Stepfamilies and Discipline

Stepfamilies and Discipline

It’s estimated that 40% of marriages today are step-couples forming a new stepfamily. While every family is unique, step-families face some distinct challenges. One common struggle for step-families is the polarization that can occur between the parent and step-parent when it comes to parenting tasks.

Research has shown that the most effective parenting style is authoritative parenting which consistently demonstrate two qualities: love and firmness.

Step-couples often find themselves polarized when it comes to discipline, each perceiving the other is either too strict or too permissive. Before long, the step-couple no longer functions as a team and parenting tasks become a common source of conflict.

Here are a few other suggestions to help deal with this challenge:

  • Parents remain the primary disciplinarian. When step-parents come on the scene, they need to take time to bond with the stepchild. When step-parents take the lead on discipline, they miss opportunities to develop a loving and respectful relationship with their stepchild.
  • When stepparents must discipline, reinforce following “rules of the house.” There will be times when the parent may not be available and a behavior needs to be addressed. In that situation, it’s best for the step-parent to reinforce the “rules of the house” which have been established by the parent. “I know you are excited to play your new game, but you know your mom said you have to finish your homework first.”
  • Work on the subsystems. Step-families are made of subsystems which make them more complex than first families. Step-family subsystems include the couple, parent-child, step-parent/stepchild, and sometimes step-siblings. Step-couples benefit greatly when they allow each subsystem some of their own time rather than focusing only on the larger family system.

Parenting can be difficult for step-couples. If this has become a frequent stressor for you and your partner, step-couples counseling may be very beneficial to help ease the strain in the relationship and cope with the challenge.

Jackie Dunagan, LAMFT
jdunagan @

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