Stepfamilies: When the Parent Doesn’t Parent (Part 2)

Stepfamilies: When the Parent Doesn’t Parent (Part 2)

WOW!! Part one of this topic sure got the fur flying, and inflamed some stepmoms.

So before reading Part two, let me set the stage for who should read Part 2 and who shouldn’t.

Resolving stepfamily issues often STINGS. It goes for the jugular. Wise, healthy solutions often make us squirm, angry, uncomfortable, irritable and cantankerous.

Believe me, I GET IT !! I don’t like it either.

However, my job isn’t necessarily to tell people what they want to hear. I’m called to share what I’ve learned to be the wise, helpful, difficult, sacrificial and successful steps that Jesus has taught me over the last 34 years as a stepmom.

If you are seeking information because what you are currently doing isn’t working, then this article is for you. Understand, that the solutions might be hard to hear at first.

And if you are a control freak, like me, you will resist the idea that I need to stop trying to control this. Trust me, there advantages to letting go.

In Part 1 I addressed the root reasons of WHY the parent struggles to discipline the child. Several responses revealed a desire to skip over that issue, and get to the solutions.

You must dig into the WHY

before learning the HOW. 

Imagine you are in a car accident and have fractured your femur, the strongest bone in the body. Do you quickly dash over to physical therapy, or does a surgeon need to set the bone in the right position, perhaps placing a rod in it first? The same is true of emotional brokenness. If we only seek a quick fix, instead of taking the time to repair what’s damaged, the problem and the pain will return.

So if you skimmed or became frustrated with Part 1, I recommend reading it again.

This is a very complicated issue that doesn’t have a “one size fits all.” (I haven’t found anything in stepfamily ministry that does.)

I have often spent many hours in life coaching sessions with a stepfamily couple so that they can obtain a grip on who, when and how to set boundaries with the kids.

In this blog I’d like to offer some starter tips that can help to launch a healthy conversation between the husband and wife. Understand, it’s a beginning, not a total solution.

1- Calmly sit down with your spouse and show him/her this blog saying, ” I now realize what we have been dealing with is normal. Stepfamilies often struggle with discipline and each spouse has a different view. I’m sorry if I have been too critical, abrasive, or pushy about your kids. Can we start over and implement some new ways to handle it?”

In other words, LAY DOWN YOUR SWORD. Your spouse is not your enemy. He/she merely doesn’t know how to do this–YET. Typically, this extension of the olive branch will invoke a sigh of relief in the parent.

2- Together review the root reasons I listed in Part 1. Your attitude, tone, body language and word selection can make all the difference in the outcome of this conversation. If your spouse feels attacked or belittled it will backfire. Calmly and without confrontation ask, “Do you think any of these apply to our situation? Do you think I/you/we parented well as single parents? Is it possible I/you/we didn’t set good boundaries, or parented out of guilt? ”

If the parent is stubborn and refuses to talk, address or admit what they may have done wrong, you have a completely different situation than a parent who is teachable and willing to learn how to change.  Dr Phil is right when he says,

“You can not change what you refuse to acknowledge.”  

Your spouse’s response will take you into one of three directions. If he/she is

  • Teachable and Willing: read the chapters 7 and 8 in The Smart Stepmom book entitled “Dad Smart.” (They work for either mom or dad)  Those chapters are specifically designed to aid the couple with this issue. We wrote them to address the complexities, and give proper steps and a foundation, for what and how to discuss discipline in a stepfamily.
  • Unteachable and Defensive:  You will need to share your feelings with something like, “I understand this is a sensitive subject. I am not accusing you of not being a good parent. I very much want to learn how to be an encouraging stepparent, but I can’t do that without your help. We are a married couple and we need to work together on these issues. Are you willing to see, or talk to, a professional who can guide us?” If the spouse says no, then you will need to learn what it means to step back.  There is a difference between stepping back, and stepping out. I post many articles on this subject on my FB page for stepfamilies. The Smart Stepmom FB page. 
  • Accusatory and Belittling: If your spouse is unwilling to listen to reason, totally defends his/her child, AND blames you for all the family stress, then you have a marriage problem not a stepfamily problem. This requires professional help or the marriage will likely dissolve. A marriage can’t thrive when toxic accusations, mistrust, and inflammatory actions continue to escalate and morph into emotional destruction.  I highly recommend Leslie Vernick’s web site and resources for this situation.

3- Join a stepmom/stepdad group that can help you to learn if you are being too strict with your spouses kids, or if he/she is too lenient. Attending a stepmom retreat will help you learn alongside other stepmoms who are also learning. For the next event click here

This should NOT be a group that merely commiserates about the ex spouse. But rather fellow stepparents who truly seek to grow in their role, and learn how to discern whether a situation is a “Hill to Die On” or something that you must overlook.

Remember, stepparents see the child through the lens of responsibility, “I want your son to learn what it means to be responsible for his actions.” and the parent sees that same child through the lens of love, “I want my child to know they are loved no matter what they do.”

Both lenses are beneficial and necessary. The problem is we often only see out of OUR lens and not the other.

Successful parenting and stepparenting occurs when God teaches us how to view through BOTH.

And HE CAN do it. I know because He did it for me.

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

To Learn more about the workshop below click here