When do I let my boyfriend discipline my kid?

by singlemomseeking on November 4, 2009

bbq_lettin_off_steam“I never got around to being a father,” I overheard the Lucky Guy saying to some friends recently at a BBQ at his house.

At that moment, I was coming around the corner with a big salad in my hands. Of course, I stopped mid-step to get the best possible chance at eavesdropping.

“So, now,” he added, “I get to experience a little bit of what parenthood might have been like.”

Whoa. Talk about wanting to just weep into that lettuce.

For the record, let me say that from day one, I made it clear to LG that I’m the parent. (Hopefully, it didn’t sound that harsh when I said it.) As you know, I’ve played the role of Mom and Dad very early on — even if wearing those Dad shoes doesn’t always come easy for me. Dating as a single mom for me has never been about searching for father figure for my kid. If she had been younger and I’d met my future life partner, this might have happened naturally. But today, expecting any guy to take on this role this would be sorely inappropriate.

That said, I’m honest about this: discipline has not been my strengths, and I work hard at setting boundaries. (I didn’t really grow up with many of them.) Sometimes, I’ll crack myself up wondering how it would feel to say something: “Wait ‘till your father gets home.” Ha. Just joking.

Still, nowadays, we’re all spending more quality time together — from sharing dinner to going on vacation — which means that LG is getting a real taste of parenting for sure. As you all know, kids are not puppets who follow the game plan all the time. So, while we all share many sweet experiences together, it’s not all maple syrup.

What I mean is: my daughter is feeling so comfortable with the boyfriend that she’s starting to push limits. Just this week, for instance:

I’d told her: “No more Halloween candy. You’ve already had enough.”

And what did she do? She went straight to LG and asked him if she could have a lollipop.

Until recently, this is what has worked in situations like the above:

LG says: “You asked your mother and she said ‘No.’ ”

But now that she’s older — and wiser — I see how my sassy kid is working. She might, say, wait until I’m  on the phone — and unavailable — to ask LG, so sweetly, “So, if I can’t have candy, then can I have some ice cream?”

Him: “Wait until your Mom gets off the phone. You can ask her then.”

Her: “Please, just a little?”

Him, shaking his head.

Her: “C’mon, just one tiny bit?”

You can see where there is all headed. So, I’m sure you have a lot to say on this one:

When is it appropriate for your boyfriend — or girlfriend — to discipline your kid(s)?

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{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

Julie November 4, 2009 at 10:40 am

You bet I’m throwing in my two cents on this one. It’ll be interesting to see what others say about this. :)

I’m a single mother myself and, though I have not been a part of the dating pool, I’ve put a lot of thought into discipline in general.

First off, I think it is appropriate for your boyfriend to discipline your child – IF that discipline is in line with your views and values. You’re Mom. This is something you and your guy need to sit down and talk about.

I feel that discipline from the boyfriend is okay because it is teaching valuable lessons to your child. Lessons about how to relate to others. Lessons about boundaries. Lessons about the world.

It is important that you trust your partner completely, otherwise conflict can arise. And the lines of communication with your child must be WIDE OPEN.

Above all else, trust your intuition.

Great post, great topic!

Julie
.-= Julie´s last blog ..Oct 18, Feedback is important but so is self-reflection. =-.

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MC November 4, 2009 at 10:52 am

For me, it totally depends on the type of relationship I have with my BF and whether he is “babysitting” for me or not.

Personally, I wouldn’t have a BF babysit after school for my kids, but I can see that in some situations that might happen. So if he’s a babysitter, I’d expect him to discipline the kids the same way a babysitter would—setting limits, telling the kids to quiet down or do this or that, eat healthy snacks, do their homework etc, and reporting back to me but not meting out any kind of major punishment.

Otherwise I wouldn’t let my BF discipline my kids unless he was living with us. Because unless he’s alone with the kids sometimes (& he probably wouldn’t be unless he was living with us) I don’t see any reason for him to do it and not me.

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Jamie November 4, 2009 at 11:01 am

Well I don’t have advice for other situations I only know what happened with us. When I met hubby the girls did not live with him full time. I was 23 and NOT looking to be a mommy. I just happened to love a man with two kids and a ex wife….

