My boyfriend and I have been living together for 3 years now. We both pay bills, and he helps with household chores.
My 18-year-old son tends to believe that since he is not married to me, my boyfriend has no say in our home. He feels that my boyfriend cannot tell him or his brothers what to do when it comes to rules. My oldest son thinks it is his responsibility to discipline his siblings since he is 18. I do not condone it or feel that it's his job to discipline them. I tell my oldest son that it's better for him to give them advice than to tell them what to do.
As far as the younger children, they feel that my boyfriend has every right to discipline them and set rules in the house.
Am I wrong for having my boyfriend set rules in our home and does he have the right to discipline the younger and older child?
From: Theresa, Dallas
Even in a step-family where the parents are married and committed to each other, experts would tell you that it's better for the step-parent (whether step-mom or dad) not to try to discipline children not their own. The older the stepchildren are at the time the new family is formed, the more time it takes -- years, not months -- for the adult to gain the trust of the children, especially when it comes to imposing discipline. Since it sounds like your boyfriend has been part of your household only for the past three years, I can absolutely understand why your 18-year-old feels that your boyfriend is over-reaching if he tries to impose rules.
As the oldest, your 18-year-old filled the role of "man of the house," probably with your blessing, and now he feels usurped and unneeded by this (in his eyes) Johnny-Come-Lately. Plus, at 18 -- he's either a high school senior or already out of high school? -- he would be bumping up against any authority figure about this time. The younger boys are a different story. It sounds like they're hungry for a male authority figure in the house.
What would be really nice is for your boyfriend to let your 18-year-old know that he admires all he has done to be a big brother to the younger boys, maybe to even seek his advice now and then. I would try hard for them to have more of a collaborative relationship rather than for the boyfriend to try to be the boss of him. At the same time, I would encourage you to thank your son for all he has done and continues to do; that your boyfriend is someone you love and trust and that he (your son, that is) can relax a little bit now when it comes to taking care of his brothers. But I would not expect the boyfriend to set rules for your 18-year-old; that is something you and your son need to figure out together. You can let him know that you value your boyfriend's opinion and input, but I'd try to keep it between the two of you. That collaborative approach will make it far more likely that your son will end up seeking advice and counsel from your BF, rather than being in a constant power struggle with him.
When you ask if your boyfriend has the right to discipline your children, it sounds to me as if he does this without your wanting him to and/or without consulting with you. The worst thing you can do is just let things sort of drift along; that confuses everyone. You need to be clear with your boyfriend what is and isn't OK. If there are times when your younger boys are sometimes not responsive or respectful of him, it may be because they are getting mixed signals from you either about their relationship with him, or about your relationship with him.
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