Step Parent Discipline

Dear April,

step parent disciplineI am really between a rock and a hard place. I have been divorced for a year and a half.  Six months ago, I established a new relationship with an old childhood friend.  We have known each other for years so we know we are compatible.  Everything is great in our relationship and we are planning to be married at the end of this year.  The problem is my ex-husband. 
 
My fiancee spends a great deal of time with me and the kids and he is around, (obviously) many times when the kids misbehave.  I have given him my permission to discipline them according to our household rules, which includes spanking. My ex-husband has let me know in no uncertain terms, that if he finds out that my fiancee has touched our kids, he will bring in the police.  The children are 4 and 7 years old and I do not agree with this. 
 
We rarely have to resort to spanking, but lately my son has been acting out.  He recently went home and told his father (ex-husband) that my fiancee (soon to be step-dad) had given him a spanking. Of course, he forgot to mention to his father why he had been punished.  While I was out, apparently he pushed my fiancee’s daughter (5 years old) off the porch.  She wasn’t hurt very badly, but she did have some scrapes and scratches and was very upset. 
 
step parent discipline
 
This definitely fits the bill for a spanking in our house and I don’t have any problems with my fiancee disciplining the kids when I am not around.  I know he is not going to abuse them and he is probably more of a softie than I am when it comes to discipline. I am likewise allowed to punish his daughter as I see fit but again, this is a very rare occurrence. What do you think about step-parents spanking and/or disciplining their step-children? Does my Ex have any lawful recourse? Any thoughts from your other single mom readers with be great.
                                                                                                                 ~Maggie
 

Hi Maggie,

You are absolutely in a difficult situation.  The first thing I’d like to address  is the threat of legal action from your Ex-husband since research is  showing that he may have a leg to stand on.  Let me preface this by  saying that we here at Single Mom Weekly are not attorneys and cannot  offer legal advice specific to your situation.  Any advice we offer is based  on personal opinion and/or public information that is readily available to  the general public.  With that being said, the subject of childhood  discipline  in and of itself is a highly controversial subject.  When step  parents become involved or really in your case, he is not yet a step  parent,  things can get pretty ugly really fast. 

Since you didn’t mention your state in your email, I will tell you that  Louisiana law is fairly vague.  While RS 14:18(4)  allows for what is  commonly known as reasonable corporal punishment (discipline) of a  minor by their parents, tutors or teacher, it does not mention any other  authority figure.  Depending on your state of residence and maybe even  the state where the incident occurs, (if your Ex lives in a different state  from you) the rules maybe different. 

step parent disciplineIf you are allowed in your state of residence to delegate to your fiancee,  your parental authority to discipline, there still may be issues if he leaves  marks or bruises on your child.  There is a fine line between child abuse  and spanking and that line is in a different place for every parent.  For  example, while researching for this article, I came across many parents  that felt it perfectly okay to slap their kids across their faces.  Personally, I  do not agree with this for a biological parent not to even mention a  non-biological parent or other authority figure.  As you can see,  this gray  area could quickly get out of hand. 

To be perfectly honest, having your fiance spank your children is probably  not worth all the potential legal hassles from your Ex.  More importantly,  inciting more animosity between you and your ex will be detrimental to the  kids that you co-parent. One easy way to deal with this is to simply sit  down with your ex and decide on different levels of punishment for your  children.  This way, the house rules will be understood by kids and  parents  alike.  When the kids misbehave, there will be no questions,  surprises or fear.  They will already know the consequences and be ready  to face them from whomever.
 
I want to emphasize that this conversation should be between you and  your ex-husband, only.  While I understand that you are engaged and  expect to be married in the near future, until your finance is legally your  husband and the legal step parent of your children, he should not get a  vote.  Even after you are married, there will need to be a conversation  between the three of you so that everyone is on the same page when it  comes to disciplining the children.
 
step parent discipline

After numerous interviews with moms at different stages of life and relationship statuses, the consensus is that physical punishment should be reserved for the biological parents.  I think this is the best recourse simply because allowing your fiancee to spank your kids will only make them fearful of and resentful toward him.  Having to adjust to living away from their father while becoming accustomed to a new adult authority figure in the home is a lot for them to deal with.  Introducing the anxiety of a strained relationship between the three most important adults in their lives will only create more drama and hassle that I’m sure you don’t want or need. 

Please keep in mind that there are many other forms of very effective discipline which use positive alternatives to spanking. I hope you will take a minute to consider other discipline options available.  A great deal of research has been done on this issue and many countries that have outlawed corporal punishment for childhood discipline show lower rates of interpersonal violence relative to the U.S. (Durrant, 2000). 
 
While every parent has a right to discipline their child as they see fit, all of us have the responsibility to keep ourselves educated on the best recourses that yield the best possible outcomes for our youth.  I encourage you, our single moms, and all parents to read and find out more at The Center for Effective Discipline at StopHitting.com
 
What do you think, single moms?  Let’s hear some more feedback on this very important matter.  Share with us on our Facebook page @ http://facebook.com/singlemomweekly or on our  website @ http://singlemomweekly.com/step-parent-discipline.
 
Reference:  Durrant, J. E. (2000). “Trends in Youth Crime and Well-Being Since the Abolition of Corporal Punishment in Sweden”, Youth and Society. Youth and Society, Volume 31, 437-455.

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