I decided early on I would NOT be a parent – I was just around and hung out and I don’t know did nothing….

Yeah you can imagine how long this lasted??? Not long at all. Especially since there was ZERO structure and ZERO discipline and I hate to say it but almost ZERO parenting….. I jumped in with both feet very early on.

It seemed to work out. I get compliments on the girls ALL the time now. How I am their saviour and how much people love having them around now. I guess people used to pretend not to be home or make up excuses not to see hubby and his kids because the girls were sooooo bad…..

Like I said this all could have went VERY badly thought and I wouldn’t actually go so far as to reccomend this course to anyone else.
.-= Jamie´s last blog ..Tally It Up Tuesday =-.

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singlemomseeking November 4, 2009 at 11:07 am

Wow, @Jamie, you sound like a bit of a hero here!

This is where it gets tricky, I think: the boyfriend/girlfriend can have every intention of just hanging out with the kids…. but being with kids just isn’t so cut-and-dry, is it?

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MindyMom/Single Mom Says... November 4, 2009 at 11:55 am

I read somewhere that it is never appropriate for a step parent (or S.O.) to discipline your kids (unless the other parent is deceased).

So what’s the solution for single parent households? It’s simple really; their job is to back YOU up and support YOU when you discipline your kids.

Kids are notorious for trying to team up against mom (or dad) but when you have someone in YOUR corner they are less likely to get away with it and then your own discipline is more effective.

Unfortunatley I’ve learned this by having just the opposite. My kids father undermines me as a parent which makes disciplining them more difficult than need be. As a result they often respond to me very dismissively like I have no authority whatsoever. The ex also allows his wife to interfere and she way over steps her boundaries. The kids have learned to play all the adults against each other cuz no one is on the same page.

I’m sure you will have a much easier time though. ;)
.-= MindyMom/Single Mom Says…´s last blog ..Red Flags & How to Spot Them =-.

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Katherine SOLO dot MOM November 4, 2009 at 11:58 am

Yes, great post – great topic; totally agree. I have already had this convo early on with Mr. M. and since he has kids and I have kids – most of the time we do our own “parenting” of them separately. But with being together more and more I know the issue is going to arise where one of us has to step in to say “something” if the actual parent is preoccupied in the moment. I try to keep my words generally broad – not discipline per se’, like, “I don’t know if you dad would approve of ‘so and so’, do you?” And on that same token – if it is in line with my methods and strategies of so called discipline I would want Mr. M to do the same with my kiddos. He could step in to draw some line until I could bring my attention back around to what was going on.

With my kiddos being older this issue will probably not be as big as it is for other couples who are talking disciplining toddlers, I realize that… so I agree that you have to discuss this at length with your partner before anyone ‘sticks their foot in their mouth’ or oversteps an unseen boundary.
.-= Katherine SOLO dot MOM´s last blog ..Environmentally Conscious Kitchen Cleanup & Contest! =-.

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singlemomseeking November 4, 2009 at 12:24 pm

Thanks @Solo Dot Mom! To me, the word “discipline” means “to educate.”

So, it might not mean laying down the law, per say, but as you point out: encouraging your boyfriend’s kids to think about what’s right (i.e., “I don’t know if you dad would approve of ’so and so’, do you?”)

@Mindy Mom: thanks for this re: it’s the boy/girlfriend’s “job is to back YOU up and support YOU when you discipline your kids.”

Fortunately, LG is doing that pretty well….

