Help! My Husband Won’t Let Me Discipline His Children

In December I married a man who has four children. I am unable to have children of my own. My problem, which I hope you can provide some advice on, is that my husband will not allow me to discipline the children, who I now view as our children but he seems to think otherwise. I know I haven't had the benefit of being in their lives since the day they were born but if I'm going to be a mother to these kids, I have to be able to give love as well as guidance and discipline where appropriate, right? The kids are 6, 7, 9, and 11 years old. When I talk about discipline I just mean things like grounding them for a week, or taking away their phone privileges for a day, or asking them to do chores (which they are supposed to be doing anyway), or admonishing them for cursing, or saying they have to do their homework before they play games. Things like that. It is OK for my husband to do these things but he gets mad at me when I do them. He says they view him as the authority figure and he knows them best and he doesn't want them to have a negative view of me. I think discipline is just part of raising kids and I'm not just here to be a housewife. I want to be a mom too. Can you help? —Marginalized Mom
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Dear Marginalized Mom,

You have put your finger on one of the biggest challenges in blended families—the role of stepparents in discipline. There is no single right answer for this question; every family and family situation is unique. You are also a newly blended family and will experience growing pains as you all, kids included, adjust to this major change.

This may be hard to hear, but marrying your husband does not automatically make you “mom” to his kids. I hear your desire to parent, and I am sure you have so much love and guidance to offer them. If, however, you and your husband are not on the same page about your role, there is no way the kids will follow your lead. Your attempts to parent them without the support of your husband will only lead to confusion and tension and very likely resentment. You can still be a loving, responsible adult in their lives without having to be their parent.

You mention he doesn’t want the kids to have a negative view of you. Perhaps he is nervous that if you take on the role of disciplinarian, it will negatively impact their acceptance of you into the family or create conflict he isn’t ready to handle.

I often recommend to couples who are blending families that they discuss expectations and roles prior to making any major changes. It is not too late, however to have these conversations. I highly recommend that you and your husband enlist the help of a therapist who works with blended families to talk through your concerns. Your husband may have some specific reasons he wants you to stay out of the discipline realm.

You mention he doesn’t want the kids to have a negative view of you. Perhaps he is nervous that if you take on the role of disciplinarian, it will negatively impact their acceptance of you into the family or create conflict he isn’t ready to handle. One of the greatest challenges in blended families is a parent feeling like he or she has to choose between the new spouse and the kids. Your husband might be trying to avoid that dynamic by keeping your relationship with the kids strictly positive. You may or may not agree with those reasons, but talking about them is the first step, and a trained therapist can help nurture and guide that conversation.

It is important for your role in the family to be clear to everyone. You are entitled to respect as a member of the family. With four children approaching the tween and teen years, you can expect many challenges to authority—yours and your husband’s. It is critical that you act as a team with shared understanding and purpose. What that understanding is will depend very much on what works for all of you.

Best of luck!
Erika

Erika Myers
Erika Myers, MS, MEd, LPC, NCC is a licensed psychotherapist and former educator specializing in working with families in transition (often due to separation or divorce) as well as individuals seeking support with relationship issues, parenting, depression, anxiety, grief/loss/bereavement, and managing major life changes. Although her theoretical orientation is eclectic, she most frequently uses a person-centered, strengths-based approach and cognitive behavioral therapy in her practice.
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  • Tracy C.

    Tracy C.

    April 24th, 2015 at 9:35 AM

    I am sorry but these children became your children too when you married this man. When they are with you and they are in your home you should be able to love them like they are your own and discipline them like they are your own too.

  • Erika

    Erika

    April 24th, 2015 at 12:23 PM

    @tracy- I can’t disagree more strongly to your comment. As a therapist who works with blended families, I know that there is no “on” switch for kids to accept a new parent into their lives. Just because mom or dad chooses a new partner does not mean that the kids are choosing a new parent. These are relationships that take time. Respect, yes. Setting house rules, you bet. Assuming a parental relationship right away- and expecting that to be received because a wedding happened, that isn’t realistic.

