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Step-Parents: Discipline and Disagreements

Happy Heart and Family

Happy Heart and Family


Being a step-parent is a hard job and it is not something everyone can handle.

When people have biological children there are many sleepless nights wondering if they are doing it wrong or right and simply hoping they are providing everything that child needs.

The rules of parenting are different when someone has step-children and it can be even more challenging than raising a biological child.


There is a delicate balance that needs to be achieved when it comes to the relationship between a step-parent and step-child. When an adult decides to marry the parent of a child they are not only accepting the role of spouse but also the role of co-parent.

The term co-parent does not apply when a step-parent is involved the same way it does when there are two biological parents raising a child.

In a blended family, co-parenting means that the biological parent can turn to their partner for advice, guidance and support with their parenting highs and lows. Parenting decisions should be discussed and agreed upon to promote a peaceful unity in the household but ultimately, the biological parent has the parental responsibility to the children.

Step-Parents Vaulable Contribution

Step-parents can offer some extremely valuable insight in the parenting decisions that happen in the home.

This is especially true if the step-parent and step-child are the same gender. When a step-dad sees his step-son behaving a certain way or doing certain things, he may understand what is going on with the step-son in a way his mom can’t clearly relate to. The same scenario is true with a step-mom and a step-daughter.

Men know how to get through to boys and women know what works with girls.

The opposite gender parental roles are undeniably crucial to the emotional development of children as well.

Blended families come in all shapes and sizes but the fact remains that two perspectives on parenting issues is better than one. The co-parents may not always agree with each other but the child ultimately benefits when they are at least open to the others opinion and reasoning.


Discipline is a sensitive subject when it comes to blended families. This is one of the major issues that can make or break a peaceful union for all.

A necessary part of parenting is enforcing boundaries and discipline so kids can learn valuable life lessons. Kids don’t enjoy getting caught doing something they shouldn’t or having consequences for their actions. It is extremely common for the child to make excuses or blame someone else for their bad choices and the consequences that come with that. This is a totally normal response and will subside with age and maturity. This process gets complicated when a step-parent is involved however. When kids get angry with their biological parents for enforcing rules and limitations it is expected. The relationship will recover from these momentary lapses of peace because they have a deep rooted parental bond.

Blurry Family

Blurry Family

Step-Parents and Discipline

If the step-parent starts enforcing their own punishments, there will be a greater risk for rebellion and resentment over time.

The natural child-parent bond has never been established with a step-parent so there will be a division in the relationship that may never be repaired.

There may also be a tremendous strain on the biological parent’s relationship with the child because they may feel abandoned and become distrustful.

Biological Parents and Discipline

The biological parent should always be responsible for the discipline and the step-parent should assist in reinforcing the parent’s decisions.

Many parenting teams have different views on discipline. This is true whether there are two biological parents in the home or if one is a step-parent.

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It is important for the two adults to discuss their discipline styles and why they think each is important. A step-parent can provide some valuable insight and logic to a situation where emotions are running high and frustration is running even higher.

It is always beneficial for the children when two parents collaborate and agree on a course of action.

When the discussions are done and a decision has been made, it is imperative that the biological parent be the one who actually gives the consequences to the children. It is often harder for the biological parent to do because they are more emotionally involved but that is exactly why it has to be that way.

Discipline needs to come from a place of love and desire to see that child grow into a responsible and productive adult.

Parenting Disagreements

One of the most common disagreements that couples have is parenting.

This doesn’t just happen in homes with step-parents, it happens everywhere.

Once again, step-parents have a different role to play and different rules to play by. A step-parent can completely disagree with the way their spouse is dealing with their children but there is a limited amount they can do about it.

They can talk to their spouse about a certain issue that they see or a situation they think should be handled differently but at the end of the day, they don’t have the power to change it.

This can be extremely frustrating!

Hostility Toward The Child

During these times, it is very important for the step-parent to keep in mind that it is the spouse’s decisions that they are frustration with, not the child.

In some cases, the step-parent will end up subconsciously projecting that frustration onto the step-children.

There may be snide comments or outright distain showed to the children when they are doing something they were allowed to do with permission from their biological parent.

An Example of Misdirected Anger

If a teenage boy’s mom allows him to go to the movies with his friends on a school night when his homework isn’t done and the step-father doesn’t think he should.

The step-father may make a passive-aggressive remark before the child leaves such as, “Must be nice to get to hang out even when you can’t even get your math done. Maybe your mom will finish it for you while you’re goofing off?”

The Result of Poor Decisions

This type of reaction accomplishes three things:

  • The child sees a week spot in your united front of parenting. Most children of any age will use that as a tool to get more freedom and try to divide you further.
  • The child will feel like the step-parent doesn’t like them personally and it will decrease their self-esteem and sense of acceptance and belonging in the family.
  • The biological parent will see their spouse picking on their child and will most likely indulge the child even more because of guilt.
Broken Heart with Family Disappearing

Broken Heart with Family Disappearing

Selfish Release

The step-parent in these scenarios is the only one who benefits from these reactions.

