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This is one of a series of articles in Lesson 7 - evolve a high-nurturance stepfamily. The "/" in re/marriage and re/divorce
notes that it may be stepparent's first union.
Thearticleprovides options for bioparents and stepparents
("co-parents") to avoid and resolve significant problems over
child discipline. The article...
summarizes how child-discipline in stepfamilies differs
from that in typical
summarizes typical surface problems over
identifies the primary problems that cause
these surface issues; and...
proposes specific solutions for these
This article assumes you're familiar with...
intro to this nonprofit
Web site and the premises underlying
goals of child discipline are the same in any family: to teach minor
kids respect, responsibility, and cooperation, guide them lovingly toward
successful adult independence, and maintain order and har-mony in their
multi-home stepfamilies are
complex than intact biofamilies, effectivechild discipline is often harder to maintain.
Consider these differences and their collective implications...
Disciplining stepkids involves
your child or my child or grandchild, rather than
child. This inev-itably breeds stressful
loyalty conflicts and relationship
triangles. Healthy intact biofamilies have
these too, but they're simpler and less frequent.
2)Healthy bioparents discipline their children without fear of
being rejected by them. Typical
step-parents are concerned about rejection by their stepkids, which is a real possibility.
3)Stepfamily mates choose each other, primarily.
about bringing a new adult into their homes and family aren't given equal weight,
which can feel disrespectful. Residual hurt and resentment can taint kids'
response to the most respectful stepparental discipline.
and stepkids may not
like or respect each other. This can make effective child discipline
-specially if the stepparent and/or stepchild mistakenly believes s/he must
love the other person! Few healthy biofamilies
5) Co-parents' cohabiting
requires merging child-discipline rules, values, and priorities from
each adult's prior families, including "the other bioparent/s."
Conflicts are more likely than in the gradual evolu-tion of shared discipline rules
and values in typical
Disciplinary conflicts can be specially stressful if
(a) one of the
new stepparent has never parented (at all / a boy /a girl / a teen) before, and
if (b) partners didn't discuss parenting values, styles, and roles before cohabiting.
Conflicts are specially likely with
courting couples who minimize or ignore their stepfam-ily
identity and what it
A commitment ceremony often causes significant changes in
adults' and kids' expectations about child guidance and limit-setting.
example: "Yesterday, I was your Mom's boyfriend. Today I'm your stepfather. Now I
have the responsibility, the authority, and
right to discipline
you, but I didn't yesterday."
child discipline may not have been a
significant problem during courtship, and may become one literally
overnight. This isspecially
likely if a
stepparent tries to force major limit-setting or consequence changes quickly,
disrespectfully, and/or rigidly.
Recall: we're reviewing how stepfamily child discipline
differs from intact-biofamily discipline...
visitations are involved, kids and co-parents may experience
three conflicting sets of child-guidance rules:
(a) the kids' biofamily, and the (b) the custodial and (c) non-custodial
stepfamily homes. This may get more complex, considering the added
child-discipline rules in active bio- and
8) Unless a bioparent died,
arguments often increase ex-mate hostilities. If the step-parent
tries to intervene on their mate's or a stepchild's behalf, s/he may be regarded
as "interfering," and tensions can escalate. This is
specially hard on typical kids, who can feel caught in triangles and
lose-lose loyalty conflicts they can't understand or resolve. Typical intact biofamilies have no
equivalent of this stressor. And...
Bioparents may be "too lax" by a stepparent's standards, creating a
values conflict. This can happen because...
over-busy bioparent wasn't able to provide balanced discipline
they may have significant guilt over the pain and disruption of
their biofamily separation, and in-stinctively not want to add to their
kids' burdens; and because ...
typical bioparents are often more tolerant of their
own kids' behavior than a new stepparent - specially if the latter has never
discipline difference is...
