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Dealing with the thorny issue of stepparents and discipline

When divorced parents with primary custody of their kids remarry, their new spouses are a big part of their kids' lives. These stepparents often assume many parenting responsibilities -- particularly if the other biological/legal parent lives far away or has little regular contact with the kids.

However, things can get tricky when it comes to discipline. Stepparents may not feel comfortable disciplining a stepchild. Further, non-custodial parents may try to take legal action if they believe their children's stepparents have too much control over their kids.

That's why it's essential for custodial parents to be willing to discipline their children. Some parents are more comfortable doing this than others. Maybe a parent left that job to his or her spouse during the previous marriage. Perhaps a parent has some guilt over the divorce, so he or she tries to compensate by being lenient or being the "fun" parent. In some cases, a child may have more significant behavioral issues since the divorce and remarriage.

In any of these scenarios, the stepparent is placed in an uncomfortable position of dealing with a stepchild who has behavioral problems. In blended families, one child's misbehavior can have a negative effect on all of the kids in the home.

One family therapist who has counseled parents dealing with discipline issues caused by one spouse's child reminds them that it's essential for all kids to have rules and be expected to follow them. She reminds them that discipline "doesn't mean punishment." However, it's important for instilling "good manners and good behavior." When kids' lives have changed due to parental divorce and remarriage, knowing what their parents expect of them can provide a sense of security.

Both adults with whom the child lives should be consistent in enforcing those rules. This can help reduce serious behavioral issues and allow the stepparent to relax and be the "fun" parent sometimes. Of course, it's best for children when all of the parental figures in their lives, custodial and non-custodial, are operating from a shared set of expectations and rules.

If you're having difficulties with your children as they adjust to their new family dynamic, it may be wise to seek family therapy. Your Florida family law attorney can likely recommend some good therapists in your area who can help you create a happier, more peaceful household for everyone.

Source: Psychology Today, "Should Step-Parents be Allowed to Discipline?," Marilyn Wedge, PhD, accessed May 18, 2018

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