Disciplining children can be challenging in any family, but blended families face unique obstacles. Children may be uncertain about how to relate to a new stepparent, and the biological parents may worry about how their ex’s new spouse might discipline their kids. Maintaining consistency across households adds an extra layer of complexity. To help navigate these choppy waters, here are five essential discipline strategies for blended families.
Key #1: Talk about discipline before you get married.
Even if you have never had children, you have probably developed personal opinions about discipline. Your beliefs and ideas have likely formed over time through your childhood experiences and your understanding of child development. This personal history informs your opinions, which is why you and your future spouse need to talk about what discipline will look like in your blended family moving forward. You can ask questions like:
- What current disciplines and guidelines are already in place?
- What do we want to accomplish in our approach to discipline?
- How did your parents discipline you as a child? How has that affected you?
- What discipline methods do you want to enact in your blended family?
- What discipline methods do you NOT want to enact in your blended family?
- What fears or concerns do you have in disciplining children?
Discussions regarding discipline will likely be ongoing because children grow up! Your discipline needs to fit the age and stage of your children and bonus children.
Key #2: Show respect for your spouse.
One of the most important things you can do when you marry someone with children is to demonstrate love and respect to your new spouse, and that includes respecting their approach to disciplining their children. In the New Testament, Paul told his readers, “Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech” (Titus 2:7-8a). Your bonus children need to see you showing honor and respect for your spouse’s role as the biological parent and lead disciplinarian. Often, children mimic what they see, so your example matters.
Tip #3: Let the biological parent take the lead.
When a new stepparent first joins the family, it is important for the biological parent to take the lead with discipline. This gives the children time to build trust with their new stepparent before being corrected by them. Taking on a disciplinary role with the bonus children without a foundation of respect could hamper the budding relationship between stepparent and stepchild.
The biological parent has already established a bond that enables them to enact discipline when needed. The stepparent is then free to focus on connecting with their stepchildren through quality time and shared experiences. As the stepparent-stepchild relationship matures, the stepparent can gradually take on a larger disciplinary role, but don’t take on that role too soon. Patience is key. The groundwork you lay now will bear fruit later (Proverbs 25:15).
Tip #4: Present a united front regarding discipline.
Avoid the trap of questioning or contradicting disciplinary decisions in front of the kids and bonus kids. Hash out differences of opinion behind closed doors. Children are very perceptive. When they see a possible crack in parental unity, they may try to exploit it and undermine attempts to discipline. If the stepparent publicly challenges the bio parent’s discipline, the child may interpret that as an invitation to disobey or disrespect their parents. Disagreements over discipline are likely to happen, but it is important to handle them away from little ears. Then you can come back to the child or bonus child with a united front.
Tip #5: Pray for God’s help.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but it needs emphasis because it is a key component of good discipline. You cannot be the parent or bonus parent God wants you to be without His strength, wisdom, and guidance. He is your Heavenly Father, and Scripture tells us that He knows what your children and bonus children need before you ever ask Him (Matthew 6:8). You can always turn to Him and ask Him for help. You can pray over your children and ask God to shape them into godly men and women.
Child discipline will be an ongoing discussion in your blended family. Your kids and bonus kids will grow and change, and you will, too. But with open and ongoing communication with your spouse, continual prayer, and unity in your parenting, you can teach and model a Christlike life and create a godly legacy for the future.
Scott and Vanessa Martindale
Founders of Blended Kingdom Families