One of the hardest things about blending a family after divorce and then remarriage is trying to figure out new family rules, especially those involving discipline. The rules your kids are used to are not likely the same rules the other children had. How do you create a unified blended family and prevent chaos and confusion? Who is in charge of disciplining and how does that work? These are some tips that helped my spouse and I navigate this tricky territory in our blended family, along with other tips that I’ve found that I wish I had know back then. We have now been married five years and we and our kids have come a long way. Things are far from perfect, but time and effort creates great progress.
Tips on How to Discipline the Children in Your Blended Family
1. Have a private discussion with your spouse, preferably before you are married, about what each others current family rules are. Figure out where you overlap and where you differ. Ask each other which rules are most important to you and be willing to compromise and find a middle ground that you can both agree on.
2. Make a list of your combined family rules that will now be the household rules. This means that anyone living in your house will follow those rules no matter which parent or family of origin is theirs. Keep them simple. For example: Everyone in this home will treat each other with respect and kindness. Also, bedtime rules, screen time rules, household chore division, and anything else that you find important.
3. Have a family meeting with all the kids together and tell them about your new family household rules. Discuss ideas with the kids about consequences and let them give feedback about what they think would be appropriate consequences for breaking specific rules. These might be things like no screen time for the rest of the day, no friends, or do an extra chore.
4. Realize that there will be a testing period where the kids will likely push boundaries to see if these new rules will stand up. Stay firm and don’t cave when the whining and pressure from the kids starts.
5. The actual disciplining should come from the biological parent. Nothing pushes kids away from their stepparent more than when they try to enforce a family rule with them and be the disciplinarian. This is especially true with school age children. Younger toddlers and preschoolers may not have a problem with it, but older children are not ready to have discipline from the step-parent. Dr. Greene gives this wise advise, “Connection before Correction.” He says it can take two years or longer for stepparents to form the loving and trusting connection with stepchildren that needs to happen before they are able to enter a role where they can also discipline the children. If the marriage happened when the children were pre-teen or older, the stepparent may never have the shared role of disciplinarian, which is okay.
6. If you are the bio parent, notice if your kids are being disrespectful of your spouse and call them out on it. Remember, your spouse isn’t supposed to discipline the kids so you’re going to have to defend your spouse and stand up for them. Remind the kids that everyone in the house deserves respect and kindness. They don’t have to love their stepparent but they do need to treat them kindly.
7. It will likely take awhile before the new household rules solidify. It may take some tweaking as well as give and take before your blended family accepts and adapts to the changes. Try to stick with it and stay strong with your boundaries while still being flexible. Remember that this is going to be a learning curve for everybody.
Why do kids react so negatively to stepparents discipline?
There is an old saying, “Rules without relationship leads to rebellion.” A loving relationship must be well established first. That is the most important thing. The stepparent and stepchildren in a blended family aren’t likely to love each other right away, but both should work toward mutual respect and kindness. In order for the children to bond to their stepparent, their role should be more of a cheerleader and friend than a disciplinarian.
Stepparents have “borrowed power”. This means that the role they have in disciplining their stepchildren is to back up the other parent and help support the family rules. They don’t have relational authority, but instead have borrowed authority from the bio parent to help with the rules. This is along the same ideas of a baby-sitter. They have authority in the home to enforce the parents consequences but it’s not the babysitters rules. Since some kids resist any authority shown by their stepparent, it can be better for the stepparent to inform the other parent of the problem privately and then the bio parent can deal with it.
If the stepparent is home alone with the kids, the family rule could be that the stepparent is in charge. Depending on the kids ages, the stepparent might enforce the boundary and specific consequence, or if the kids are older and don’t accept being disciplined well from their stepparent, they might be sent to their room to think about it until the bio parent gets home and can talk to their child and enforce the previously decided consequence.
Above all, don’t get into a yelling match or power struggle with your stepchildren. Remove yourself from tense situations and find a way to take a break and calm down.
You might also like: Blended Family Tips: Loving Your Stepchildren