Are All Step-Parenting "Don'ts" Created Equal?

July 11th 2017 • 0 Comments

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I've read numerous articles on what step parents should and should not do.  These articles do typically have loads of good advice.  However, step families are blended families.  Blended families blur traditional family lines and introduce dynamics that are as unique as the individuals that comprise them.  As post-divorce joint custody and cooperative "co-parenting" rises in popularity, these norms are constantly shifting.  Thus, I think it is important for all step families to consider their "rules of engagement" and agree to do what makes sense for them.

Don't Discipline

This is a top "Don't" for step parents that I often see touted on the Internet.  Time and again I read that step parents should not discipline their step children.  I disagree that this is an absolute directive.  Most advice I see tells the step parent to step out of the way, while still providing a "parent like" support system.  To provide support, one must guide, and guidance and discipline overlap.  Step-parents are an adult figure in a household and they should be afforded respect and consideration.  With this comes some level of authority.  Granted if the step children are tweens or older, this gets complicated but I think it is perfectly acceptable to consult with the biological parent and state boundaries when appropriate.  In the ideal case, the biological and step parent(s) should develop a road map on handling matters of discipline.  Thus, when a step-parent witnesses what a biological parent prohibits, they are granted authority to manage this behavior or infraction.  Of course this is probably the toughest area of step parenting, because it depends on many factors including the relationship among step parents and biological parents, as well as how well the step-parents are received by the children.  However, not providing any discipline should be the very starting point, while working towards a growing figure of authority over time.  If a step parent comes into a relationship where children are high school aged, yes, this may never happen.

Don't Be A Replacement Parent

While in theory, I am in 100% agreement with this, again this is not always a clear cut issue.  Every child should have the benefit of their biological parents and where feasible should always be given their parental opportunity.  However, if a step parent becomes part of a step child's life for any duration of time they can be just as vital to that child's support system as a parent.  How many people look at Aunts, Uncles, or other close family friends as role models than just their parents?  Many factors will determine how and if step parents bond with their step children but I do not think you can ask a step parent to stay fully out of the way.  They should, of course, always encourage their step children to seek input from their biological parents to the extent possible.  I know that step-children often enjoy having their step parent involvement in activities, and while it is important for biological parents to continue their bond, as long as the biological parents agree the step parents should be afforded the opportunity to participate in blended family activities.

In closing, it is really a matter of what feels right to you in your family.  If everyone is operating under good intentions, then step parents should have some role of authority.  If they are expected to be household members, they cannot be completely independent of what occurs in the house.  Step parents have a difficult job, decidedly more difficult than the biological parents.  However, biological parents also need to recognize this and look to embrace the step parents involvement where it is appropriate and so long as it is not affecting the bond between the child's biological parents.

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