Being a Stepparent: What You Need to Know to Make It Work

Being a Stepparent: What you Need to Know To Make Them Work

I’ve done a lot of hard things. I’ve run a marathon (well, technically a ‘fun run’ but it did require running shorts, running and sweat so I stand firm on ‘marathon’); I’ve given up sugar (not gonna lie – worst 2 hours of my life) and I’ve travelled (‘Middle East, solo, broke with a backpack’ travelled, not ‘may I take your bags Madam? The lift to the 34th floor is just past the atrium’ travelled).

Being a step-parent is up there with the hardest. My stepchildren are adults now and even though the fog has cleared, I still claim that it’s one of the most difficult things I’ve done.

From the outset, there are things about a stepfamily that would likely hint at trouble if they happened in a biological family:

  • Another person (the other biological parent) has a hand in some of the big decisions that affect your family – the way the kids are raised (which will always have an impact on your home), weekends, holidays, family rituals, rules. Though you will have a say, there’s a third person who is invested and who will potentially want to be heard.
  • The alliance between the parent and child in a biological family is potentially stronger (understandably) than the couple. In a biological family, both parents have an equal say and big decisions are made by the couple. In a stepfamily, matters to do with the child will often be between the biological parents, or the biological parent and child. Potentially, the step-parent will have less influence in decisions that impact the family and the individuals in it.
  • The step-parent is an outsider. There are years of shared history, memories, connection and experiences between members of the biological family that the step-parent will never be a part of. Of course, there is great potential for the stepfamily to grow into something new and wonderful, but first there will be a bit of compromise.

Being the second wife/husband/important person does have benefits, the main one of which is that your partner already has a realistic idea of the work that’s required to make a marriage work. There are no illusions the second time around in relation to the marriage, though there may be a few in relation to the family.

The good news is that there are things that can be done to smooth the bumps along the way, even if you can’t completely disappear them:

  1. Let go of the fantasy.

    It sounds simple enough (it’s not) but it could be the difference between your relationship working or not. That’s not overstating it. It really is that important.

    An abundance of research has confirmed that unhappiness is caused by the distance between expectations and reality. It’s not so much the situation that causes distress but that the situation is different to what’s expected.

    In a stepfamily, everyone comes with their own fantasy. It’s completely normal and inevitable – but if you hang on to the fantasy too tightly, it could very well fall you. Most couples come into a stepfamily thinking that the family will immediately gel, the relationships will be tight, everyone will feel the love and the family will be a happy one. But it really doesn’t work like that.

    In a biological family, there would be problems if there was no expectation that you will love your children, they’ll love you back and all will be close. In a stepfamily though, these fantasies set up the potential for profound disappointment. Why? Because all family members come with their own fantasy, some of which are completely incompatible.

    Patricia Papernow is a leader in the field of stepfamilies. Her book, Being a Stepfamily, is the best I’ve read. (Just in case you were wondering, this is not an affiliate link – I just love the book. It was a game-changer for me in my own experience as a step-parent.) She identified the following fantasies which are typical in a stepfamily:

    •  Step-parent: ‘We’ll be one big happy family. The kids will love me. I’ll love them back. My relationship will be solid. I can’t wait for us all to be a family.’

    •  Biological Parent: ‘My partner will love the kids as much as I do and the kids will love him/her back. The kids will be so grateful for everything he/she gives this family. I just can’t wait to show everyone how happy we can be as a family.’

    •  The kids: ‘It’s only a matter of time before mum and dad get back together. They actually love each other a lot and as soon as they realise that we can be a family again.’

    Letting go of the fantasy allows for greater acceptance of the reality, more respect for what ‘is’ and more of the flexibility that’s needed to get to wherever you’re going as a family. A stepfamily can be as happy and successful as any other, but it will be different. It’s important to let go of the fantasy gently though, because your imaginings of what things would be like would have been a big part of the reason you decided to do this. And don’t worry, let go of the fantasy and reality will see to it that eventually, something at least as good will take its place.

  2. See the rough patches for what they are – a progression not a fall.

    There are going to be rough patches and that’s okay. Accept them as a sign of progress towards a new kind of family – one with you in it. Your experience of the stepfamily might be different to what you expected but it doesn’t mean a happy ending isn’t coming.

