How to Be a Good Step-Parent

Anyone who has taken on the responsibility of being a stepparent knows how challenging and difficult step-parenting can sometimes be. Depending on the ages and number of children involved, becoming a blended family and learning how to be a good stepparent to children not biologically your own can either make or break your relationship with your spouse, since statistics of divorce amongst second or third marriages don’t offer much encouragement.

Being a stepparent and dealing with stepchildren is not something you can just jump into and expect everything to go smoothly from the start. It takes a lot of work and effort to create a loving bond and build upon the relationship with stepchildren, and it will take some time for the children to accept and adjust to the changes in the family when mom or dad gets remarried.

Common problems with stepchildren include dealing with angry and hurtful phrases such as:

  • You are NOT my mother/father!
  • You are not the boss of me!
  • You can’t tell me what to do!
  • I don’t have to listen to what you say!
  • I don’t like you!
  • I hate you!

Let’s get real, shall we? While hearing such things from stepchildren can be very hurtful, it’s important to remember that regardless of the kid’s ages, children of divorce often fantasize about their parents getting back together and the new mom or dad has cut into the child’s plans of a reunited family. From a child’s point of view, the stepparent is an unwelcome outsider or interloper, often seen as a threat to any possibility of the biological parents getting back together, as well as feelings of jealousy about the amount of time you have with the child’s parent.

To make matters even worse, you may have an angry and bitter ex-spouse to deal with, and the ex may not be too happy about someone else parenting or disciplining their child. Disciplining stepchildren is one of the most common problems between stepchildren and stepparents, so you have a lot of work to do while raising stepchildren and dealing with stepchildren issues in order to establish and maintain a happy blended family.

A few questions you need to consider include:

  • How old are the stepchildren?
  • How long have you know them?
  • How long did you date the biological parent before getting married?
  • How long has it been since the parents were divorced?
  • How does the ex-spouse feel about you?
  • What is the relationship like between the child and the ex-spouse?
  • Will the stepchildren live primary in your home or the home of the ex-spouse? Or,
  • Will you primarily have the children during visitation weekends and holidays?

It is typically a lot easier to form a loving stepparent relationship with toddlers and elementary school-aged children, while becoming a stepparent of teenagers or grown stepchildren is by far the most challenging. Trust me; I know this from personal experience.

Anytime you start a new family dynamic like that of a blended family, there is always a period of adjustment, where everyone in the family (including your own children) learns each others likes, dislikes, house rules, chores, discipline methods, customs and traditions, which can sometimes become overwhelming for children and parents alike.

In order for stepchildren and step families to coexist with one another in a loving and accepting environment, the following guidelines and advice for parenting stepchildren may offer some suggestions you may not have considered yet.

How to Be a Good Step Parent

Re-marriage timing. Children need time to come to terms with and adjust to his or her parents being divorced, so it is best to postpone marriage or wedding plans until at least a year has passed since the divorce. Some couples decide to live together prior to getting married, and if that is your choice, you would do well to give the children a few months to become accustomed to the idea prior to hiring a mover.

Communicate with your spouse. One of the best things you can do for yourself and the entire family is to talk to your partner and make important parenting decisions before getting married. If you are already married, it is vitally important that you and your spouse discuss privately and agree on the various issues and problems associated with raising and parenting stepchildren, especially in regards to disciplining stepchildren, so you both can parent the children as a united team.

Have a family meeting. After talking with your partner or spouse about the various problems and issues that will likely arise between you and the stepchildren, it is beneficial to have a family meeting where these can be discussed with the children together. Here you can discuss what is expected from the children, as well as from you and your spouse. Discuss and explain the chores everyone is responsible for, as well as any consequences of misbehavior, and how disciplining the stepchildren will be handled and by whom.

Create and maintain mutual trust.
Let the children know that you are not taking the place of their biological parent, but that you are just another person added to the family that loves and adores them and their biological parent. Take genuine interest in the child and their activities; attend their after-school events such as dance recitals or football games, read to/with them, play games with them, being sure to plan one-on-time with the children without the other parent around. In order to gain their trust, you must take the initiative to show the child by word and action that you are trustworthy; kids and teens can spot a fake a mile away.

Disciplining stepchildren.
Deciding how to or how not to discipline stepchildren is often fraught with anxiety and stress for stepparents, with the typical phrases “You’re NOT my mom/dad!” and, “I don’t have to listen to YOU!” almost always becoming part of the child’s vocabulary at some point. The quickest way to ruin your credibility and authority as a parent in the home is to simply throw your hands up in the air and do nothing when a child misbehaves, so don’t allow the children to behave like they are immune to house rules while you are responsible for them. Uphold the agreed upon disciplinary actions with the children, without backing down, providing needed discipline in a loving, yet firm manner.