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Bonnie November 4, 2009 at 12:38 pm

I must disagree with almost everyone’s comments except for Jamie’s. I have a lot of experience now in merging homes with children in similar ages to M. Every home has rules and expectations. If LG is going to be a member of your home (and a home you will make together one day) and be respected you need to empower him to enforce the rules and expectations of your home. Plus, there is no time like the present to start discussing with him what the rules and expectations should be for a potential home for all you. This will greatly reduce stress later and get you both on the same page early on. Plus, you actually one day may not be around all the time when he is and he needs to play the role of disciplinarian just as much as you do. Otherwise, M will think of him as always being the good or easy parent. And later when she brings friends home with her they need to all know that he needs to be listened to and abided by.
Otherwise all the parenting work will always fall to you. if youa re going to be true partners and make a life together then it needs to start at home! Ask any of us who are remarried and the hardest thing in the first year is “setting up house.” Forget furniture and plates. think about how your home runs, how you make decisions for your family, expectations, dinner time, bed and homework routines! It is soooo important to talk about your values, expectations for your child and each other. And not just short term-talk about things like would you give your kid a cell phone, texting at the table, curfews . . .think long term. LG may surprise youw ith some his answers and you might surprise yourself!!!!
Kids need to get used to the idea of being part of a family unit that does not just revolve around their needs anymore. There will three or more of you one day that will all need to live together in some type of harmony. And everyone in a family needs to have a voice and role.
So important for LG and M to build a relationship that she can understand has respect, trust, love and boundaries! She will later like that she has a man to turn to that truly filled a role of parent and partner to her mom.
Our girls really do understand that Guns and I agree on discipline and respect the other one’s decisions when both of us are not around. Building a home and a family is a hard process, but so worth it! I’m sure LG would like to feel that he has a role in a potential family that he can help build and be a part of entirely.

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singlemomseeking November 4, 2009 at 12:50 pm

Wow, @Bonnie, I was hoping that you’d chime in. Thank you.

I’d love to know if other remarried parents agree with this:
“Ask any of us who are remarried and the hardest thing in the first year is ‘setting up house.’ Forget furniture and plates. think about how your home runs, how you make decisions for your family, expectations, dinner time, bed and homework routines!”

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Erica November 4, 2009 at 12:55 pm

Oh wow – this is a tough one. I’ve never gotten to the point of dating & discipline, so I don’t have any experience on the matter. But I guess I would hope that the boyfriend wouldn’t be a pushover. I’ll definitely keep checking back for replies!
.-= Erica´s last blog ..No Pumpkin Pie for Me, Thank You =-.

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Michele November 4, 2009 at 1:04 pm

For me and mine, it is never appropriate for my boyfriend to discipline my children. He does not live with us and he has never had any children. He has no experience in that area and in my opinion that makes him ill-equipped. His views are that of a drill seargent (much like his own father) and my views are nothing like that. As you said early in this post … “I am the parent”
.-= Michele´s last blog ..Silver Diner =-.

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lovebabz November 4, 2009 at 1:18 pm

Discplining children isn’t about being a villlain, nor it is about denying them freedom. It is about structure and consequences for decisons and actions made that go against expectations. I do not shy away for m discpline becasue I want my children to grow up with a sense of how to handle themselves and think critically.

My Man and I have had long and serious talks about what my ex and I do in regards to discpline, rewards and priviledges. He has added to the discussion and is on the same page. It is our intention to provide a UNITED front. If you do not have a united front with children you run the risk of children playing one parent against the other and that certainly includes the boyfriend/girlfriend.

Before any disciplining can be doled out…there needs to be a conversation between the adults.
.-= lovebabz´s last blog ..LOVETALK RADIO SCHEDULE NOVEMBER 2009 =-.

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BigLittleWolf November 4, 2009 at 2:00 pm

I’m with Mindy Mom on this one. You’re rules go; his role is to support you. If he disagrees, he should discuss it with you offline, and then you can present a united front.

Hopefully LG will be in your life a long time, but there are no guarantees of anything. You’re the consistent voice; you’re the parent. Period.
.-= BigLittleWolf´s last blog ..Techno-rescue (kids kick butt!) =-.

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newsingledad November 4, 2009 at 2:58 pm

Spending time being the “boyfriend” before we moved in together, got married and had kids of our own, I got to be on the other side of this question. When do you discipline, teach, comfort, allow, deny, feed, change, or do any other zillion other things that kids require on a regular if not constant basis.

