Q My partner of five months has never had children. I have an 8-year-old daughter. At first my daughter and my partner were interacting wonderfully, but that is not the case now. He has started to discipline her and it is driving a wedge between them. He now seems heavy handed and doesn't discipline out of love, but out of control. I want this relationship to continue and work, but I don't know how to broach the issue without making him feel like he's done something wrong.
A To be blunt, he is doing something wrong -- and so are you by not telling him he shouldn't be disciplining your child at this point in your relationship.
You have been dating only five months. That's not enough time for a new "partner" to build a rapport with a child where he will be able to discipline without resentment -- by parent or child. He's overstepping his bounds, but in his defense, he's taking his signals from you. You are clearly telling me what your boundaries are. You should be telling him.
It is important to note there are vast differences in how bioparents and bonus parents view discipline. First, as a generality, biological parents learn to pick their battles with their kids. Everything doesn't have to be a federal case, and they may have a tendency to simply let some things go. Bonus parents view this as "inconsistent" disciplinary tactics and often try to step in to compensate for what they feel is the biological parent's inconsistency. This is when you may
Second, it appears arguments between biological parents and their kids may be soon forgotten, whereas bonus parents view arguments with their bonus children as grossly "disrespectful." Respect is very important to bonus parents but often taken for granted by biological parents. Biological parents don't see arguments as a direct affront to their sensibilities. Bonus parents do.
Third, hugs, kisses, "I love you" and "I'm sorry" -- great ways to end disagreements -- are offered more freely to biological parents than bonus parents. Coincidently, they are also offered more freely by biological parents than bonus parents.
Bottom line, parents and bonus parents simply view child-rearing differently, and as a result their disciplinary tactics are very different. The key to successful discipline in a stepfamily is for both the biological parent and the bonus parent to get on the same page.
It may help to refer to Ex-Etiquette for Parents Rule No. 4, "Bio parents make the rules, bonus parents uphold them." That means the biological parent has the last word, but that word must be consistent with the morals of the stepparent or it will never work. Rules are somewhat different when both partners bring children into the relationship. Then, to prevent mutiny, parents must do their best to get on the same page prior to attempting to combine the families or things can get very confusing for the children.
There's more about this subject on the Bonus Families website, bonusfamilies.com, keyword: discipline.