  • Rico

    Rico

    April 24th, 2015 at 6:06 PM

    So what would one say if I tell you I raised him with his mom ever since he was three years old. Now he is fifteen & pretends as if I don’t exist????

  • Tracy C.

    Tracy C.

    April 25th, 2015 at 11:42 AM

    I disagree- with all respect! I guess my thoughts about it all is that maybe there shouldn’t even be a wedding until the blend has really set in. I am a stepchild so I know how hard it can be and I understand that you work with a lot of families in this same situation. But I think that when the boundaries and the relationships are not explored and fully established before the wedding takes place then there is always going to be trouble. Why is it unfair to expect that these kids are hers too? I wanted my dad to feel that way even though he was not my biological dad.

  • Erika

    Erika

    April 25th, 2015 at 7:13 PM

    @tracy c – I do agree with you that the boundaries and relationship expectations are absolutely best explored before the wedding. Often that doesn’t happen, and the assumption that a wedding = automatic parent doesn’t work in most cases and sets people (parents and kids) up for disappointment.

    There are many step parents who have “full” parent status and it works in wonderful ways. It just isn’t a given that marrying someone with kids will make you a parent in their eyes. That takes time and work and open conversations about expectations and roles. In the case of the original letter writer, it seems as if her expectation was that she would become mom because she married dad, and that expectation is what I was calling in to question.

  • Hunter

    Hunter

    April 26th, 2015 at 9:56 AM

    I really can see this from all sides. This is why I am not even sure it is a good idea to get remarried when your children are in that tween and teen stage. Date, have fun, but provide stability in the way that they need it and keep their best interest as your best interest for a little longer.

  • Julia

    Julia

    April 27th, 2015 at 3:17 PM

    In these situations I think that you both have to go in together on the same page about how you are going to handle every situation. I know that some of them you may not be able to discuss until they come up but I think that for the most part you can talk it over with your spouse and make those decisions very early on about who will handle what and in what way. Leaving it for the time after the I Do’s really isn’t an option when it comes to handling step families.

  • junior

    junior

    April 28th, 2015 at 4:46 PM

    Working with a good family therapist to help iron out some of the wrinkles that you all are facing could be a huge help.

  • Rico

    Rico

    April 29th, 2015 at 9:09 AM

    Hi Junior

    I think that is something I need to consider.

  • Maeve

    Maeve

    May 7th, 2015 at 3:47 AM

    So let him be the disciplinarian and you commit to being the cool step mom!

  • Rhonda

    Rhonda

    June 8th, 2015 at 12:45 PM

    What happens if he “won’t” be the disciplinarian and you are unable to live that way? Children not given chores while they are over or pick up their room before they go back to mom’s house?

  • Rico

    Rico

    June 10th, 2015 at 9:01 PM

    Hi Everyone
    In a recent thought I decided to gave a conversation with my stepson (teenager)
    I only asked questions re certain standards and was surprised he actually knew what they were.
    At that point I came to a realization that today’s kids step or biological are not able to predict the future like we as adults do a skills acquired over a period time hence the setting up if ones life in the way that you do
    The adolescent is not able to, so s/he embarks on a journey of self discovery & eventually learns what the consequences of certain actions are. Thus learning how to predict the future of certain outcomes.
    As adults/parents we had our turn. So my AHA moment was, leave him and only declare your support, love & friendship in time of confusion & distress. And let him on on his merry way.
    A bit fearful for the parent because you think will he make the right choices etc. Remember it is his journey. The only other thing you can do is check in every week to deliver hugs & find out how they coping.
    Hope this helps

  • Strong

    Strong

    May 4th, 2019 at 8:49 PM

    I have that problem! I married in to a one child family. The dad will NOT do any disciplining, and he says I am too strict!! I am on the verge of leaving because there is not order in the house. The child is in charge, and Dad is okay with this, and I am NOT!! I really need prayers! Any advice?

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