The dynamics of marriage are clearly drawn out. There is one person who is generally a disciplinarian, while the other is more passive when it comes to passing out punishment to the children. But, when a marriage breaks up, those dynamics change because the passive parent must learn to discipline and the disciplinarian must learn to be softer.
What happens when the dynamics change again by introducing a step parent into the equation? It is a fine line for the step parent and doling out discipline to the children that are not theirs. In a perfect world, when a family is blended, the person who lives full time with kids that they did not bring into this world, will act and be the other parent and will be accepted as such by the children. The truth is we do not live in a perfect world.
When the step parent only has the kids with them on a part time and barely any time basis, that fine line is even finer. So, how should discipline be handled? First marriages can go by the motto, what’s mine is yours, but second and third marriages? It doesn’t work that way. Even if your new spouse tells you that their kids are as good as your own, the fact is they are not your own. They belong to someone else, and that someone else may not like you disciplining their children, and you can believe that those children will tell that other parent every single thing.
Not stepping on toes is tough when you are the step. You don’t want to step on the natural parents toes or your new spouse’s toes and you certainly don’t want to step on the children’s toes. But, when you are left to care for those children and the new spouse is not around, you must take on a role that is not that of friend, but one that is of parent, whether those children are yours naturally or by marriage. More importantly, those children need to know that you have been given that role by the natural parent. And, even more importantly, the new spouse needs to stand by you as you discipline and dole out punishment by backing you up.
It is vital to lay out the role that you will play as the step before you even get married. You need to know the rules and the boundaries. For instance, my husband has 100% support from me regarding my children. We parent together, and if I am not around, or he is with the kids without me and they misbehave, he knows he has the right to correct them and punish them as he sees fit. My children know this as well, and I have made it very clear to them that he is the other parent in this house and he is to be respected and listened to.
That is not to say that sometimes I don’t wince when he calls out one of my kids for being disrespectful or puts them in their rooms when they are fighting with each other. I do wince, but I also know that because he is acting as a parent, they not only respect him but go to him for more and more things as the marriage is progressing, which lightens the burden on me and strengthens the relationship between them.
As a step parent in my past marriage, my then husband took on all the parenting roles and my role was one of babysitter. I did not have the authority to discipline, and the children knew it. When one of them misbehaved, I was to report it to my ex, and his response would be, “I wasn’t there to see it, so what do you expect me to do about it?” It made for children that were often very disrespectful and even more often misbehaving. They knew they not only did not have to listen to me, but that their own father disregarded what I had to say. It made for a bad step situation and a very difficult one.
If you aren’t ready for your spouse to discipline your children, then let them know up front that they will not be taking on that role, and that they are there for the fun stuff, but that you will take on the serious stuff. But, be sure you do take on the serious stuff, and if you tell your spouse to tell you when discipline needs to be doled out, and you will handle it, handle it and don’t undermine the already negligible role you have given the step parent to begin with.
If you do want discipline to be handed out by the step, make sure your children know it and understand it. It will help their relationship with the step to know what the boundaries are and the steps relationship with the children will be set as a parental figure and not just that as a play date.
Either way, support the step in their decisions and have faith that they are only doing what is in the best interest of the children. If you don’t have that, then perhaps they weren’t the best choice for you to bring into your children’s lives to begin with.
What are your experiences with doling out the discipline as either the step parent or the parent who is married to the step?