As a step-parent, sooner or later you will be reminded by your step-child that you are not their parent. One very important item to discuss between your partner and yourself is “who disciplines who?” In coming to a decision on discipline it is helpful to look at nuclear families who equally share this role.

In nuclear families is that discipline evolves slowly. Often the first sign of disciplining a child is at toddler age when the child touches something it shouldn’t. Both parents actively protect their child from harm and thus discipline is enforced because both parents have an equal stake at raising a successful, well adjusted young adult. The child accepts the discipline from either parent having been conditioned from day one that either parent will love, care for and protect them.

On the other hand, the step-parent usually enters into a system of discipline already established well before any chance of a relationship has been formed. This is where the step-parent is challenged over how much involvement there should be in matters concerning discipline.

Given that both parents more than likely have had a period of sole parenting before re-partnering and entering into the step-family, a good place to start is to continue that role for a short time. Below are some guidelines for both parents to follow.

  1. Get together often as a couple to talk about how you will raise the children.
  2. The step-parent should avoid the disciplinary role initially until relationships have developed.
  3. The biological parent needs to support the step-parent’s authority in front of the children, if that’s what you have agreed to do.
  4. Both parents need to reflect on the importance of discipline and ask themselves questions such as “is it that important?” or “am I being too accommodating?”
  5. Don’t expect your feelings to be the same for your step-children as your own children – relationships take time to be formed.
  6. Spend time alone with your step-children if possible – be prepared if the children aren’t ready for this.
  7. Always remind your children and step-children that their other parent still loves them.
  8. Children will benefit from good role models whether they are accepting of you or not. Therefore always act responsibly and in good faith.
  9. Explore all roles available with your step-children. E.g. they might be more accepting of a mentor or friend, long before one of a step-parent.
  10. Decide on how involved you want to be with your step-children and how much responsibility you want to take.
    Be patient.