Being a stepparent may be one of the hardest jobs anyone can ever take on. Just being a parent is hard enough, but stepparents deal with children that show them even more disrespect and resentment than birth parents receive. We are all probably parents here, so we all know that disrespect and resentment are like second languages to kids. And yet, in the face of all this, stepparents are still expected to maintain their composure and mete out discipline as if they were their biological parents. If this isn’t the very definition of “overwhelming,” I’m not sure what is.
As overwhelming as this may be, if you expect to be a stepparent and not end up in a straight jacket at the end of it all, effectively disciplining your stepchildren is something you’re going to need to come to terms with. The first thing that you need to know is that you are NOT the only person with this problem. Disciplining children is trying for everyone involved, and when you didn’t actually give birth or help create that child, it’s that much more difficult. The second thing you need to know is that it is absolutely possible, so DON’T GIVE UP!
If you have a “list of things to try to make my stepchild listen to me,” go ahead and cross off “GIVE UP” at the bottom, and let’s replace that negativity with some positivity.
Transitioning Takes Time
Jumping into a new role always takes time. Nobody starts a new job and expects to know how everything works immediately. You need time to get into routines, learn the rules, and figure out the specific details of the job. Becoming a stepparent is pretty much exactly the same. This goes for both stepparents that are new to parenting and stepparents that already have kids of their own.
Let’s assume that you are starting your role as a stepparent (and if you aren’t that’s okay too, life is full of second, third, fourth, or even fifth chances, so just call for a redo and go back to Stage 1 if you need to). As a new addition to the already existing dynamic, it’s totally okay to take a backseat role in the beginning. In fact, I would encourage it. Now is a great time to do some observing. Watch your partner and see how they discipline, watch your new child and see how they react to certain types of discipline. Take it all in and take notes, too. There really is no certain amount of time for this; it’s really up to you and when you feel comfortable taking the next step.
Once you’ve soaked up what you can, and you’re maybe ready to do some discipline yourself, the most important thing to know is to TAKE IT SLOW. Don’t dive in headfirst, but try and tackle some smaller issues one at a time. During this time, remind yourself that what may seem like a small win is actually a huge step for you. So go for those small wins. They will build your confidence, and more importantly, they begin to lay the foundation for your stepchild to see you as a parental figure.
Eventually, all the small wins should lay the groundwork to moving up to “full-time parent.” What I mean when I say this is that you should be well on your way to feeling just as confident as your partner when it comes to discipline. Just remember, when you do finally begin to feel comfortable with taking on an equal share of the discipline, it is easy to feel like you lose more often than you win. Stepparents tend to take this harder than birth parents, because they have to work harder to get here, but you need to remember that this is simply part of parenting. I can assure you that your partner feels like they lose just as much as you do. Disciplining children is a constant battle, one that you will often feel is uphill. If you feel like these losses are taking a toll on you, be sure to communicate that with your partner, and take some time to recoup and get back on your feet. You deserve it!
Common Ground is the Common Law
When you do find the courage to take your discipline to the next level, it’s best to sit down and talk with your partner first. A huge part of disciplining as a stepparent is having a very open line of communication with your partner. This is such an important step for a variety of reasons:
- If you and your partner are not on the same page, your child will notice and your discipline will not be as effective.
- Your partner should be your rock. For your disciplinary tactics to be effective, your partner is going to need to back you up, no matter what.
- Nobody wants to overstep any boundaries. Discussing what these boundaries are will prevent this from happening.
The first thing you and your partner need to discuss is where you can find some common ground when it comes to discipline. Before you start this conversation just remember that no two discipline styles are going to be the same. There are bound to be things you disagree on or things that you want to discipline your child for but your partner doesn’t care about at all. This is okay and completely normal. The point of this discussion is to find COMMON ground, not things you disagree about.
