Stepparents and the Discipline Dilemma


The topic of discipline is a “hot button” issue for many stepfamilies. It can be the catalyst for chaos and power struggles between stepparents and stepchildren as well as the couple themselves.

As one stepdad shared, “It’s like walking a tightrope, no matter what I do I feel I’m wrong.”

What this stepdad said is so true! There is no strict set of guidelines for stepparenting and no matter what you do, someone seems to find fault. 

So, why is discipline such a problem in so many blended families?  

On one side of this issue, we have stepparents who want to establish their role as a leader in the family. Other’s jump in assuming it is what they “should” do to back up their partner. 

On the other side, we have stepparents who are so uncertain when to step in and when to step back that their inconsistency causes issues. Kids will pick up on the uncertainty and use it to their advantage. 

Bottom line, most stepparents have the very best of intentions, it’s their execution that needs a little fine-tuning. Also, there are some very detailed discussions step couples should have to develop a plan of action when it comes to discipline. I call it building their family foundation so they are on the same page for parenting, discipline and role expectations. 

While resolving this issue is something that takes time for each couple I work with, I did want to share a few quick tips for stepparents. 

Tips for Stepparents

1. Take It Slow

The biggest mistake I see stepparents making is immediately taking on the role of disciplinarian. There is a skill to developing your place so your stepchild will be open to listening to you, which includes building a relationship with your stepchild, which takes time and intentional action.

2. Build Your Co-Parenting Plan

Many times step couples get excited about the marriage piece, but forget to talk about the “who,” “how” and “why” for discipline and family dynamics. Working together to build a shared family foundation (shared vision + values + goals) will help you to co-parent well together. 

Also, if the other birth parent is in the picture it further complicates defining your role in things. You may be needed in more of a support role than directly involved in the discipline. Each family is different.

3. Be Flexible

Your role as stepmom or stepdad will be different depending on the ages of your stepchildren. Younger children may be more open to your guidance. They’ll see you as an adult in their lives and if you gradually build a relationship with younger children, then taking on the disciplinary piece won’t be as difficult. Patience is key here. 

When dealing with older elementary, preteens and teens, you will need to build a trust factor and respect-based relationship first. If you immediately come in and start enforcing rules, you risk the kids challenging your authority and some possibly pushing back as well. You’ll hear statements such as, “YOU are not my parent, stop telling me what to do!” 

Sometimes, it’s better for the birth parent to be the primary disciplinarian with the stepparent in a support role. This is a very tricky position to be in and it will take time to figure out just how to handle things. For older stepchildren, it may be best to defer discipline to the birth parents while you remove yourself completely from the situation. 

Every Family is Different

If all of those options feel confusing and you feel lost, please know these suggestions are general tips. Each and every stepfamily is unique and has its own dynamic relationship. Some have shared custody, others have full custody. Others have kids coming and going throughout the week, which adds another layer of fluidity to the situation. 

Stepparents, you have taken on an important yet complicated role. It takes time and intentional action to resolve the conflicts of blended family life. The beautiful part of your life is that you are a family by choice. There is no ONE right way to be a family, so you do you! 

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Amy Ambrozich
Amy grew up in NW Indiana and moved to Central Ohio after marrying her husband, Mike, 30+ years ago. Together they raised three kids, Kaytee, Nick, and Joey, all of whom have successfully launched into adulthood and careers. She is a parenting and stepfamily coach, specializing in stepcouples coaching. After many years as a stay-at-home mom, she discovered her passion for coaching and teaching parent workshops through the Worthington Schools. Amy became a dual-certified Active Parenting facilitator (K-5 & Teens) and a certified Stepfamily Help coach. To fulfill her love of coaching stepcouples she recently became a recognized SMART STEPFAMILY therapy provider. This allows her to share even more "support and strategies for your stepfamily's success!" Amy credits her parents, Joe and Elaine, for being her inspiration and role model for strong parenting partnerships and parenting with intention. It serves as the basis for all her coaching programs. She can be reached at