Why your boyfriend gets a say about how your kids are disciplined



I often hear from moms who complain:

“My boyfriend doesn’t like how I discipline my teenagers. That is so messed up — what does he know about teenagers! His kids are in GRADE SCHOOL!”


“My boyfriend and I fight all the time about how I raise my kids. Makes me crazy — they are my kids, he needs to mind his own business.”

Both of these are wrong. Here’s why:

  1. Kids are not Smurfs or Northern hairy-nosed wombats. Kids are human children. There are billions of them. Your boyfriend was a kid, and he knows other human kids. He is familiar with their habits and species, and because he, too, is a human he has opinions about their behavior and rearing.
  2. If you tell your significant other: “You do not get a say in my family,” you are telling him: “You are not part of my family.” You are telling him that he does not matter and you will never fully commit to him.
  3. His relationship with your kids is limited. Part of an adult-child relationship is the grown-up laying down rules and issuing consequences for the kid. Restrict that, and the bond between your boyfriend and kids is restricted.
  4. You’re a control freak. Disciplining kids is just one more goddamned thing you have to do. Why would you turn down an opportunity to outsource that to a willing volunteer?
  5. You’re unwilling to compromise. Yes, at the end of the day, you are the parent and he is not. You get final say. But if you are to have a future with this guy, he must also have a say in how things go down in your house. If you draw a hard line in the sand he is never allowed to cross, nothing good can ever come of that.
  6. Telling others that you are the only person qualified to discipline your kids is a symptom of the canonization of motherhood that oppresses women. In other words: Yes, being a mother is important and fulfilling work. But there is not a whole lot that you can offer your kids that someone else can’t do every once in a while. And if you buy into the notion that you and only you can nurture your kid, then you buy into the culture that tells women that they are bad moms for working outside the home and having sex with men who are not their fathers — just like that nice guy who wants to give your bratty toddler a time out.


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Emma Johnson is a veteran money writer, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, REAL SIMPLE, Parenting, USA Today and others.

The Kickass Single Mom: Be Financially Independent, Discover Your Sexiest Self, and Raise Fabulous, Happy Children (Penguin, 2017), was a #1 bestseller and was featured in hundreds of media, including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, Oprah.com and the New York Post, which named it to its ‘Must Read” list.

Her popular blog Wealthysinglemommy.com, and podcast Like a Mother, explore issues facing professional single moms: business and career, money, sex, relationships and parenting. Emma regularly comments on these topics for outlets such as CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine, Woman’s Day, The Doctors, and many more. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” one of “20 Personal Finance Influencers to Follow on Twitter” by AOL DailyFinance, “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and “Most Eligible New Yorkers” by New York Observer.

A popular speaker on gender equality, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality.

Emma grew up in Sycamore, Ill., and lives in New York City with her children.

20 thoughts on “Why your boyfriend gets a say about how your kids are disciplined

  1. I realize your posts are meant to be provocative to drive page views, and I don’t often disagree with your articles, but this one misses the mark completely. My boyfriend does not get a say in how I discipline my kid, and not because I’m a control freak or unwilling to compromise. My boyfriend does not get a say because I am the parent, he is not. Period. (Similarly, I don’t get a say in how my ex-husband disciplines our kid, because at his house he is the parent and I am not. Period.) My boyfriend can talk to me about how I discipline my kid, try to understand or question my disciplining style (in private), or engage my kid in a moment of misbehavior based on the discipline rules I have set forth, but he doesn’t get to make rules. He’s my boyfriend, not my kid’s dad, not my kid’s mom.

    I am not saying “you are not a part of my family and never will be and I cannot commit to you.” Please. That is absurd. He ISN’T a part of my family! Until such time as he is, which might be marriage for some or living together for others or long-term commitment in some other way, he is a wonderful friend who sometimes spends time with my family.

    This is not a “women don’t let anyone do anything” issue. This is not a “women are infantilized by their own stupid choices” issue. This is a “my family, my rules” issue. We can talk about how those rules are enforced or why I choose the rules I do, I am even open to ideas, but no one but me (in my house) makes the rules about my kid.

    1. Fair points, Rachel. But how does that work … on the day after you’re married the now-stepdad gets a say in family rules, and not a moment sooner?

      1. Kinda, yeah. There are “house rules,” and “family rules,” and “parenting rules.” And school rules, dentist office rules, while driving rules, etc. We have lots of different places with lots of different expectations, and different people creating the boundaries. Once I am sharing a household with someone, we collectively make household rules. But, I’m still the parent, and I get to make the parenting rules, within reason. If my boyfriend became my partner in a long-term sense, I would rely on him for advice, comfort, support, and lots of other things, but I wouldn’t rely on him to “make the rules.” We would be a team, but I’m the captain *in this one area*. There is lots of research that the best role for a step-parent is that of caring adult, like an aunt or family friend, who enforces the rules as they are set out but does not create their own, nor does the disciplining. For kids that have two active, loving parents in their life, a third person coming in and taking over that one specific role (rules/discipline) could easily feel like a burden, a “stealing away” of the loving parent role. I don’t think it is a good idea.

