When should the significant other start disciplining the kids?


37425418 - serious parents discussing parental guardianship before divorce

Many children’s pastors have approached me with questions about when other people in a single parent’s life should discipline the kids. Children’s pastors and other volunteers who deeply care for the kids want what is best for the children in these families. Many times, we hurt for kids when we see a little boy who needs a father figure and a teen girl who needs to connect with a mother figure. Consider these two examples.

Single mom with two young boys

Carol was a young single mom with two little boys. She didn’t want to be single. She didn’t know how to manage things. Her boys were out of control, always running through the house, fighting with each other, talking back to her, and getting in trouble at school. She struggled to get over the divorce from her high-school sweetheart.

Then someone asked Carol out. Frustrated with life and alone with her boys, she was elated. It wasn’t long until she turned the discipline of her sons over to her new boyfriend.

Single dad with a tween daughter

Eli was a middle-aged single dad with custody of his ten-year old daughter. He struggled with her moodiness. He didn’t know how to approach her about various issues because she always had her face buried in her phone. Her grades were slipping, and she was getting calls from the school counselor.

He became friends with a nice lady at church who had two teenage daughters. Her girls were polite, straight-A students and treated their mom with respect. Eli had invited this lady on several dates, and recently, she and her daughters had gone out to eat with him and his daughter. Eli was considering asking his new friend to talk to his daughter and help him discipline her.

Why single parents struggle with discipline

Disciplining children by oneself is difficult for many reasons. A single parent might have been married for several years and consulted the other parent about issues, and together, they made decisions about how to handle various situations. Now, the parent has no one to help him decide. He has no one to bounce ideas off. There is no one to say, “Hey, don’t you think that’s a bit harsh?” Or, “Seriously? You are letting him off the hook? Don’t you think there should be some kind of consequence?”

Single parents struggle with discipline for other reasons as well.

  •      Some single parents feel sorry for their children, so the parents are lenient.
  •      Some single parents are too harsh because they don’t want the child to turn    out like their ex.
  •      A few single parents become vindictive toward the child because the child looks or acts like the other parent.
  •      Many single parents are simply exhausted and just don’t have the energy to make the kids behave.
  •      Many single parents are simply clueless about how to discipline the children.

Single parents are on 24/7 and many for 365 days a year. They have no break and no one to help discipline the children. That is until Brad (or Sheila) enters the picture—you know, that one person who makes them feel all giddy inside.

The single parent begins to develop a relationship with this person, which progresses quickly. They are falling in love, so the parent thinks that the child will love the other person, too.

Why this is not a good idea

Allowing a person whom the child barely knows to discipline him may cause the child to develop hostility toward that person. If the relationship between the single parent and this other person should grow, and they get married, family life will be filled with conflict.

Another point to keep in mind is this child still has another parent. Although the two parents might have divorced, the children have not. Children want and expect their birth parents to be the ones who provide them with direction and teach them the life skills they need.

If the other parent allows his significant other to discipline the kids, confusion reigns in the children. Too many people telling kids what to do and what not to do can cause high stress levels.

In short, no one should discipline a child until he has a relationship with the child. This requires getting to know the child, learning about his likes and dislikes, finding out how the child feels about various things, and learning to laugh and have fun together.    

Here are suggestions to share with the single parent’s “significant other” to help him start developing a relationship with the child:

  1. Do not use the terms “good boy (or girl)” or “good job.” These are not descriptive and don’t mean much to a child.
  2. Make a point to simply notice what the child does and comment on the action. For example, “You set the table for dinner without your mom asking. That was helpful.”
  3. Tell the children what you want them to do, not what you don’t want them to do. For example, instead of saying, “Don’t leave the basketballs all over the house,” say, “Put the basketballs in the box outside.” This should be said in a matter-of-fact voice.
  4. Do not tell a child what he is doing wrong. Let the parent handle those issues.


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2 thoughts on “When should the significant other start disciplining the kids?

  1. I agree that the “new” significant other, whether you marry them or not, will never really replace the other parent, unless that child was very young and never knew the other parent. Most children are still in contact with their other parent, don’t really understand the “new” situation, still look to the other parent for discipline and see the newcomer as a wedge in their relationship with both their parents to a certain extent, if they are old enough. I agree with allowing the parent to do the parenting. Certainly the significant other should have input if they are married, but not in front of the child or in their hearing. They should tell the child what polite behavior they expect of them with regard to themselves and others but they should not discipline them. That belongs to the parental relationship. They should always show support of the parent in the relationship with the child. They should seek counseling when necessary and realize that blended families don’t come easy.

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