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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17 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.

  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. You’re giving out harmful advice and are shaming mothers from their primary roles as a parent, which is to protect their child. Allowing a strange person your children didn’t choose to know, to discipline your child, WILL break their trust with you.

    My adult siblings and I have chosen to have limited contact with my mother, after she allowed countless boyfriends to “play” at dad for a few years at a time, subjecting us to emotional and physical abuse. They would come in and change everything, subjecting us to a very unstable childhood. She destroyed any chance at a healthy relationship with us, not because she was a bad mother, but because she did not protect us or put us first, when we NEEDED her too. Children grow up into adults, they won’t need you forever, but one day you might find yourself needing them… I hope you keep that in mind, when deciding if it’s okay to allow someone who has no investment in your child, to have so much power over them.


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