Q: What is the role of a stepparent in parenting teenage
step-children? 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
A: Contrary to the advice given by most
mental health professionals, even Dr. Phil, the proper role of a
stepparent 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
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 benefitted
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
benefitted 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 benefitted from that, but
I benefitted 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 stepparent is effectively disempowered by
the "real" parent; therefore, the children do not have reason to
respect or obey the stepparent. 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.
It is your husband's responsibility to straighten out this young
man, to let him know that he does not have permission to treat his
wife with anything but the utmost respect. Is your husband willing
to do that? Is he willing to put his foot down and tell his son
that it's either his way or the highway? If he's not, then I am not
going to pull any punches here: he's lost his spine. But if so, he
is in the company of many equally spineless men who value their
relationships with the children of their first marriages over their
relationships with their current spouses. And by the way, this
indictment is not limited to male parents. There are plenty of
mothers out there who will not let their step-husbands discipline
children that are not "their own." The question becomes: Who are
these people married to anyway?
In my estimation, a 19-year-old who disrespects a stepparent and
will not follow the rules of the house should find his own house
... tomorrow, if not sooner. While he is away, change the locks,
put his possessions on the front stoop, and pin a note to them
wishing him well in his new adventure.
Come see John in North Carolina in
Hickory, NC - Christ United Methodist Church
Saturday, Nov. 3 (8:30 a.m. - 3:30 p.m.)
Burlington, NC - Brookwood Church
Sunday, Nov. 18 (2:00 - 5:00 p.m.)
here to view John's calendar and here to invite him to your
Or contact Jessica Lalley at 404-858-4816.
Family psychologist John Rosemond is on a mission to help
parents claim loving leadership of their families. He's known for
his sound advice, humor, and relaxed, engaging style giving talks
weekly to parent, church and professional organizations all over
the map. John is syndicated in approximately 225 newspapers
nationwide and has written 15 best-selling parenting books,
including his latest, Parent Babble, How parents can recover from 50
years of bad expert advice.
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