10) When stepparents feel the bioparent's child-guidance is "lax,"
the new adult can feel they "must" become the major rule-maker and/or enforcer. This
guarantees recurring relationship
loyalty conflicts. These often conflict
with a stepparent needing to be liked and accepted by their
stepkids, and often promotes increasing resentment and frustration at "always being the bad guy."
Stepparents can also come to
resent that they "must" do one or both bioparents' jobs, thoughno one asked them to. A high-risk version of this
occurs when a stepparent is left at home with their stepkid/s while her new
is at work.
Stepparents can feel left out, unimportant, and hurt if not invited
to participate in, or not suppor-ted by their partner in, child-care efforts. Conversely, stepkids
can resent their bioparent's authorizing their stepparent to set limits and enforce consequences for
them. This is specially likely where (a) one or more kids or grownups
haven't grieved major losses (broken bonds) well
enough, and/or (b) a stepchild hasn't finished normal "testing" well enough.
We're half done
reviewing 21 ways typical stepfamily child-discipline is
different than in intact biofam-ilies. Were you aware of all these
factors? Here are 10 more...
12) Bioparents trying to please their
kids and new mate can
send confusing, stressful double messages like "I want you to share in
disciplining my kids" and "I don't like what you're doing, or how you're doing
it." This is usually a sign of significant
13) Stepkids over
three or four are likely to resent and/or resist discipline by new adults at
first, regardless of how "fair" or justified. This can be specially tough in
homes where (a) a stepparent is caring full time for their partner's child/ren,
and/or (b) where the stepparent is insecure and gets hooked into lose-lose
power struggles with a stepchild.
normal for minor kids in anynew environment to test
prevailing rules: "Will they be
enforced? By whom? How? How much power do I have here?"
new-stepfamily adults' child-discipline values, rules, and styles usually differ, significant
values conflicts are almost inevitable
- e.g. "You're unrealistic and too strict about Nicole's homework!"
"No way! You're too soft - look at her grades." Typical
kids are quick to sense
this and use such conflicts to their own advantage, adding to the uproar. And...
15) Even if co-parents feel OK about the balance of stepfamily child-discipline
responsibility, step-kids and
stepsibs will often bitterly claim that one or more
co-parents "aren't fair." This is true in
but it often feels more confusing and stressful in typical stepfamilies. That's often because co-parents
(specially stepparents) aren't yet clear enough on what their
are and/or how to do them "right." And also...
16) In some re/marriages,
older stepchildren can be close
to the age
of their stepparent. This can cause awkwardness and role confusion about
parental guidance and household rule-making and enforcing. Reducing these and requires
true Selves in charge +
realistic stepfamily expectations +
effective communications +
realistic stepparent job-descriptions.
The last five differences between stepfamily
and intact-biofamily child discipline are...
17) Even if remarrying adults and their
kids and ex mates reach stable
compromises on child discipline,
bio-grandparentscan misunderstand /
resent / disagree with / be fearful of the way the new adult "is
raising our grandchild."This is likely to be communicated no matter how
grand-parents try not to interfere..
When true, this
puts their adult son or daughter in the middle of a complex loyalty conflict. This can be
specially difficult if the
grandparents are close with their former son or
who will always be their grandkids' "other parent." Similar values
and loyalty conflicts and relationship triangles can arise with aunts, uncles, and cousins, too.
18) If stepfamily child-discipline harmony is achieved over time and then
the otherbioparent or a grandparent remarries, discipline rules and consequences
may have to be renegotiated again. This is in the context of your adults and kids merging
16 catagories of
things among all your extended biofamilies, over many years.
one bioparent is
dead, children can frustrate a new stepparent by making
comparisons like "My real Mom/Dad was never so mean
(homework, curfew, eating habits, language, church, etc.)" The stepparent can feel
frustrated and victimized, being up against a "saint" or
"ghost" with whom
never negotiate or "compete."
Counselors, therapists, and friends who
don't know stepfamily realities (which ois common) may advise re/marrying
discipline children just like intact bioparents. Such well-meant advice can
increase re/marital and family stress.
