That headline could easily include step parents, but I ran out of room. The gist of the question remains the same: Should your significant other, who is not your child's parent, be allowed or encouraged to discipline your child?
Rachel Sarah at Single Mom Seeking brings up the issue, now that her boyfriend is becoming more of a fixture in her and her daughter's lives.
"I’m honest about this: Discipline has not been my strengths, and I work hard at setting boundaries," she confesses. But, "my daughter is feeling so comfortable with the boyfriend that she’s starting to push limits."
This is something I face constantly as a step parent. It happened a decade ago, when we were just starting to try to find our blended-family footing, and still happens now that our oldest girls are teenagers. What do you do when a child you love, a child you're raising -- but a child who isn't "yours" -- is pushing limits?
I think the answer depends on how you define "discipline."
In my case, I was (and am) comfortable with sending the big kids to their rooms. I'll correct manners, enforce our household rules, separate squabbling siblings, set time outs, revoke privileges, confiscate toys. But spanking? Personally, I've never felt comfortable about spanking my step kids (or even yelling at them). I'm not shirking my parental duties, and I am certainly no surrendered wife, but if harsher punishment needs to be meted out when my step kids with us, it seems like that should be up to their dad because, well, he's their dad. I'll back him up, I'll support his decision, but the decision is still his, not mine.
I also think the answer may differ depending on whether the significant other is male or female. Step dads are often lauded as heros for "saving" the single mom in distress and "taking on" her kids; few people blink if a step dad has to lay down the law. Step moms, though? Our authority is always in question, if not by the kids, then by other adults. I think there are far fewer single dads out there wondering if their girlfriends should have a hand in disciplining the kids.
So what do you think, parents? Is it ever appropriate for your significant other to discipline your child? And how do you define "discipline"?
Lylah M. Alphonse is a Globe staff member and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day and blogs at Write. Edit. Repeat. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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