When having this conversation, you can cover all points of discipline if you think it is necessary, just to see where exactly you and your partner agree and where you disagree. If you come across areas where you only slightly disagree, find some common ground on these. Take more time to discuss these particular points and make sure that you come to a compromise about them before moving on. Don’t be afraid to let your partner know if you disagree with something that they have been doing or their way of handling certain things. You might feel like you don’t have the right to do this because you are “only the stepparent,” but I can assure you that this is not true. You have just as much right to discipline as your partner does. You’re both parents after all. Plus, you may be surprised and find that your partner has just been “winging it” in some areas and you can bring a new and fresh outlook to areas that need some re-tooling.
This step may seem like it is fairly self-explanatory, but do not shrug it off as unnecessary. This is something that all parents should be doing from the get-go, but it’s often overlooked because people just assume they will have the same discipline style as their partner. This step is even more important for stepparents though. Not only does it give you a chance to let your feelings and opinions known and give you a say in some potential changes, it also opens the door to discuss where you are most comfortable disciplining and when it is probably best for your partner to step in and take over. When you find your areas of common ground, take some time to discuss the areas of discipline that you would like to handle and the areas that you don’t think you are ready for. This will ensure that both you and your partner are at the top of your game when disciplining your child. This makes for effective discipline all around.
Don’t forget that, no matter what, whether you agree or disagree, you both need to have each other’s backs in matters of discipline. This is even more crucial for your partner though. If your stepchild sees Mom or Dad backing you up all of the time, no matter what, it will show them that you have just as much authority as their “birth parent” does.
Overthinking and Overstepping
A very common complaint I hear from stepparents when it comes to discipline is, “I feel like I’m overstepping my boundaries.” Now I won’t say that boundaries don’t exist (which will be explained later), but I often find this phrase to be somewhat silly. You will never hear a “birth parent” say that they won’t discipline their child because they are “overstepping boundaries,” therefore you should not feel this way either. One of the most important steps you need to take when disciplining your stepchild is telling yourself that you ARE their parent. You have just as much of a right to discipline your stepchild as your partner does, and you need to tell yourself this constantly. Kids are like dogs: they can smell your fear. Exude your newfound sense of confidence and your stepchild will notice. Not only that, but you will probably feel better about yourself, too. This may take some time to achieve, but remind yourself of this every single day. Hopefully, your partner will do the same and will give you some words of encouragement as well.
Overstepping boundaries is an important thing to discuss with both your partner and your stepchild. With your partner, discuss what their hard and fast rules are for certain disciplinary tactics. Everybody has “hot button” issues that they are not willing to compromise on, and it’s extremely important that you find these.Now, for the sake of clarification, a “hot button” issue in my book would be something that is absolutely unacceptable under the roof of the house. Maybe your partner is a thousand percent against spanking. Maybe your partner has zero tolerance for their child using the word “hate” or telling lies. First, give your partner the stage to communicate their zero tolerance ideals since it’s likely that they already have these foundations set. You are going to have to respect these rules and back them up on these issues. Once they’ve explained their hot spots and you’ve accepted them, this will open the door for you to let them know what you will and will not allow. Lay down your hard rules for your partner in the same fashion, and let them know that you expect them to respect your wishes just as you respect theirs. Discuss with them that, when these “hot button” issues come up, you will need their full support. If you do something that they don’t agree with, they still need to have your back when you are disciplining your child. They can bring up their grievances after everything has already been taken care of, in private and out of earshot of the child. Make sure that you listen to your partner about what potentially upset them about a way a situation was handled, and come to a compromise for future transgressions. Set the example, and they will most likely do the same when you bring up any issues you have with their disciplinary style in the future. If all else fails, just let your significant other know that you prefer them to take the lead when it comes to these “hot button” issues.
If your child is old enough to understand, take out some time to discuss with them the things that you will and will not allow. Lay these things down as law, but explain to them why they are important to you as well. Allow this to be an open discussion.Allow them to ask any questions they may have about the new rules and give answers with complete honesty and clarity. Chances are, if the child knows what to expect and why you feel it is important, there is a much higher chance that they will respect these rules. On top of that, they will appreciate your honesty and openness.
Gaining the respect and adoration of any child is a long and difficult road for anyone. They’re bound to drive you crazy every once in awhile, but don’t let that be the reason you throw in the towel. Just because you have the word “step” in front of your title of “parent” doesn’t make you any less of a parent.