Just by saying, “wait till you’re mother’s off the phone” he IS disciplining to a point. So the question isn’t when should I let him, but how far should I let him go. I’ll admit there was a lot of trial and error as we all learned what was ok and what wasn’t, and I made a lot of mistakes, missteps, and blunders in trying to go from single guy to parent in 1 easy lesson. But I watched how their mom did things, and said to myself lots of times, “what would she say right now?” They’re all adults now and we all have a good relationship, even with their mother living on her own.

The important thing, in my opinion, isn’t “allowing” or “disallowing” discipline, but keeping an open channel of communication on what how to best relate to the kids within your boundaries. It’s important for the kids to see the SO as having some level of authority to make decisions, preempt unsafe activities, and for fostering mutual respect.
.-= newsingledad´s last blog ..Maine… and Marriage =-.

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Honey November 4, 2009 at 3:02 pm

I don’t really think of the example you gave as disciplining – I think of discipline as the consequence for when the child breaks the rules. So I think enforcing the rules that you have (as LG did) is fine, but that if she’d eaten a bunch more candy anyway (let’s say) that he couldn’t send her to her room or ground her or whatever, but just tell you what she had done.

And that’s how I’d respond if I were the non-parent dating someone who had a child:

Child: “Can I have more candy?”

Me: “If you go against your mother’s wishes, then I’m going to have to tell her about it. What do you think the consequence of that will be?”
.-= Honey´s last blog ..Keeping it Real vs. Playing the Game =-.

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Mike November 4, 2009 at 3:10 pm

Wow what a topic. Besides what I would expect a teacher or some other adult that would be responsible for my son to do, I would say never. I also wouldn’t let anyone else borrow my car cause I know I couldn’t handle it in a healthy manner. For the amount of time it would take me to get to that level with a person my son would be an adult. I would say I just want them to back me up on what I set down. Not very evolved I know, but it’s the best I can do.
.-= Mike´s last blog ..Behind the 8 Ball =-.

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amy sue nathan November 4, 2009 at 3:29 pm

I think all adults have a responsibility to keep kids safe. I’d expect LG to scream at M if she stepped out into traffic – it’s an instinct – he shouldn’t not help just because you’re there. But in ordinary circumstances I believe (because I’ve seen it) that kids resent non-parents who are given the ability to discipline along side a parent. Even if LG becomes her stepfather, I’d say even if you don’t like it, discipline will always be your job alone.

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Samantha November 4, 2009 at 4:42 pm

I’d like to add two things to the conversation:

Though you may not be looking for a father figure for your daughter, she has already found one in Lucky Guy. This is why she is turning to him to ask a question she just asked you. She sees him as having say in the family, as being close enough that she can start to manipulate him they way she does other family members. This should be addressed with all of you as a family. Who is Lucky Guy to her, to you, who are you both to him…that may help clear up roles and who can step in where.

2nd, I’m a “it takes a village” person. So my friends and family all step in and discipline my son. They know my beliefs and don’t cross those, but as long as they are within my realms they are allowed to discipline. If they do something that I don’t like, I address it with them when my son isn’t around. They can do the same. So I think if you boyfriend is spending time regularly with you and her, then he is part of the village, and it takes a village to raise a child….
.-= Samantha´s last blog ..Missing KG =-.

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Jessica November 4, 2009 at 6:53 pm

I know it was hard for me with my step-mom. I’m not even sure if it was the whole “she’s not my mom” stuff. It just felt weird. But then there was a time when things started to change, I felt like I was supposed to listen. I honestly think it should depend on the kid.

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Crazy Computer Dad November 4, 2009 at 7:20 pm

Lets just say that if a little girl came up to me and asked for anything, if it was within my power, she would have it. Probably a good thing I didn’t end up with a girl or girl(s). Seriously, if you saw me you swear I had lost my mind. My girlfriend has two boys and that is probably a good thing.

Not that I know anything about it, but the things I have read from people that do generally state the discipline should come from the biological parent, especially at this stage. It is important to have a good set of ground rules for the adults to operate off of, but infractions should generally be handled by the biological parent. My feeling is that if the non-biological entity (NBE-1) sees a violation the parent doesn’t, then NBE-1 probably needs to let the parent know. You don’t want NBE-1 and the child teaming up against the parent. The child needs to know that the two are united and can’t be divided and conquered (which is how it should be against all challenges, or maybe that is too romantic thinking?). Probably not absolutely everything needs to be punished, but you can’t blame a prisoner for wanting to get out of prison, er, a child wanting to get away with something.

