NORMAN — Q: What is the role of a step-parent in parenting teenage stepchildren? My 19-year-old stepson moved in with us several months ago and is disrupting our marriage. He does what he wants, when he wants, and there are no consequences. How does one deal with a child that age when he refuses to follow the rules of the house?
A: Contrary to the advice given by most mental health professionals, even Dr. Phil, the proper role of a step-parent is to be a responsible parent, with all the privileges and authority pertaining thereto. The operative word is the noun, “parent,” not the prefix, “step.” The same applies to the word “stepfamily.”
I was raised by a stepfather who acted as though when I was in his home, he was my father, a person with full authority over me. He was not a step, someone to be walked on. I benefited from that, even though I did not like it at times.
My mother, to her inestimable credit, never interfered in his discipline of me. I benefited from that, even though there were times when I didn’t like it. When it came to my stepfather, my mother did not enable disrespect or disobedience. He certainly benefited from that, but I benefited even more. Our family worked better as a result.
The problem in many, if not most, of today’s so called stepfamilies is that the step-parent is effectively disempowered by the “real” parent. Therefore, the children do not have reason to respect or obey the step-parent. In these families, the emphasis is on the prefix “step.” I think it is significant that you didn’t mention your husband but certainly implied that he enables his son’s disrespect of you and disregard of rules by imposing no consequences on his provocative, narcissistic behavior.