    2. Well said!!!!!!!! Why do we open one door for a yet to be outsider to have more power to hurt us when they decide to leave? Totally agree with you.

    3. Frankly, if I were with someone who felt that way, I’d never get so far as the marriage bit. As a mother I won’t bring a man I’m not serious about around kids and I won’t exclude a person who is important enough and trusted enough to be around my kids from being a part of that discipline chain. Later, after never letting him do anything, I could find out he’s awful with discipline, that resentment has built up between him and my kids or any other host of issues that would negatively impact a healthy relationship. As a man, I’d leave. I’d view it as a woman who sees her children as belonging to her… Patently negative in my personal view. My children never belonged to me, they belong to themselves, I am simply charged with providing the guiding hand and support as they evolve into adults. I would never allow a man to posses me, I would not allow a woman who sees motherhood as possession to take part in rearing my kids. There would also be the control issue, I see possession as controlling…. Would she always draw a line between me and the kids while expecting me to fulfil the supportive role to her? Would she always view me as an outsider? If she left, would she cut off contact with these kids I’ve supported, sacrificed for etc? Could I trust this woman with my own kids? Would there be favorites or unequal treatment between “her” kids, and any following? At what point does trust happen? Clearly not when she thinks your good enough to introduce to her kids, after all if you get attached your going to pay the price If she dumps you. Combining families is hard enough without trust issues from day one.

    4. Sorry Rachel we must agree to disagree. I am the girlfriend of the man with children. I absolutely should have a say. As you are correct, they are not my kids, however how they are brought up:raised:turn out so to speak, will have a direct IMPACT on my future, my partners, and our life together.
      For example, my BF is loving and kind but is not a DOER in the parent department.. and the mother of the child is meek, in a codependent controlling relationship, stays at home and offers no guidance… Since I’ve come into the picture, the child is now in counseling (was getting suspended often for ager management), is in outside activities (this has increased his self esteem);he is loosing weight due to my rule that we do an outdoor activity every weekend (prior too it was vide games and TV.. he was bullied due to his weight etc)… Every situation is differemt maybe your just super know it all parent. I know their YOUR kids, however you can’t ask someone to LOVE your kids and go all in, but in the end their mine. It just doesn’t work. In my situation, I’m with a man that is wonderful in every other area but lacks in parenting skills… Do I walk away because I can’t parent his child or do I invest further by helping the child and my partner.

  2. Erm. I’m a married mom who also has stepkids (now grown and independent) that I acquired when they were teens, so, BTDT.

    I’m of the “our household, our rules” school of home management, so if your kid is in my house, then I get to discipline them (and vice-versa, i.e., if my kid is in your house …). If you’re another adult and you’re present in my house, then you get to enforce my rules, but you don’t get to make your own rules (nor do I, in your house), though we each get a certain amount of latitude to apply what we believe are common-sense rules because, well really, how the heck else is stuff going to get done? If I disagree with you about a rule you’ve applied in my house, I’ll let you know, but probably not in front of the children unless I *really* disagree with it. This extends to my husband, too (and him to me), i.e., we back each other up even when we disagree with each other. Though of course we spend a lot of time together so it’s no surprise our son does know there are places where we disagree (DH is much more relaxed about screen time than am I, for example), but DS also knows that if one of us has said, “Thou shalt … ” in any given moment, the other will defer to whoever set that application of a rule in the first place.

    As an aspiring and then actual stepmom, I set and enforced almost no rules of any kind. My stepkids were/are pretty decent responsible human beings, but my perception at the time (and now) was that having me come into the scene and start bossing them around wasn’t going to be productive for anyone. Mind you, as they were teens, they could more or less be counted on to do many things and/or to accept the consequences if they didn’t (i.e. if you didn’t do the laundry, don’t complain to me that you don’t have clean clothes). Clearly this would be different with younger kids, but I wouldn’t have dreamed of creating new rules or new enforcements even then — only of applying existing ones. Mind you, had my DH’s kids been unmanageably unruly (at any age) I don’t think I’d have wanted to have a serious relationship with him. But that’s really a different issue.

  3. How about extending these rules to the Stepmom too?

    10 years in this family (my stepkids have had 95% of their lives with me as their co-parent) and my stepkid’s ex uses her “golden uterus complex” as justification to chew me out at every turn!

