Making Blended Family Discipline Work

Blended Family Discipline: Strategies That Work

One of the most challenging parts of stepping into a marriage where kids are already present is learning how to have the stepparent deal with discipline.  As with many parenting decisions, I believe that no one set in stone way to deal with this issue.  However, I have learned some valuable lessons in our journey that guided us in addressing blended family discipline.

Blended Family Discipline Strategies That Work

Here are four blended family discipline strategies that work for us.

Blended Family Discipline Strategy #1: Let the bio parent take the lead.

Let the bio parent take the lead.  Chances are, the bio parent has been parenting on his own without your input for some time.  His kids are used to his parenting style.  And he has an innate relationship with his kids. They know he loves them.

Before discipline begins, the stepparent needs to build a relationship with her stepchildren. She may also be introducing her own style of discipline and parenting, and the kids will need time and support during a period of adjusting to this new input in their lives.  For this reason, the stepparent and bio-parent should work hard together to get on the same page and to support one another.  At least initially, however, discipline should be handled by the bio-parent whenever possible.

Blended Family Discipline Strategy #2: Take your time.

Take your time.  I never desired to be a hands-off parent. The idea of allowing my husband to handle the discipline in our home was initially very off-putting because I saw it as an inability for me to step up to the plate as a parent figure in my stepdaughters’ lives. However, I learned to give my husband the space to take the lead and make small adjustments to how our family handled discipline while I spent time with the girls building a solid relationship.  I made a point to always be present and communicate the support of my husband when discipline happened.  

By giving that time and space for the girls to adjust to my parenting style and allowing them to see my husband and me as a team, I was slowly stepping into that role.  I had built a relationship with the girls. They trusted me because they knew their dad trusted me. When it comes to blended family discipline, going slow and developing a strong relationships first, is key. 

Blended Family Discipline Strategy #3: Openly communicate the disciple “why.”

 One tool we have found effective in staying the course with blended family discipline is openly communicating with the kids regarding the “why” of discipline. Anyone in a co-parenting relationship knows that discipline between two homes is often handled very differently.  One house may be more or less “strict” than the other.   For this reason, it can be easy to shirk your parenting responsibilities by shying away from discipline.  This can happen when kids begin noticing and complaining about different rules in the other home.

In our home, I find that because we are the home with more expectations and responsibilities for our children, we often receive input from the kids regarding our discipline.  The girls complain that they are allowed to stay up later at the other house.  That they are allowed to watch x-hours of TV, etc.  Sometimes, that feedback causes me and my husband to want to back off and adjust our rules to be viewed in the same positive light as the other home.  However, we know that doing so would be lazy parenting.  Our parenting decisions would be motivated by our selfish need to be liked rather than by our desire to care for our children’s health and well-being.

Always communicate the “why” of discipline. We tell them that their bedtime is set to allow them the amount of sleep the doctor recommends to be rested and ready with the energy they need to be engaged in school tomorrow.  If they are ever sent to their room for a quiet time, we talk with them about why they need to take that time and how important it is to learn to treat others with respect.  We also constantly reinforce with the girls that discipline is an act of love.  It is not always easy for us either but is a necessary parenting tool to help them grow into strong, safe, responsibly young adults.

Continue the Blended Family Disciple Conversation

How much or how little a stepparent participates in discipline can be affected by so many factors, including the kids’ ages, how long the stepparent has been involved in the kids’ lives, whether or not the co-parent is supportive of the stepparent relationship, etc.  

There is no right or wrong answer to how much or how soon a stepparent participates.  It is a personal decision that needs to feel right for you and your family. Is there anything you have learned about blended family discipline that you would add to this list? We would love to hear your thoughts, insights, and challenges in the comments below. 

