Q: My partner of five months has never had children. I have an 8-year-old daughter. At first my daughter and my partner were interacting wonderfully, but that is not the case now.

He has started to discipline her and it is driving a wedge between them. He now seems heavy-handed and doesn’t discipline out of love, but out of control. I want this relationship to continue and work, but I don’t know how to broach the issue without making him feel like he’s done something wrong.

A: To be blunt, he is doing something wrong — and so are you by not telling him he shouldn’t be disciplining your child at this point in your relationship. You have only been dating five months. That’s not enough time for a new “partner” to build a rapport with a child where he will be able to discipline without resentment — by parent or child. He’s overstepping his bounds, but in his defense, he’s taking his signals from you. You are very clearly telling me what your boundaries are. You should be telling him.

It is important to note that there are vast differences in how bioparents and stepparents view discipline. First, as a generality, biological parents learn to pick their battles with their kids. Everything doesn’t have to be a federal case, and they may have a tendency to simply let some things go. Stepparents view this as “inconsistent” disciplinary tactics and often try to step in to compensate for what they feel is the biological parent’s inconsistency. This is when you may hear the “You’re not my parent!” comment from kids. Kid reasoning? “I’m in trouble for something you think is a big deal — not my parent.”

Second, it appears arguments between biological parents and their kids may be soon forgotten, whereas stepparents view arguments with their stepchildren as grossly “disrespectful.” Respect is very important to stepparents, but often taken for granted by biological parents. Biological parents don’t see arguments as a direct affront to their sensibilities. Stepparents do.

Third, hugs, kisses, “I love you” and “I’m sorry” — great ways to end disagreements — are offered more freely to biological parents than stepparents. Coincidentally, they are also offered more freely by biological parents than stepparents.

Bottom line, parents and stepparents simply view child-rearing differently, and as a result their disciplinary tactics are very different. The key to successful discipline in a stepfamily is for both the biological parent and the stepparent to get on the same page. It may help to refer to ex-etiquette for parents rule No. 4, “Bio parents make the rules, bonusparents uphold them.” That means the biological parent has the last word, but that word must be consistent with the morals of the stepparent, or it will never work. Rules are somewhat different when both partners bring children into the relationship. Then, to prevent mutiny, parents must do their best to get on the same page prior to attempting to combine the families or things can get very confusing for the children. There’s more about this subject on the Bonus Families website. Keyword: discipline.

Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of “Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation,” and the founder of Bonus Families, www.bonusfamilies.com. Reach her at:

[email protected]