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After your North York divorce lawyer has finished his or her part in shaping your new life, you might decide to put yourself back on the market. Eventually, you might get remarried (just about half of all Canadians say they will remarry after a divorce)… and your new spouse might have kids. While you might have kids of your own, step-parenting is an entirely different ballgame.

On the other side of the coin, your kids might eventually gain a new step-parent. Dealing with another adult in the mix of your family dynamic can be a challenge for the most even-keeled parents—particularly when it comes to discipline.

When You’re the Step-Parent

Your North York divorce lawyer gave you the green light to move on, and move on you did. Now you find yourself acting as a fill-in mom or dad to your new partner’s kids. Like most kids, they enjoy testing limits and boundaries (and they’re really, really good at it).

Where do you draw lines in the sand? Can you—and should you—attempt to discipline them?

Most psychologists suggest sitting down and talking to both biological parents before you even enter the picture. If you and your partner skipped that step, don’t worry. You can still have a discussion about your expectations of them and discover what they, as parents, expect from you.

Generally, aligning yourself with the kids as a trusted ally is the best tack. Let them know you support them, but that you also support the choices their bio-mom and bio-dad have made; if that means the TV gets turned off at 9 p.m., you sympathize with their unhappiness and turn off the TV.

When the kids test your boundaries or break a house rule, let them know their behaviour isn’t acceptable. However, don’t discipline them yourself. Doing so can create a rift between you and them, or worse, between you and your new spouse. Let their biological parents handle the actual discipline.

When Your Ex Remarries

It’s not unreasonable to expect your ex to remarry. Talk with your ex and his or her soon-to-be spouse to outline your expectations when it comes to discipline. Make it clear, right from the beginning, that the step-parent may never physically discipline your children. (If you suspect your ex’s partner physically disciplines your children, call the police and your North York divorce lawyer right away; physical discipline by a non-parent is never acceptable and may be a crime.)

Be realistic, though. Don’t expect your ex’s new spouse to put up with disrespectful or hurtful behaviours like name-calling or blatant disregard for house rules. Ask them to defer discipline to your ex and to you, but to speak up when they’re uncomfortable with what the kids are doing.

Conflict is Inevitable

Realize that you’ll run over a few bumps along the way. Everyone has different parenting styles and different rules, so you might be surprised at conflicts that arise. Although a little conflict is okay, extremes are bad; call or email your North York divorce lawyer if you and your ex (or you and your ex’s new spouse) can’t see eye-to-eye on anything when it comes to the kids. Your lawyer might be able to refer you to a professional counsellor or therapist, or in the worst scenarios, might be able to change your custody agreement so it reflects the children’s best interests.

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