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.