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Who lays down the law?


Who wears the pants in a blended family? More to the point, who handles discipline?

According to blended-family blogger Cathy Meyer, the biological parent should discipline their own child or children. The stepparent should, in turn, deal with their own child.

Well, it’s an interesting dilema. I find that in our home my girlfriend and I often defer to the biological parent to dictate terms and punishment for misdeed by the kids. For us, this always entails a verbal reprimand and nothing more. But the tendency of both our children to be a tad more uneasy with the stepparent issuing the reprimand is part of a learning curve that I think takes time – and we’re still working on.

But I have never seen it as a black-and-white issue. We do consult each other regularly and we have gotten comfortable with correcting or issuing mild reprimands to the others’ child. If it’s still a learning process it is more so for our two boys, and they are coming along.

Still, Meyer seems to take a harder line in her blog:

“As a stepparent, you should avoid any decisions about the discipline of your stepchild. This can and does depend on the situation but in most cases, it is best to leave issues of discipline up to the biological parent. Your role as a stepparent is that of mentor and supporter, not parent. This is something many stepparents have a hard time coming to terms with.”

I don’t think it’s that rigid, and I think it is something that has to be overcome for a blended family to eventually succeed. What do you think?

This entry was posted on Friday, April 10th, 2009 at 11:45 am by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
Category: Blended families, Childcare, Developmental issues, Discipline, Divorce, Emotions, Family, Fatherhood, Manners, Motherhood, Parenting, Single parents, Stress, Values, Working parents
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4 Responses to “Who lays down the law?”

  1. David V.

    I think the actual parent should have the primary role in discipline, but this shouldn’t preclude a step-parent from getting involved as needed, such as when the actual parent isn’t around.

    Most important I think is some sort of general agreement between the divorced parents about how to handle larger discipline issues, and the step-parents should fall in line behind that. Step-parents shouldn’t have their own agenda or strategy in discipline that is at odds with the parents, because that can create tremendous confusion and conflict.

  2. Jorge Fitz-Gibbon

    Well put, David. This is indeed what we seek to do in our own blended family. There is a hope, of course, that we’ll be more fluid with time and the lines between biological and stepparent will be more blurry.
    But one more thing to consider: In a blended family like ours, each child has another biological parent. That opens a whole ‘nother set of issues: Consistency in the other parents home compared to ours, issues with the other parent over discipline rights, etc.
    So, it’s another consideration and another issue to work in.
    Anyway, thanks, as always, for the input.

  3. Cathy Meyer

    Jorge, The quote above is from an article I wrote about what I thought appropriate for a new blended family.

    When children are first introduced into a blended family it is my opinion that discipline has to be a black and white issue. You can’t introduce a stranger into your child’s life and expect your child to respond positively to that strangers attempts to discipline.

    Once a child has bonded with and built trust in a stepparent that stepparent should have the right to discipline the child.

    Below is a quote from another article I wrote about discipline in an established blended family.

    “It is crucial that at some point each biological parent be permitted to and feels comfortable disciplining all the children in a blended family situation. Each parent should ultimately have a role of authority in the children’s lives but only after bonding has occurred and relationships have been established.”

    The key is that both the biological parent and stepparent agree about what is and isn’t appropriate discipline and that the children feel a since of trust in the stepparent.

  4. Jorge Fitz-Gibbon

    Thanks for clarifying, and for the update. I also apologize for the delayed response to your post here.
    I would agree with what you say. As I explained, in our situation we are gradually making that transition from the initial “black and white” approach which, I agree, a new blended family has to ease into.
    Either way, these are issues I like to throw out here for discussion, not so much for dispute.
    Thanks again.


About this blog
Parents’ Place is a hangout for openly discussing the A’s to Z’s of raising a child in the Lower Hudson Valley. From deciding when to stop using a binky to when to let your teenager take driving lessons, Parents’ Place is here to let us all vent, share, and most of all, learn from each other.
Leading the conversation are Julie Moran Alterio, a business reporter and mom of a toddler, Jorge Fitz-Gibbon, a reporter and single father with joint custody of a 9-year-old son, and Len Maniace, a reporter and father of two sons.


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About the authors
Julie Moran AlterioJulie Moran AlterioJulie Moran Alterio, her husband and baby girl — “Pumpkin” — share their Northern Westchester home with three iPods and more colorful plastic toys than seems necessary to entertain one tiny human. READ MORE
Jorge Fitz-GibbonJorge Fitz-GibbonJorge Fitz-Gibbon has been a journalist for more than 20 years and a father for nine. READ MORE
Jane LernerJane LernerJane Lerner covers health and hospitals for The Journal News in Rockland, where she lives with her husband and two children. READ MORE
Len Maniace.jpgLen ManiaceLen Maniace is a reporter and father of two sons. READ MORE


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