Jed Jurchenko

Jed Jurchenko is the husband to an incredible wife, daddy to four amazing girls, and a foster dad to one more. He's served as a children's pastor, marriage and family therapist, psychology professor, award-winning writing coach, and life coach. Jed is the author of 23 books on relationships, parenting, writing, and doing life well. In his free time, you'll find Jed reading, preparing for an upcoming marathon, barbecuing, paddle boarding, and enjoying life with his incredible family. Find out more about Jed's books, coaching, and courses at www.ithrive320.com.

9 thoughts on “Blended Family Discipline: Strategies That Work”

  1. Great advice! I am not in a blended family situation but as a former teacher I worked with many blended families. Knowing how to balance the discipline that both parents are part of the process seems like it works well for you. Great to be your neighbor today at Kelly’s and to “meet” you.

  2. Explaining the reason for discipline is a good idea. That way, they understand that it is not doled out haphazardly. I would like to share with you that we found success by simply explaining that each home was different, and the rules differed accordingly. My husband had to be up 4, while those in the other home did not need to rise before 7, that is why bedtime differed. We emphasized the importance of being obedient to the rules set by each house, as they were always going to differ, and we did not want to get into discussions over every little difference. Many times, as our son got older, we refused to engage in any discussion at all. We simply said, “They must have thoughtfully chosen that rule. You should abide by it.” Sometimes, I didn’t agree with their rules, but that was OK. Any discussion went to the other adults, but they were few and far between since we wanted them to respect our rules without questioning us at every turn. It’s a mine-field when you get into household comparison. Avoid it at all costs. It is in your children’s best interest in the long run to create a bond of peace, even when you don’t always agree.

  3. I love this article and find that there isn’t enough written out there about the parenting challenges blended families face, Jed and Jen. I like the fact that you suggest giving the children time to bond and form trust with the step parent. I think this is important to the discipline process. I’ve counseled couples facing these kinds of challenges and often it is made worse because one spouse does not want the step parent to parent at all. I believe this is a mistake and makes for a very lopsided family dynamic as it goes along. I’m glad that you give strategies for incorporating a team-atmosphere. I do hope you’ll link this article up at Wedded Wed. I’d love the readers of MM to have it available. Thanks so much!

    1. Thanks Beth,

      I’ve got it posted on your site, and just added Wedded Wednesdays in my list of link-ups, as well. Thanks for the opportunity to share this.

      Yes, it’s challenging when the stepparent doesn’t want to take a parenting role, and when the stepparent tries to dive right in, to a primary role as parent and disciplinarian (especially with older kids). We have discovered that finding balance–and allowing our family to slowly blend together, over time–is key. It sounds like you so excellent work with blended families!

  4. What a great article!

    Step-parenting is so challenging…and so different from biological parenting. Letting the biological parent take the lead in discipline definitely makes it easier. Like you, I initiaally saw this as copping out and being uninvolved. However, I have learned it simply works better…and allows me to better enjoy my role as Step-Dad…which is not quite the same as Dad.

    Thanks for the good post!

  5. I think the biological parent should lead the discipline, but whisper to the kids each time, “I didn’t want to do this, but your stepmom/dad made me.”

    Just kidding!

    It’s definitely a multi-faceted situation, but it doesn’t need to be “complicated.” I do agree with another reader’s comment that, depending on the age of the kids, a simple acknowledgement that the two households differ (without assigning value to one or the other) and not getting drawn into having to explain yourself is sometimes best. You absolutely should explain why you’re family has chosen a certain standard or rule, since this helps kids process the world and make decisions moving forward; but I don’t think that explanation should get muddied by over-explaining or debating. If kids compare, simply saying, “Hmm, that is different from how we do it. Good noticing,” is often enough. Another example: “Yup, the paint here is different and the toys and the yard. Oh, and at school, they’re probably different, too, huh? We don’t have a rule that you have to sit quietly at a desk here. Sometimes rules are just different at different places, and that’s OK.”

  6. These tips are great for any home. Parents have to have a united front and kids needs to know discipline is out of love, for safety, and for peace for everyone in the home. Thank you for sharing with us at Sitting Among Friends on Wednesdays. Look forward to seeing you post again.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.