    It’s likely that at some point you will feel like an outsider, as well as jealous, lonely, resentful, confused and inadequate. You’ll probably experience hostility, indifference or rejection from your stepkids and more than likely you’ll fight with your partner more than you expected. This is normal. Accept it, let it unfold and most importantly don’t take it personally, though I know that’s easier said than done.

    It feels like a shakeup, and it is, but it’s all part of the adjustment the family has to go through to get to something better.  The family is recalibrating and changing shape to make way for you. That sort of adjustment was never going to be easy. Sometimes things have to fall apart a little so they can come back together in a different way. See the rough patches for what they are – a remaking, a realignment, a progression towards something new, rather than a threat.

  3. Understand and respond to the loyalty bind.

    It’s normal for children to worry that their acceptance of a step-parent might betray their biological parent. They might worry that if they like you, accept you or love you, their biological parent will be hurt or angry. This may increase their need to show loyalty to the biological parent by rejecting you or being hostile to you to ‘prove’ their love and loyalty to their parent.

    If you suspect a loyalty bind might be at play, see it for what it is and don’t take it personally. Let your stepchild know that you aren’t trying to replace his or her biological parent and that you know nobody could ever do that. Let them know it’s okay to feel as they do and that you will work through it together.

    Next, gently put the idea out there that they can care about you and love their other parent at the same time. Acknowledge that you know that their relationship with their biological parent will always be special and different to anything else. Let them know you would like to try to have a relationship that is good for both you and the child, and that you’ll follow their lead as to what that looks like.

  4. When your stepchild is ready, work on creating a new relationship.

    Don’t try to replicate the relationship your child has with their biological parent. This runs the risk of inflaming the loyalty bind but it also takes away the opportunity for you to create something new. You have qualities, wisdom and experience that will be different to those of the other adults in the child’s life. It may take a while for your stepchild to appreciate that, but be patient. Find new things to share that are different to what the child has with his or her biological parent.

  5. Decide on what’s important. And let the rest go.

    There will be plenty to argue about. The fact that a stepfamily is in the making means that nobody’s story has ended the way they thought it would. Nobody goes into marriage anticipating divorce and children don’t look forward to the day their parents live in separate houses. There’s a lot going on – broken hearts, endings and angry people. People won’t always be on their best behaviour.

    Decide on the things that are important to you and let the rest go. Push gently for the change that needs to happen but at the same time, respect the rest of the family’s need for stability.

    The balance will get precarious at times but it’s an important part of getting to where you need to be. You won’t be able to function as a new family until differences are worked through and people have enough of what they need to not feel compromised. Without a doubt, your new family can be phenomenal but it will take time.

  6. Appreciate the small stuff.

    Understand that it may be difficult for your stepchild to accept you or show affection for so many reasons, none of which will have anything to do with how they feel about you. The upheaval, their own grief, and loyalty binds all make for shaky ground. Appreciate the small moments of contact. It’s easy to overlook them but when they happen, know that it’s big.

  7. Respect that it will take time.

    In her extensive work, Papernow has found that stepfamilies take about 7-12 years to adjust and to exist as a healthy, well-functioning system. Quicker families might do it in four but some families never really get there. I wonder how much of the time frame has to do with the stepchildren reaching independence and establishing a relationship with their step-parents as adults, rather than children.

  8. Be open to letting go.

    Be open to the possibility that you may never be close to all or any of your stepchildren. One may have less need for another adult in their lives or may feel the conflict of a loyalty bind more than the others. You might also just be too different from each other to make it work. The most important thing is that when they are younger, you are committed to making it work, but that doesn’t mean it will work out as planned. There is enormous grace and courage in being able to let go, which is different to giving up.

All stepfamilies are different but they share common vulnerabilities. They can be as rich, warm, loving and wonderful as any other family. No family is smooth sailing all the time but the dynamics of a stepfamily present challenges at the start that are unique. Within that is the potential to rise to the challenge and come out with something extraordinary.



My soon to be 10yr old step daughter gets upset when my 18yr old daughter doesn’t say “hi” or maybe doesn’t acknowledge something she has said and her feelings are hurt . She responds to this by telling her dad that she doesn’t want to come over anymore because she feels left out .Her father gets angry and says it’s my fault and my daughter should be and know better because she is “an adult”. He wants to break off our engagement and move out because his daughter keeps getting her feelings hurt. I think she just wants more individual time with her dad and this is maybe the way to get it . Both girls are only children.