I’ve made the mistake of trying to discipline in the past and it doesn’t go over well at all. :-)

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singlemomseeking November 6, 2009 at 10:12 am

@CCDad: You are something else with that “non-biological entity (NBE-1).”
Need I say more?

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love November 4, 2009 at 8:34 pm

The moment you two become one seems the moment you give him the right to discipline your kid too. Just discuss the matter to him first. I’m he’ll understand and you’ll produce a well educated child.
.-= love´s last blog ..Love Letter =-.

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Phil November 4, 2009 at 9:42 pm

I agree with Honey – you’re example is too easy. He was just reinforcing your rules. If he didn’t do that, I doubt if you would still be seeing him. The issues come in when the child breaks the rules and the parent isn’t right there. Does he have the right to punish M without your consent, or does he have to go get you?
I don’t know the answer. Since you aren’t living together, I would say it would be up to you – unless you were gone for a significant amount of time.

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Aunt Marge November 5, 2009 at 5:21 am

It has been a while since I jumped in, but here I am to reiterate Bonnie’s advice. You know I adore LG and know he has good common sense.

COMMUNICATION is the key. You both have to decide together where you are comfortable with M’s discipline. Also, Rachel, you are speaking from your viewpoint. Give LG a chance to express to you where he is/is not comfortable in these situations.

I have seen M “push” with Grandpa. Of course he is a bit of a “pushover”, but I am pretty sure that you are comfortable with his decisions with M when you are not around. And in that regard, Phil makes a great point of when you are not there. It is one thing when you are there, but what about when you are not?

So there are two men in M’s life – both of whom have not only your, but M’s interest, close to their hearts. TALK AND TRUST. You have been given no reason not to.

With much love.

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QTMama November 5, 2009 at 8:40 am

This is a great topic SMS.

As for me, I can only go with what I know – my background. My mother remarried and my stepfather was very much involved in our discipline. He never took a side role in anything, and even became friends with my real father. The three of them, as my dad never remarried, would often confer on my actions when I was younger, the need for punishment, the dangers I was going to be facing as a teenager, etc. And my mother was just as actively involved in my stepbrother’s life, in the exact same way.

To this day, it almost … I dunno, pains me to write or use the term STEP for either of them. Because I believe that the STEPs being so actively involved with me and my brother is how we made what we were, into a family.

I hope that one day it’s the same for me and my girl too.
.-= QTMama´s last blog ..Things I Love About This Blog =-.

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singlemomseeking November 5, 2009 at 8:27 pm

@Aunt Marge (for anyone who’s wondering, she’s a true, blood-related family member! For real):

You know that I ALWAYS appreciate hearing your thoughts. LG keeps joking with me about starting his own blog “from the other side”… and I hope he does! In the meantime, I’m doing my best to listen.

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Business Cards Printing November 5, 2009 at 11:54 pm

Interesting. In my opinion, I guess it depends on the kind of relationship your child and boyfriend have. It will be quite shocking for the child if the boyfriend is disciplining him and they are not close. I must say that the boyfriend must respect the way you discipline your child also. He must always consider the values you want to instill.

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Andrea November 6, 2009 at 10:12 am

This is timely. I was talking about it the other day with my boyfriend, who is a single dad, and who argued that if/when we move in together I should let him be a little less strict with my daughter than I am. My response was NO. ABSOLUTELY NOT. (I’m not super-strict by any means but he is a pushover with little girls, like Crazy Computer Dad.)

