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The Dangers of Discipline

If there’s one thing that causes contention in stepfamilies and blended families (and even nuclear families), it’s the issue of discipline.


It’s hard enough to settle on – and stick to! – a correctional plan for your children in the best of circumstances. So, when those circumstances are less than stellar? It’s no surprise that disciplining children and step-children can be an uncomfortable topic.

The issue with discipline


Why is discipline a big deal? It’s got everything to do with relationships and timing.

Nuclear couples have time at the beginning of the marriage to form structures, values, rules and parenting styles together before kids are even part of the picture! Non-nuclear families usually don’t have that option. Instead, two (or more) families are thrown together, life is moved off balance and all the changes begin to get stressful. You can read more about the in-depth differences here.


There are several factors that often contribute to discipline issues in a stepfamily:

  • The biological parent has a previous relationship with their children that the step-parent does not have.

  • Partners may have different or conflicting ideas about discipline.

  • Partners have different experiences and expectations when it comes to parenting.

  • Some step-parents have no previous parenting experience.

  • Children are more likely to accept discipline from their biological parent, especially early on.

A vicious cycle: Gerrard and Howden’s Step/Biol Feedback Loop


In their book “Making Stepfamilies Work: A Course for Couples,” Irene Gerrard and Margaret Howden present the idea of a Step/Biol Feedback Loop, which is a problematic practice that can lead to issues with your marriage, partnership or family. But what exactly is this feedback loop?


Gerrard and Howden saw a common pattern among parents: the step-parent often perceives their partner as being too lenient, while the biological parents perceive their partner as being too strict. The problems really arise when each parent tries to compensate for the other’s style. In other words, the bio parent relaxes rules even further to make up for the strict step-parent – who becomes even stricter to make up for the increased laxity of the bio parent.


So, what started out as an issue of communication is now a feedback loop that is wreaking havoc on the whole family.


Recognising the struggle


It’s difficult for everyone in a family when parents are divided on the issue of discipline. Besides causing confusion and turmoil, such division can drive a wedge between you, your partner and your children.


But don’t despair! If discipline is a sore issue in your home, there are several things you can do to alleviate the issue. Keep an eye on our blog for future posts about how to handle the difficulties of discipline and other related topics such as our tips for forging better relationships with your step-children or some common questions you might have as a step-parent.


Have any experiences or stories about learning how to deal with discipline in a new family? We’d love to hear them!

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