They released their frustrated so they feel better.

The problem with handling it that way is, the powerless child is paying the price for that release. The anger is misplaced and projected unfairly.

Tension will inevitably grow and it will affect the whole family and everyone's relationships with each other in one way or another.

Calm Communication

When a step-parent enters the family with the thought that they will fix the way things are handled with the children, they will actually make things worse.

Step-parents do have options however.

If there are situations that the step-parent feels strongly about, it is important to express that to their spouse.

When discussing someone’s parenting choices and their biological children, it is crucial to choose words wisely. There is a primal defense response that gets triggered when a person feels like someone is attacking their child.

If a step-mother tells her husband that he shouldn’t let his daughter wear such short skirts because people will think she is a tramp, he will most likely get very defensive and angry.

When defenses are raised, the listening stops.

It might be better received if the step-mother tells her husband that he should tell his daughter she needs to show less skin so the boys don’t get the wrong impression. She is a sweet girl and that’s what people should see.

This approach will probably get a better response because the step-mother is simply showing her husband another way to look at the situation. He was a young boy once after all and it is clear that the step-mother is concerned with the step-daughters welfare.

When the communication stops, the resentment and discontent breed.


Nicole Austin on September 14, 2015:

I really like this article. Being in a blended family situation can be a struggle sometimes but I believe that open communication is key and family counseling can certainly help with the struggles, too. Thank you for sharing this!

Farawaytree on September 08, 2015:

Nice article! I am a custodial stepmom, so I enjoy meeting others who can relate to the depth of this type of dynamic :)

Misty on August 14, 2015:

Wow what a great article! This is really helpful coming from your point of view. I had a step parent growing up and it took me roughly 6 years to include him in my life...yeah yeah I was stubborn but he won me over. I'm in a blended family now with my husband being a step father to my daughters and he just adopted them last year. So good to read this thank you.

Stepdad Eric on September 18, 2013:

This article was on the 13th page of google... It should be the first one.. I got my answer to everything thank you :-)

Roxanne Lewis (author) from Washington on July 29, 2012:

Billie Jo, congratulations on your new family! No parental role is easy but you have an opportunity to bring something to a little girls life that no one else can. You are a gift to her and she is one to you! If you and your husband are able to forget all the traditional expectations of what a family should look like and how they should behave (not easy to do believe me), it will work beautifully! From one step-mom to another, my advice would be to pay close attention to your wonderful step-daughter and be what she needs you to be, not what tradition says you should be. Good Luck and again, Congratulations!!!

Billie Jo on July 29, 2012:

I recently became a stepmother to a beautiful 5-yr-old girl. She lives with my husband and I, so I truly walked right into full-time step-motherhood. I found your article very helpful (especially the section about misdirected anger). I've had a tendency to make comments to my husband about certain situations, thinking she didn't hear me, but found out later that she did. I can only imagine how that's made her feel.

I came from a home with both biological parents and never had to face the situations that she has.

It's sad that what adults have created, children have to handle those things.

Anyway, thank you for your article.

Roxanne Lewis (author) from Washington on July 28, 2012:

Thank you Marcy! Step-parenting is very challenging to say the least but when it all comes together... it can be a blessing for everyone involved.

Marcy Goodfleisch from Planet Earth on July 28, 2012:

It's so good that you pointed out how conflict between the parents gives the child a crack to widen. Step-parenting is such a touchy subject; excellent information here, and great advice. Voted up!

Roxanne Lewis (author) from Washington on July 27, 2012:

Thank you so much! Blending a family can be very difficult but very rewarding

Nettlemere from Burnley, Lancashire, UK on July 27, 2012:

You've covered this difficult subject very sensitively. I always wondered how people could best manage relationships with stepchildren and you've comprehensively answered that.

Roxanne Lewis (author) from Washington on July 27, 2012:

Thank you teaches12345! Your comments are always extremely appreciated :)

Dianna Mendez on July 27, 2012:

You have addressed a very important topic popular in today's world. This is a great piece of advice for families in this situation.

Roxanne Lewis (author) from Washington on July 26, 2012:

Mmargie1966, it sounds like we have a lot in common! I too have experienced all sides and it certainly can be a rollercoaster at times. Thank you so much! :)

Mmargie1966 from Gainesville, GA on July 26, 2012:

I'm sharing this one, Roxanne. So many people I know need to read this. I am a stepparent, biological parent, and stepdaughter since the young age of 10. I've seen it all; the good, the bad, and the ugly!

I appreciate the impact you will possibly have because you wrote this hub!

Roxanne Lewis (author) from Washington on July 26, 2012:

You nailed it on the head with the high-wire analogy! Thank you for your comment, they are always greatly appreciated! :)

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on July 26, 2012:

It is, at times, like a high-wire walk without a safety net. I've been there and it is in no way an easy job. Great summation of the facts and wonderful suggestions.

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