mom Kay C. feels that whether or not a stepparent should be disciplining a step child “depends on how long you have been the step parent.”
The other side of this is how old the children are when you become their stepparent. If your stepchildren are teenagers or young adults, it’s going to be very hard to come in and try to change what they’ve always known, a caution put forth by Dr. Phil McGraw. Many moms agree with Dr. Phil — specifically that it’s hard to discipline your partner’s children if they are older than toddlers when you blend your families.
2. Establish house rules as a united front
Jodi, who is both a mother and a stepmother, agrees that it takes time to build a relationship with step kids, but doesn’t think this means that discipline needs to be set aside while you build a bond. When she and her husband combined families, they solved this problem by establishing a set of basic house rules that applied to all the children in the household equally.
In the beginning of their marriage, they were careful to make sure that consequences were doled out by each child’s biological parent. Over time the system evolved and now, when a rule is broken, either parent can enforce the consequence.
Terri H., who also has a blended family, agrees that having house rules makes this whole process much more palatable to kids: "If you have a general set of house rules, such as curfews, cleaning up rooms, chores, bedtimes, etc., it is acceptable for both the step parent and the natural parent to enforce them.”
3. Avoid physical punishments.
There are others who are more hesitant to say stepparents should have full rein when it comes to discipline. For some, the issue is what the word “discipline” means.
Circle of Moms member Jenni defines discipline as "guid[ing] and teach[ing] good behavior and conduct.' She, like many other mothers, feels that if discipline means spanking in your home, then the step parent should step out of the equation.
Whether you think spanking is wrong or that spanking is sometimes warranted, having a non blood-related caregiver administer a spanking has the potential to create relationship issues that are far more serious than the question of whether a stepparent has the right to discipline.
4. Operate as equals.
In some houses, there is simply no differentiation among parents. Mom Justine M. feels that in her blended household, they operate as a family unit, with "no steps” diminishing their relationships, and that as long as a stepparent is also providing “the love, time, and attention the kid needs...there should be no boundaries for discipline.”
A number of moms agree, many of them remarking that they think that stepparents should treat their stepchildren the same way they would treat their biological children. Again, that’s much easier to do if all the parents involved have a hand in creating — and agreeing upon — the house rules and consequences.
To Step Up or Step Out?
Like many of the questions Circle of Moms member raise around step parenting, the question of discipline doesn’t have any easy answers. Whether a stepparent should step up or step out seems to be dependent on many factors, not the least of which is whether the couple she or he is part of acts as a cohesive parenting unit.
As member Justine so aptly put it, “The key to step parenting is to have a great partner that you can trust, [with] both of you putting up a unified front you can agree on.”
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.