Imagine a house with three sets of rules: one for the mom’s daughter, one for the dad’s son, and one for the kid they have together. What a mess! There needs to be consistency and a united front between the parents for how things will be for all children when they are in that home, and both parents need some ability to enforce it. Otherwise, oy, just imagine the resentment and hurt feelings and games played–completely unworkable. Imagine the mom with her daughter and the dad’s son at dinner b/c the dad is working late, and they are both being rude and arguing and, what, she can only tell her daughter to stop? She ahs to wait for the dad to come home to deal with the son? Or her partner’s son and their joint kid out shopping, and the partner’s son starts poking their kid in the eye. What, you can’t tell him to stop because his dad’s not there, even though your kid’s getting hurt?

Even if you and the LG are not planning to add kids to the household, if you ever do set up a household he needs to have some authority, I think. I’ll echo previous commenters and say that you need to talk this out, come to an agreement, and be able to provide a united front to your daughter.
.-= Andrea´s last blog ..The Tale of Butterdrops =-.

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singlemomseeking November 7, 2009 at 1:44 pm

@Andrea: Great to hear from you, Mama! Wow, that’s interesting: your boyfriend is asking you to be LESS strict? That’s because he has different rules for his own son? Have you two come up with a united front? Indeed, I’m learning that’s what is key…. thanks.

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Andrea November 9, 2009 at 9:46 am

Thanks. :)

Yeah, he wants me to let him be the softie. I am not so keen on that prospect, especially when I’m already trapped unwillingly in that dynamic with the Ex. It’s a pretty complicated situation (his little boy lives in another country, so wouldn’t be there often) and it’s early days but good, I think, to talk about this stuff from the beginning.

Good luck to you!
.-= Andrea´s last blog ..The Tale of Butterdrops =-.

Sarah November 8, 2009 at 8:33 pm

I am a newly married step mom to three kids. I have been “disciplining” the kids since early on. They are kids! They need to be corrected, regardless of whether it’s the parent, teacher, babysitter, etc. Besides, if I didn’t discipline while we were dating, how would I expect them to automatically respect me as a disciplinarian from Day 1 of marriage? That would be awkward.

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singlemomseeking November 9, 2009 at 1:21 pm

@Sarah: Thanks for pointing out that very often, we DO let other adults discipline without giving it a second thought: teachers, babysitters, grandparents. So true.

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Lolita November 9, 2009 at 11:02 pm

I’m not in a serious relationship right now and have yet to introduce any men I’ve dated to my young sons.

BUT, I can say, that I can NOT stand that my ex-husband’s fiance disciplines my children based on HER rules. My ex-husband and I agreed to a method of parenting — and I would expect that anyone I decide to bring into my sons’ lives to back up that parenting style. By trying to enforce ‘new’ rules or methods of discipline, I think just confuses the children involved AND creates more of a headache for all.

So, yes, if I get into a relationship where my S.O. moves in with my sons and I, I would expect him to have a part in discipline when necessary. But I would make sure it’s in line with how I’ve been raising my kids and supportive of my methods. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be there to begin with.

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NewSingleTweenMom March 24, 2010 at 10:57 am

Wow! This is my first visit to this blog and the comments have been unbelievably helpful to our current situation. I’m a divorced mom with 12 & 10 year old boys, I’ve been seeing L for over a year, and my ex just moved out of state (custody battle almost complete). My ex began manipulating our 12 yr old with lies and attempting to turn him against me 6 months before he left. Now I am left to clean up his mess-a disrespectful, deceitful 12 yr old. It has been an uphill battle since his Dad has been coaching him on how to slip things past me. It’s a frustrating situation for L to sit back and watch. We don’t live together, but are committed to staying in it for the long haul. Marriage just isn’t the best plan for us now with all the changes the boys have gone through recently.

Like I said, this info was a huge help as we have been discussing what exactly his role should be around here. He’s watches them occasionally and helps out with the household chores. After reading these comments, our plan of action will be for him to support me and back me up. (i.e. “Please don’t talk to your Mom like that.”) I think it would backfire for him to hand down any punishment right now, but he can certainly let his feelings be known. I think it will help build up the respect he deserves. Being not-the-dad and not-a-friend is a difficult place to be.

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Rix April 23, 2010 at 5:49 pm

no problem with boyfriend who gives limitation with your child, it shows care and love BUT boyfriend should know their limits too..

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