It can be stressful determining how to discipline a new stepchild. However, finding the right balance in your relationship will help form a closer family dynamic. A blended family means more than just a new marriage, it requires the melding of two households, along with all the unique personalities and expectations that come with them. The below list isn’t exhaustive, but it’s a good starting point for any stepparent wondering how to parent a new stepchild.
- Be consistent and coordinated. It’s crucial that you work closely with your spouse to confirm you are both on the same page. Be explicit in your discussions about what an appropriate punishment looks like and what has worked for the child in the past. Maintaining communication with your partner will help the two of you keep your parenting consistent and coordinated, providing a sense of stability for your stepchild.
- Establish your relationship with your stepchild. If your stepchild doesn’t have a relationship with you, he or she won’t respect you as an authority figure. Make sure that you take the time to explore how the child views you and what this means for your relationship. Find and explore shared interests. Let the child warm up to you at his or her own pace. Encourage a relationship, but don’t force it. Also, don’t try to occupy the same role as your spouse. You can and should be a distinct figure in their life.
- Don’t interfere with your spouse’s relationship with their child. The importance of this is hard to overstate. Continue to let your spouse have time along with his or her biological child. They share a special bond that predates your relationship. If the child believes you are interfering with his or her parental relationship, he or she will resent you.
- The biological parent should be the disciplinarian. Have your spouse play bad cop to his or her biological child. You may feel that you are capable of understanding the child’s needs, but it’s better to leave the role of the chief disciplinarian to your spouse. If the child has not had a chance to truly connect with you, he or she may not accept you as an authority figure and feel uncomfortable following your orders. It will be more beneficial to remind him or her of the guidelines that have already been laid out for them while having your spouse oversee the consequences.
- Keep it simple. Starting out with too many new rules at the beginning of the new marriage can be exhausting for a child who is already dealing with other changes. New rules are can be confusing or threatening. Remember, your new household rules are taking the place of the old rules under which the child was raised. He or she must understand why a new household rule has been implemented and respect its importance.
- You will be tested. Beware of the child testing you to find out how much they can get away with. Don’t allow yourself to be taken advantage of. You deserve to have input in the child’s life as you grow towards a cohesive family. Letting the child disrespect you might complicate things in the future.
- Don’t take it personally. Lastly, don’t take things too personally. The start of a remarriage can be a strange adjustment for everyone. Figuring out what the right steps are for your new family is worth taking the time to investigate. Dedicating your focus on your new child and how to earn their trust and respect is a critical step in developing a healthy, respectful relationship.
This post was written by Kayla West, Northwestern University class of 2017, and Joshua E. Stern.