When you and your partner first commit to blending your families, it doesn’t necessarily look like any picture you’ve seen before. It’s exciting and it’s new, but you don’t have a template that tells you what to expect and how to proceed.
What will your relationship be to your partner’s children? How will your partner engage with your children? Maybe parenting is entirely new for either you or your partner—how should you go about stepping into such a delicate and important family role?
Maybe you’ve talked the transition over with your partner and your children. Your kids know the newest member of your family isn’t a “replacement parent.” Your partner has agreed to defer to your judgment when it comes to your kids.
If you have talked it over, you’ve taken the crucial first step toward becoming a family; but if you find yourself stumped by lingering questions about discipline, you’re not alone.
Blended family discipline is one of the trickiest things to navigate as new partners and their children are brought together. You don’t want to overstep, yet you want your partner’s children to respect you as a part of their family.
So with blended family discipline, who should do what?
As a step-parent, allow time for a relationship to develop
It might be tempting in the early days of blending your families to assert your authority or step quickly into a parent role for your step-kids. Your new family is important to you and you want to get a head start on the smoothest possible transition.
In truth, your step-kids need time to get to know you. Even if you’ve known them for awhile, becoming a permanent member of the family will likely shift how they see or feel about you. Knowing that these adjustments can take a long time really helps—especially if you worry you’re not making much progress.
Leave discipline to the biological parent, especially in the early days
Giving your new spouse and your children time to build a relationship means taking on most of the disciplinary responsibilities at first. Let your partner be the good cop while your kids are learning to trust him.
Beyond helping your family build new, positive relationships, leaving a step-parent out of blended family discipline for your children helps assure your children that your partner isn’t a replacement for their other parent—a feeling that often makes a parent’s remarriage difficult to cope with.
Discipline with love
Perhaps one of the hardest things about blended family discipline is cracking down on your kids’ actions during an emotionally taxing transition. Remember that it’s okay to hold your children accountable without punishing them. Make sure your kids know that while some of the parameters of your family might be changing, you’re a constant in their lives.
When blended family love doesn’t seem to come easy, everyone can still practice respect
Some days in your blended family might be hard. Maybe your kids are really struggling to come to terms with your partner’s presence, and your partner feels helpless to connect with them. Maybe the new step-siblings seem like entirely different kids.
When love and a sense of peace seem like they’re just not happening, disciplining with respect—and expecting respect from your kids—can help everyone feel like they’re being valued.
Be on the same page
Spend time talking with your partner about the values you want to teach your kids. What disciplinary tactics do you use? Which ones don’t you like? Going into your new life knowing what to expect in terms of blended family discipline makes life a little easier for everyone.
Being on the same page is also important when it comes to your ex. If conflict is all your kids see, they might learn they can pit you two against each other to meet their immediate wants.