Stepdad’s discipline getting in way of family bonding

Q: What’s the best way for a stepparent to form strong bonds with a stepchild? I recently married a wonderful man. He’s kind, but firm with my three children and plans to adopt them. Unfortunately, my preschool-age son has had a hard time warming up to him.

Jim: Having struggled as a young stepson myself, it’s easy for me to view the situation through your preschooler’s eyes. A new man has suddenly moved in, taking up a lot of his mother’s time and attention, which once belonged to him. To make things worse, she’s actually been seen kissing and hugging this guy – yuck! And to top it all off, this man is now telling him what to do and punishing him when he misbehaves.

The problem can be even more challenging if there hasn’t been consistency in setting limits with your kids. It’s not uncommon for tired and busy single moms to be somewhat lenient with inappropriate behavior. If your new husband is a firm disciplinarian, your son probably isn’t going to like it.

I’d encourage your husband to spend lots of special one-on-one time with your son. Sincere demonstrations of warmth and love are critical for your son right now. I’d also suggest that your husband go out of his way to praise your boy when he behaves well instead of simply punishing him when he acts up. In other words, he needs to make an intentional effort to “catch him being good.”

At the same time, you may want to complement what he’s doing by firming up your own disciplinary techniques. Don’t put your husband in the position of having to play the “bad cop” all the time. Do what you can to take up some of the slack and give him a chance to appear in a more positive light.

Our counseling team would also be happy to offer further help. Please call them at 855-771-HELP (4357).

Q: I’m intrigued by something I found on your website, a downloadable “Family Constitution” regarding media decision making. But before I try and get my clan to sign such a document, can you further explain why I should?

Bob Waliszewski, director, Plugged In: My wife and I never assumed our two children would automatically keep practicing wise discernment once they left home. But because we believe there’s something powerful about committing to something in writing, we decided to use a “Family Constitution” to help guide us with entertainment decisions. And much to our delight, it’s stayed with them as adults.

Since you’re considering the possibility, let me walk you through our family’s signing time. It wasn’t an elaborate ceremony. There was no torch lighting, no drum roll; just a simple (and relatively brief) time together. With all of us gathered around the dinner table, I expressed the desire that as a family, we’d all pledge to be God-honoring in our media choices. Everyone agreed, and after reading the document aloud, we each took turns praying about our commitment. Then we signed it. It was that simple.

Looking back, I’m convinced it paid dividends. Not because we all got goose bumps and left with some emotional high. But because it was the right thing to do and everyone took it seriously. Much like the Old Testament practice of setting up a stone memorial, the power of this pledge is in the visible reminder of the signed document and its commitment to mutual accountability. You can find a copy on our website at


Finally, let me encourage you to not wait for your children to demonstrate great enthusiasm for the idea before moving ahead. If you lead kindly, confidently and by example, they’ll get on board.

– Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at or at