21) Because of the
common half-truth that
"stepfamilies are pretty much
biofamilies," the 20 differences summarized above can initially take all members
of a new stepfamily by surprise - causing household confusion, doubt, frustration, and
The point is: child discipline in average multi-home stepfamilies is
different from intact biofam--ilies in environmental ways, though the goals and
basics are just the same.Do you agree?
Because of these many
differences, typical stepfamily members can have "problems" with child
discipline. There are two levels of such problems: surface, and underlying
primary stressors. Let's explore each level now...
any of these are “significant” now in or between your co-parenting homes…
Your stepchild ignores or disobeys you
too often, and your attempts to improve this aren't working;
You feel uncomfortable with and/or unsure of your authority to discipline your stepchild;
You feel criticized about how you
discipline your stepchild by someone whose opinion matters;
You feel too little (disciplinary)
support from your partner - i.e. you feel "It's me against them" too
You feel significantly
disrespected by a minor or
adult stepchild, and often feel hurt, resentful,
angry, frustrated, and
You and your mate (or other family member) disagree
on some aspect of (step)child discipline, and
you can't resolve
your differences well enough;
Someone is upset
because you seem to
discipline your biokid/s differently than your stepkid/s;
You honestly don't like or respect
a stepchild, which biases your discipline despite your best efforts;
Your partner's ex mate or another
relative has significantly opposed or sabotaged your co-parenting
and/or your efforts to discipline their child; and/or...
You mates often disagree: s/he...
wants you to (want to)
discipline her or his child differently (e.g. more strict / less strict / more
friendship / more humor / more praise…); and...
you don't really want to, or you
don't know how.
These are typical surface
problems with stepchild discipline. They are caused by combinations of
one or more
co-parents is psychologically
and denies or ignores this. Until these wounds are proactively
they will amplify all these other problems:
don't know how to communicate or problem-solve effectively. Corollaries
know how to communicate effectively with kids, or they...
analyze and resolve typical relationship problems effectively;
one or more
family adults or kids hasn't finished grieving major prior losses. This
often means adults are ignorant of healthy mourning basics, and haven't
grown a "pro-grief" policy to guide everyone;
ignore or deny their identity as a stepfamily, and/or what this
identity means. This usually means they have unrealistic (biofamily)
role and relationship expectations;
unclear or conflicted on parenting roles and responsibilities, and deny
this, or don't know how to fix it as teammates;
know how to admit and manage
family membership, values, and loyalty conflicts and relationship
ex mates haven't resolved their mix of relationship
are ignorant of stepkids' concurrent developmental and adjustment needs,
and how to fill these needs cooperatively and effectively; and...
following uniformed or harmful (step)parenting
advice from ignorant supporters;
one or more kids for these problems, and avoid taking appropriate
responsibility for them;
__ 1) Three universal
stepfamily stressors are psychologically-
wounded adults +
ineffective com-munication + unfinished grief in adults and kids. So
to minimize discipline (and other) problems, all co-parents should
study, discuss, and apply at least
in this nonprofit Web site.
__ 2) A common stressor
is adults ignoring or minimizing their stepfamily
and what it
meaning is that child-discipline is very different in typical
stepfamilies (above). So all family adults should study and discuss
Lesson 7 -
ideally starting before co-parents commit and cohabit.
__ 3) If the relationship between any
stepchild's bioparents is hostile or combative, all family adults should
read and discuss this article
and seek to improve the relationship for everyone's sake. If anyone claims
that "the (stepchild's) other bioparent" is not a full member of the
stepfamily, read and discuss this article.
Failure to do these two things guarantees ongoing, divisive
__ 4) All adults (including grandparents) learn kids' normal
developmental tasks and typical
family-adjust-ment tasks after parental divorce
or death. Then stay aware of each child's status with these many tasks and
tailor your parenting to help them
__ 5) All co-parents
should negotiate and agree on
'''job descriptions'' spelling out which co-parent is re-sponsible for what with each
stepchild. Failure to do this guarantees misunderstandings and arguments
over parenting in general and discipline in particular.
