Divorced parent guilt is real, y’all. This can easily lead to unstructured free-for-all homes with limitless screen time, questionable nutritional standards, and a house void of rules. Upon remarriage, structure is often introduced with new routines, meal plans, and stepparent discipline.
When stepmom enters the scene, she begins to pick up any perceived slack. She has read up on best practices for parenting, and where she sees the home lacking, she will create structure to set everyone up for longterm success.
While this is great in theory, the unfortunate reality is, the parent and children may not be ready for that change. When and how you introduce stepparent discipline to your dynamic can make a world of difference to its success.
Read the Room
One of my favorite stepparent discipline quotes—and where I’ll always start with coaching clients—is “connection before correction,” by Patricia Papernow.
Until stepmoms have bonded with their stepchildren and created a respectful, mutual relationship, being the disciplinarian can backfire.
I remember as a child of divorce, when my stepdad would punish me, I would hold a grudge much longer than if my mom had doled out the same punishment. I hadn’t built that relationship with him, and as a result, punishment was not well received.
The stepmom/stepchild relationship is already precarious (especially with the invisible load the stepmom carries), so don’t take on discipline or punishment until that bond is strengthened.
If you push discipline as a stepmom too soon, you are opening the door to the dreaded “You’re not my mom!”
Let Your Partner Take the Lead
This can be a tough one for many independent stepmoms, but it’s important to follow your partner’s lead when it comes to parenting your stepchildren.
Your partner knows their children best, and you can learn from an “observe first, parent later” approach. You might be surprised that some of the laissez-faire culture is actually quite intentional.
Not only does this give you time to learn the current culture and expectations, but it also allows for the necessary time to build that respectful relationship with your stepchildren necessary for taking that next step.
An Important Conversation
Once you’ve successfully built the foundation of your relationship with your stepchildren and feel prepared to take on more parenting, your partner should initiate the conversation.
It’s imperative that your partner elevates you to your stepchildren and makes it clear that when you enforce a rule, it’s the same as if your partner was saying it.
It may seem superfluous or obvious, but you shouldn’t assume that your stepchildren see you as an equal parenting figure, especially if your stepchildren are not very young. (In fact, it’s most difficult for teen girls to respect their stepmoms.)
I often recommend having this conversation in a family meeting and reviewing the house rules while you’re discussing expectations and discipline.
A good rule of thumb for in the moment is to give yourself a maximum of two times of enforcing the rules before you step back and let your partner take over.
If your partner isn’t home, you can have the discipline wait until your partner is home. If your stepchild is determined to disrespect you and not see you as an authority figure, it is not worth losing your peace over. This is the perfect opportunity to disengage, support your partner, and wash your hands of anything outside of your control.
Having a stepchild that doesn’t listen to you or respect you doesn’t mean you’ve failed as a stepmom or that you’re not doing it right. Do not take any of this personally.
Your stepchildren have been through a lot of change and emotions they don’t fully understand, and they could have difficulty coping and managing those emotions.
Further, they could be facing loyalty binds with their other parent, and obeying you may feel like disobeying their mom. It can feel like an impossible situation with no right answers.
It’s very likely not about you at all if you’ve followed the steps provided here and still aren’t able to enforce rules or discipline your stepchildren without pushback.
Don’t Overthink It
With all of this in mind, I urge you to not overthink it. We are our own harshest critic. Oftentimes, actions that we feel stand out in a certain way, don’t.
Trust your gut, and believe in yourself. You are a great stepmom, even when you’re feeling flawed. (Spoiler alert, we are all flawed!)
As you move forward to find the balance of stepparent discipline within your home, let me know what works (and doesn’t work) for you in the comments. I’d love to hear it!
P.S. If you’d like some additional help finding your voice in your stepfamily, join me and a fantastic group of women for camaraderie, tip-sharing, and soul-searching.