Schedule family time. Planning fun family activities with the entire family helps create new traditions, shared memories and experiences that help to establish a united and cohesive family. These activities don’t have to be expensive, and can include such things as bike riding, watching movies, playing games, doing crafts, going out to dinner, shopping, swimming and planning family vacations. The key is to have fun together, allowing you and the children to get to know one another on a more personal level, rather than being seen as the “wicked stepmother” or bossy stepfather.

Search out and participate in parenting support groups or forums like CafeMom, where personal stories and chaotic situations can be discussed with others going through much the same things, where other parents and stepparents can offer advice and suggestions on what they found works in their family. Be open to read helpful parenting books about being a good stepparent, as well as having the children read books about being in a blended family.

There is no magic pill for being an effective stepparent, but with patience, love and mutual respect, your blended family can eventually become one big, happy and real family.

Related Articles:

Children and Divorce: How to Tell Your Children About Your Divorce
How to Fight Fair in Marriage
Purposeful Parenting – Fun Family Activities
Summer Activities For Kids: Fun Summer Things for Kids to Do
Staying Connected to Your Teenager

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23 Responses to “How to Be a Good Step-Parent”

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  1. Jordan says:

    I totally agree. Jumping into an established family is a huge challenge. My advice is to take your time and try things out. Have an open discussion with the different family members about the important topics. Dont try to just melt in because that also can turn out totally wrong.. I have tried it, it did not go well ..

    • angie says:

      I have a situation where my fiance talks to his children as friends and even though he tell them that they should respect me and that I am the woman he want to marry, it doesnt’ work. He’s trying to burn the candle on both ends, and stressing himself and therefore me out. I just gave up my home, and moved my daughter and I to a house where we can all be under one roof. Its been 3 months and it seems as though its over. He has 3 other children.

  2. In my case, the ex-spouse has dropped off the face of the earth. His whereabouts are unknown. My stepson only knows that dad isn’t supposed to be absent. His grandfather and uncle have done what they can to fill the gap, but it’s not the same as having a father or stepfather around.

    The way I see it, when I married his mom, I married him too.

    Usually, the drama starts when I address undesirable behaviors (what child doesn’t have such behaviors… even the best ones). Rejection still rears its ugly head, except it’s not the kid doing the rejecting. It’s an erroneous belief that I’m rejecting him.

    It does break my heart because we do have fun together most of the time. He has the same cheesy sense of humor. The only biological connection we have is through my daughter and his half-sister. However, the similarities are eerie. One day, I said to my wife, “I’ve known this kid all my life!”

  3. Lin says:

    Elliott, it’s so sad when I hear about parents who just disappear and don’t participate at all in their child’s lives or provide for their needs in every way. I tend to refer to such a parent as a sperm donor rather than a father.

    It makes me smile to see so many men and women joining their lives with stepchildren who are loved and taken care of properly, sharing the joys and the woes, but all in all it can be a beautiful life for everyone. Good for you on taking wonderful care of your kids, and that includes your stepson. He’s obviously your kid too. :)

  4. Tira94 says:

    hi, i have a step dad that physical abuse me and sometime sexual harass me. I don’t want to tell my mom because I really don’t want to break up the family. To be honest I really hate my family. My mother never says I love you but instead I hate you to me, she call and say hurtful things to me, she ignore me along with my school work, she use to physical hit me till one day I threatening to call the police on her. To her she thinks getting me and my half sibling what we want will make us happy, well for my sibling it makes them happy but to me it doesn’t. My mom and I never communicated and when I try I even up getting yell at with an ugly look. My step dad, well I try hard to avoid him. I really really dislike my family along with my half brothers and half sister (their my step dad kids). When I was young I use to get beat alot and even now I get yell at and sometimes beat. My parents say I’m a devil child with no respect and destroys everything i touch or see..I don’t know if it is a good parenting or not but the way they disciplined me isn’t right I think.

    • kim says:

      Tira-sounds horrible. I lived in a foster home where i was loved but never valued. Then i was adopted with my two oldest sisters by a visually normal family. My oldest sister was the one who treated me like your step dad does. Then as time went on i decided to move out when i was a jr. in high school. My sister is still the taunter, my adopted family has burned all bridges with me, i have met my biological family who are nice but not mine… so now i am 40 divorced with two children of my own… my daughter is expecting and my son is bounced back n forth. I finally found someone who likes who i am as much as i lime who i am. I know this doesnt help you deal with the garbage you deal with every day… but know there is light at the end of the tunnel. Work for what is important to you…. watch the biography of Eminem… he is 3 days younger than me :-) but he too endured a shitty childhood…. and as an adult he finally can have a family … it may not be perfect… but its his. Sure he has issues with hisx wife… but he has a daughter who he tries to give n do better for … this is where i am in life… one day… you will too…. feeling the satisfaction of doing better than your parents did… thats the best feeling. Hang in there… it does get better. And you get to pick who you want in your life as you get older… so u r not stuck with people who try to bring you down. Sending u hugs to get u thru this tiugh time.

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