__ 6) Communicating effectively with
typical minor kids and teens is a learned skill. All your stepfamily adults
can profit by studying and applying
and these ideas.
significant values and loyalty conflicts and associated relationship
triangles in and between your kids' homes over child
discipline and other things. They're inevitable and normal, so all your
adults and older kids should read and discuss
these ideas on how to manage these stressors..
__ 8) Go
on changing existing
discipline rules.Too much
change too fast overwhelms little and big people! Kids need to learn
respect for a stepparent before they'll award them the
right to disci-pline. This
__ 9) Expect
young and teen stepkids to test and re-test
household and stepfamily rules. What may look like defiance and
rejection can really be an anxious child needing to prove "Somebody really
is in charge here: maybe this family won't break up like the last
was in did. Maybe I'm safe here."
__ 10) Try
viewing adult child-discipline
that clash as different, vs. good-bad or right-wrong. Impo-singone
adult's discipline style can cause resentment and hostility all around.
Success-odds are higher if you compromise, rather than fight. Open disagreement on discipline styles and
values is better than silent judgments and resentments.
More suggestions toward
effective stepfamily child discipline...
minor kids understand that their
isn't trying to replace or "become" their same-gen-der bioparent.
Option - tell kids a stepparent is like a caring aunt or uncle.
__ 12) When
is the only adult available to supervise a minor child, it can help if
the biopar-ents verbally "authorize" the stepparent to act in their
place in front of their kids - e.g. "Tammy, if George asks you to do
something, it's the same as if I asked you, OK?"
Such courses are often available from local schools, adult
education programs, churches, community mental health centers, and
independent Family Life educators. Co-parents
attending such a course to-gether demonstrates that they take their nurturing
with _ who sets
the child-behavior rules and limits, _ who sets and enfor-ces
and _ how. Because typical
multi-home stepfamilies are complex, it usually takes
many months to find comfortable disciplinary balances
among all minor kids and co-parenting adults. Shooting for "flexible consistency" is usually preferable to rigid rules and consequences.
compare their parents' styles (authoritarian vs. democra-tic, teaching vs.
punishing, lenient vs. harsh) and values
about child discipline. If one
co-parent came from a patriarchal family and the other from a mother-dominated household,
values conflicts may be inevitable.
Note that typical birth-family disciplinary styles were not
designed with a stepfamily
16) If a stepparent resents
talking disrespectfully to their spouse,say something like
don't like the way you're talking to my wife (husband). It feels like a put-down,
and I need you to stop, now." A child can't dispute your right to
say this. They can dispute "I don't like the way you're talking to your
mother (father)," as in "It's none of your business how I talk to
own parent, so get lost!"
__ 17) If kids visit other bioparents periodically,
it helps if adults tell each other
nonjudgmentally of key
disciplinary rules and consequences in their respective homes.
Whenvaluesconflicts occur and viable compromises don't emerge, then
aim for agreeing to disagree
rather than criticizing or trying to convert each other.
confusing and frustrating to kids who must follow two sets of household
consequences - specially if they're contradictory and/or inconsistent. Kids' natural reactions to major rule-differences are frustration,
anger, rebellion, sullenness, withdrawal, depression, and hyper-reactivity on
returning from a visitation.
+ + +
You just read 17
specific ways to avoid or minimize "problems" with stepfamily child
discipline. Did you realize how many options your family adults have?
How many of these options could each of your adults and supporters describe
Average stepfamilies can experience significant confusion and conflict over
child discipline in and between their homes. While disciplinary goals are
the same as in healthy biofamilies, the multi-home stepfamily environment
differs in over 20 ways which promotes stress. From
research, this Lesson-7 article...
Recall why you read this article. Did you get what you needed? If not,
what do you need? What do you want to do now with the ideas you just
read? Who's answering these
questions - your wise resident
true Self or