Should Stepfathers Discipline Stepdaughters?
Blended families that involve biological parents and stepparents are not uncommon, but finding a way to balance the parenting styles and experiences of each parent can be challenging. Discipline can be an especially tricky area because parents might have different beliefs about the best way to discipline children. A stepfather might want to support his new partner in parenting his stepdaughter, including taking disciplinary measures when necessary. His own comfort level and the preferences of his partner should determine his level of involvement.
Although it’s preferable for stepparents and biological parents to arrive at amicable agreements with regard to disciplinary responsibilities, stepfathers, as custodians, do have some legal authority in a child’s discipline to a reasonable degree in some states, according to the Divorce Source Divorce Research Center 4. Because incidents of abuse by stepparents of stepchildren are higher than incidents involving biological parents, stepfathers might take a more conservative approach in disciplining stepchildren in order to protect themselves.
Stepfathers might have positive intentions, but unknowingly create problems by entering their new households with the wrong attitudes. According to Stepfamilies.org, a stepfather sometimes enters a new household with the attitude that he will now take over; for example, saying “Now I’m the father.” This can cause resentment for a stepdaughter who feels loyal to her biological father 3. When stepfathers take on an authoritative, discipline-oriented role too early in the relationship, this can make it harder to build a positive relationship with stepchildren. In some cases, relationships between stepfathers and stepdaughters can become more conflicted over time, according to the National Stepfamily Resource Center 1. Resentment between stepfathers and stepchildren can become cyclic, making it more difficult to build positive relationships.
In the Empowering Parents.com article “Blended Family? The 5 Secrets of Effective Stepparenting," authors Carri and Gordon Taylor state that stepparents gain more ground when they defer to biological parents in disciplinary matters. This might be especially true when stepfathers defer to biological mothers, since children will observe that their mothers uphold their respected position in the home. Stepfathers should maintain a consistent presence, but should not feel obligated to play the “heavy” when it comes to discipline. Taking a supportive backseat to the mother’s accustomed discipline tactics also will help set your stepdaughter at ease.
Parents should take into consideration the age of their children when a stepfather joins the family. Biological parents, the stepfather and the stepdaughter might feel less comfortable with a stepfather taking an active disciplinary role if the daughter is older, according to the Dr. Phil.com article, “What Role Should a Stepparent Play?” Biological parents might remain the primary disciplinarians, while it becomes the stepfather’s role to actively support the disciplinary goals and strategies of the biological parents. Stepfathers can discuss and agree on house rules with biological parents, negotiating behavior standards and expectations for children so that their perspectives are taken into consideration.
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