    And she claims her husband is ALSO beholden every single bullet point you outlined!

    1. I’m so sorry, I’m so very very sorry. That’s so unfair. For you to have to support her in all that implies while being a secondary party to the children is awful…. At that point she’s saying she wants a paycheck for her kids, not a father. That’s a very unhappy marriage I’m sure, and I’m sure your very torn at moments. Just as I’m sure your hurt at times in that lack of trust, the constant put downs as unneeded for anything other than giving her what she wants for those children, insensitively reminding you that no sacrifice will be enough to be enough in her eyes. As a woman, I apologize for such unhappy and negative behavior and hope in the future things change for the better. Your an admirable man to stick by her, without fully withdrawing at the very least. It’s hard to love when your always put in such a situation.

  4. I also highly disagree with feeling you have to make a “boyfriend” feel like he is a part of the family. If he hasn’t committed to marriage, he is NOT family yet. I recently ended a two year relationship with bf who constantly overstepped his boundaries with my girls, 7 and 11. My girls are great students, involved in activities, and respectful kids. He grew up with “hardline” discipline and has raised his 14 year old daughter that way. She is a great kid and is used to his method of parenting. But my kids are used to MY parenting, and their father’s. To walk into someone’s life and try to alter everything about the way a household is run is EXTREMELY disrespectful to the parent. It must be something mutually agreed upon and if someone can’t respect that the biological parent takes leadership of their own child, that’s an issue. Never ONCE did I step in and try to change the way he handled his daughter. She is his daughter and that is his right. Bottom line, a person needs to find a partner they can trust to behave appropriately around their children. And don’t ever let someone tell you that you are parenting “wrong.” If you’re getting notices from teachers, bus drivers, friends’ parents, etc, you may want to look into your parenting, but if there’s not a problem don’t let someone make you feel like there is.

  5. Thank you so very much for this. I really, really needed to hear (read) all of the above. Since my boyfriend has met my children and has now moved into our home with us, I’ve found that parenting has been the one thing we suddenly argue about and it STRESSES me out! Here I am feeling all self-righteous thinking, “Who does he think he is?” and “What does he know, he doesn’t even have kids?” – I really needed this little slap in the face. We’ve decided to have a life together, to be a family (hence the moving in) and I am completely barring him from taking a role that he WANTS! I thought I would never find a man willing to father my 3 kiddos, the children of another man – here I’ve found him and I’m pushing him away.

    Anyway, thank you very much for bluntly stating what I so badly needed to read.

  6. It takes a village. I let the school, other moms, friends, etc disapline my children (10 and 11). If you are taking about the means in which you enforce the disapline, that is another story (i.e. No one spanks my children). However, we teach children to respect the elders by allow anyone older than them to impart their wisdom. Sometimes that is in he form of correcting behavior.

  7. I am really struggling with this issue, my boyfriend seems very keen to play an active role in family life and I welcome the support but I really struggle with his criticism he literally launches an attack on me the moment my boys do anything that warrants discipline because he feels I do not deal with anything effectively, I would to some extent have to agree I do struggle there are 5 bots 14, 13, 11, 8 and 3…but he dishes out such heavy insults often in the earshot of these children that I crumble it all leaves me feeling even more incapable than I already did :( it always leads us to argue and me asking him to leave resulting in him saying I side with them.. ?? Getting quite frustrating. He states he doesn’t feel involved or accepted or wanted but it’s only been 9mths we don’t live together and it really feels a bit overwhelming

    1. Boys not bots, I am divorced, losing my father and doing an degree I can’t cope with what feels like being bullied into parenting a different way right now

