Stepfamilies: When the Parent Doesn’t Parent (Part 1)

Stepfamilies: When the Parent Doesn’t Parent (Part 1)

“I’m about to lose my mind,” stepmom Sandi roared.

“I love my husband, but he is driving me crazy and so are his kids. No matter how often I ask, or how nicely I plead, he refuses to make his kids behave. They are allowed to leave clothes, toys and food all over the house. They have no accountability with electronics and can watch TV, play games and use their phones until all hours of the night. The nonstop fighting, punching and kicking each other is over the top. If I try to correct them, or bring any order to our house, they ignore me because my husband wont back me up. I don’t know how much longer I can live like this.”

“He has no problem yelling at my children for the slightest mistake. But when it comes to his kids—anything goes.”

Sandi is experiencing one of the most common issues facing today’s stepfamilies. And it’s not just the dads who don’t parent the kids, mom often won’t do it either.

And the parent has unknowingly set up the stepparent to be viewed as a bully, or the villain, if he/she attempts to instill mandates or instruction into the madness.

First, we must address the WHY of this situation.

After the death, breakup or divorce of the original family the parents often have a difficult time implementing and maintaining discipline. This is true because everything has radically changed. The two parent home has now become a single parent home.

And VERY FEW people take the time to learn how to become a stable, healthy, unmarried parent before moving on to a new relationship.

If you are dating someone with kids ask yourself these questions: Does he/she know how to set good boundaries with their kids? Do they implement a consequence when the child disobeys? Does he/she parent from an emotion of guilt, shame, or instability?

If the answer is NO, to any of the questions, do not make a commitment to this person until they willingly learn how this is harming the child, and will sabotage your marriage.

    And even more significant do not assume it will change after you are married, or that you can/should become the disciplinarian.







This is very hard for a stepmom to accept. especially if she is a control freak like me.

Here are the common reasons why unmarried parents don’t discipline:

• The child is only in the home periodically
• The parent may be grieving the loss of the marriage and child
• The parent may feel guilty that the child is suffering
• Single parents are often exhausted, it’s easier to just give in.
• The amount of time the parent has with the child is limited
• The ability to constructively parent has been diminished due to two homes
• The discipline structure may be very different in the other home
• The parent may be angry or frustrated that he/she has lost control over the child
• The former spouse may be sabotaging the relationship between parent/ child causing the parent to want to “win the child.”
• The parent often fears the child will not love or miss him/her anymore creating a “need to please” as opposed to parent.
• They don’t seek out resources or classes to teach them.

If a parent doesn’t address these issues, and learn how to become a healthy, stable, balanced, wise unmarried parent, he/she will bring HUGE problems into a remarriage.

THIS is the key reason why stepfamilies struggle.

Everyone wants to blame the ex-spouse, or other birth parent, for blended family combat. And sometimes that is accurate.

However, if the parent will choose to learn what’s necessary to become a structured, sensible parent, and he/she knows how and when to set boundaries and consequences for his/her former spouse and kids, things will go smoother in the next relationship.

Many men and women step into stepfamily living with one of two thoughts:

• “Whew, what a relief. Now I’ve got a spouse to help me get these kids in shape. He/she will teach them how to behave.” OR

• “I know we don’t have much structure in this house, but we do all right. They are great kids even after all they have been though. They need to be able to relax and have fun while they are here. My spouse will be OK with that.”

Oh really…..?

This is when the battle begins.

The parent feels stepparent is too harsh. The Stepparent feels parent is too lenient.

Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Often, it’s both.

Next Blog Part 2: Practical steps on how to tackle the parenting dilemma in a stepfamily home.


Copyright © 2018 Laura Petherbridge. All rights reserved.
Laura Petherbridge is an international author and speaker who serves couples and single adults with topics on stepfamilies, relationships, divorce prevention, and divorce recovery. She is the author of When “I Do” Becomes “I Don’t”—Practical Steps for Healing During Separation and Divorce, The Smart Stepmom, co-authored with Ron Deal, 101 Tips for the Smart Stepmom and Quiet Moments for the Stepmom Soul. Her website is

For details on her upcoming Stepmom Retreat click here