  8. I am 31 Y.O mom with a 15 Y.O. son, my bf is 27 and he has his own child of 5 y.o from a previous era. Long story short, we have been together for a few years now. I’ve never met his son and i guess i may not for a while, due to the “wonferful” stories he has shared about him and his sons mom. It’s not crazy baby mama drama, but more being spiteful and keeping him from his child. Moving along, my son never met his real father and just being honest probably won’t, not saying he doesn’t love or know about him, I guess he choose his path, and I made mine. I love my son, and I love my bf I just don’t know what to do. My BF is a go getter, motivated, spiritial, funny, and very urban. My son likes to stay home, book worm, for a lack of terms nerdy. Star wars deep space nine guy, story is there very different people. I know my son he’s like me, the authority figure, demanding type doesn’t get threw to us, he’s not shy but very reserved. My BF had a more urban street lifestyle. The type of life that make a some men super tough but also versatile when he needs to provide for a family, being handy cutting yards, painting houses things that he say boys need to toughen them up. That’s cool I love that he’s a hard worker but my son shows no interest. My BF gets overly frustrated because he feels my son will be lazy, I just feel he’s coming in way too strong, but he says he’s not going to be soft with him…. ok 1 place we can’t seem to agree on. My BF also disliked my son staying in the house, he expressed he should interact with the kids in the neighborhood. I agree, but the kids in the neighborhood are misguided and my son can’t seem to relate. So he stays inside. My BF claims it’s how we all were raised, two different side of the tracks type situation, he didn’t have a supportive cast behind him, and I understand that can change a person to have more drive because they had to rely on themselves, but I feel he doesn’t have to force that on my son. He should see who he is and work with him instead of demanding this child live the same way you did because your a boy and that’s what boys should do! I know my son needs more edge to his personality and I also feel it would be good for him to get out of his shell. At what cost though? It’s to the point that my bf is starting to say things like he feels disrespected because my son doenst attempt any suggestions he gives, im always hearing about why is he in the school he’s in the people that go there aren’t the right people he should be around, oh my it doesn’t end…. how he don’t like my son, and he couldnt have a kid with me because I’ll have him like my son, lazy and don’t do nothing, how he can’t wait to have his son back to show me how much his son will be better than mine because he’ll get to parent the way he wants and his kid will have to listen. Oh my right? Yes and to make it worse my unwonderful mother tells him the day they met and I quote, he never has to worry about my son that’s not his job. Nice mom way to go your not my hero! I am all for this is our puzzle family, and I have given him the okay to discipline my son because I see us growing more than what we are now, i know i cant go to my parrnts method of raising children, my folks aren’t great teachers and my siblings and I aren’t doctors and lawyers so I know there ways wasn’t the best so im trying my own way. My son makes good grades, very talented, caring. I just dont think that my bf sees the good in him, that he’s not that super tough kid, or the Daddy Mac because he should be knew deep in girls. My son like a girls it’s not his main priority, i mean isn’t that what most mom’s want, a kid with his head in a book instead of a girls legs… it’s just been so frustrating because my son hasn’t brought a report, progress report. Now this has been an issue where last minute after Xmas certain subjects are not up to the standard I know be a capable of, and I have to take back gifts for punishment. My BF is CONSTANTLY nagging im too soft on him and he needs more discipline, he’s pull in the wool over your eyes. I get angry with my bf for making me feel like I can’t be a parent, my own mother from day 1, still to this day, makes me feel like if without their help he wouldn’t have made it to 15 or something. Always undermining my every decisions, over over protective, and at the same time making me feel I was never a parent to begin with. So not only having to fight for custody of a single mothers right to get OWN CHILD, but also an unfit parents because my bf feels im not. He says he was a 15 Y.O boys once so he knows what my son is thinking. He offers to my son advice whenever he has a question about anything even if it’s Hw. but my son doenst reach out to him. They have each other’s numbers, he told my son they will work out this summer. I was excited, ha my bf said he told him once and that to call him on the weekends so they can workout. So apparently my son never called, and Bf never attempted again… me in the middle. I want to make my son go work out he needs it, but bf says don’t because he wants to see if he will make an attempt. You 2 idiots, I know my son it’s going to go do anything unless some science is involved and my bf because he’s 15 you really think he wants to sweat or work in the summer… so because of situations like that I am in this rutt between a rock and a hard place. I just want us to have an understanding that all of us can agree on, im really tired of feeling in between. It’s my son I love him, but if 18 comes and he decides to never stay home lol im alone. I just want them to get along I want my bf to feel apart of our family as well as my bf understands he can’t just demand quick results, my son and I have been alone for a long time, he’s not used to this and I just don’t want anyone resenting anyone because of anything, I’ve tried talking and listening. The only thing I think will work is giving mf BF what he wants…. but I know what to do it’s just getting his stubborn mind on board. Maybe im taking the wrong approach?

    I have been torn for a very long time.

  9. You cannot discipline someone elses child! You do NOT love them the same as their own parent. How can you come into a child’s live at ages 8,9 or 14 and expect them to follow the new rules? You will get rebellious kids! Don’t do it. I was abused by my step-father, my mothers boyfriend used to abuse me and it turned into rape at 10. I thought what he was doing was right and I never told my mother because she allowed him to take control. You should be in jail if you allow it.

  10. Emma is correct here.

    When the boyfriend/girlfriend/stepparent doesn’t get a say on how they are raised, then don’t expect them to spend any time or money on them. Responsibility and authority are a package deal.

    Also, if the bf/gf/sp has his/her own kids, and/or if you have one together, they obviously get a say on how THAT kid is raised, so now you have two different sets of kids with different sets of rules in the same house. How does that work?

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