I was wondering about birthday parties? Obviously, I do not speak to the mother or have any kind of relationship with her … yet. The child’s birthday is in April, and I was wondering if it’s right or okay to have separate parties? I care about the child and would like to apart of things. It would break my heart if I had to sit at home while my boyfriend went over to her house for a party (like last year).


Absolutely have separate parties. There is no reason why you should be left at home, while he goes over there to celebrate. My family has been doing this for the past 8 years. We’re getting ready to deal with a graduation party. That is going to be the hard part. Next weddings, can’t have two of those. It will be a few years before you have to deal with that. So until then enjoy your life as a family and make the birthday remediable. I don’t mean huge and over doing it. Just age appropriate
and fun.

Pamela M

This article was great. Of course, easier said than done. One of my biggest issues is that I don’t have any children of my own. I think if I did I wouldn’t long for my step kids to love me so much. For the most part, they are good to me. However, they say thoughtless things that really hurt. I don’t even think they realise it. I do everything for them….cook, clean, get them things I know they like, plan vacations, spend time with them….so I do all of the work with none if the love and I just don’t know how to deal with it. In my head I know I am not their Mom and I don’t ever expect to take her place…but my heart is a different story…I get so hurt when they say things about the mom and dad but I am always left out. I am definitely an outsider, like this article mentions. My husband doesn’t agree but I know it is impossible for him to understand. I don’t think anyone can fix this but me but somehow it just feels good to get it out there. I just didnt know how hard it would be to be a step parent.


I am very lucky to be the stepmother of 18boy and 21girl there mum passed away 7 years ago from cancer and my own 2 boys 18 and 16. this has been a difficult and what seems like an impossible journey.. the daughter no longer lives with us due to violent manipulative behaviour. my partner and I of 5 years just got engaged and his 2 children have gone on a wondeful smear campaign about how terrible I am… There are no winners here… I have spent 2 days crying.. your article was helpful but there seems to be a very large chasm from where I am standing to getting to a place of growth.. have popped my running shoes on..


Is it normal for a 5 year old to be jealous of the step mother? I have been around since she was 8 months old… you would think she wouldn’t be jealous since she is so used to me. Whenever I give my husband a hug or a kiss she feels the need to. I can’t even sit with my husband on the couch because she will start saying we don’t like her and pout because I’m sitting by him. She won’t sleep in her bed, So we let her sleep on our couch in our room at one point and she would get up to see if we were laying next to each other in bed and ask if we were going to cuddle all night together. I find it weird.. is this normal?..


Let me start by saying this article helped and I could really use some more of it. It made me feel so…. not alone. I just remarried and my wife did too her third time around. We are a lesbian couple. She has been in the closet since she was 15 and chose to live a life with a guy so her father wouldn’t judge her. She is now 39 and we have been married for a year. The hardest year of my life actually. I’m a stepmom and I absolutely detest it. I wish instead that I was just a mom too these beautiful girls. One is 15 and the other just turned 10 last week. I’m having an incredibly hard time. I’m depressed like I’ve never been in my life, irrational, no appetite, mentally ready to give up on life, and so much more. I’m living in fantasy, exactly what my wife tells me too, and after reading this article I agree. I’m currently in the process of seeking medical attention to get medicated. I’m not strong like I use to be and it seems I care about everything, when I use to care about nothing. But why is this all happening? I’ve narrowed it down to the fact that she chose to have a family with him, not me, him. Kids with him, not me. A life with him, not me. All I want are kids if my own, yes it takes some doctors involved, but at least they’ll be mine. Please help. I have so much more to say and I just need hlelp, guidance, and to be happy.


I am struggling being a step parent. Been in this situation for 5 years. Step son (17.5years) has prior trauma and has lived with Dad (my husband) since the age of nine. Unknown to me he has been bullying and off loading his issues to my son (14years). My son has significant anxiety, see a therapist and goes for natural relaxation therapies to help. He is also having very very poor sleep often waking up 5-6 times per night. Stepson is up most nights till 2-3am gaming and is very noisy. I have spoken to his Dad (my husband) for the last 2-3 years and nothing has changed. Things came to ahead a couple of weeks ago when my stepson smuggled alcohol into the house and got totally drunk with his school friend. They drank vodka and baileys in a short space of time. Both got really sick and were almost sent to hospital with sever alcohol poisoning. This was a huge boundary cross for me. I have PTSD and since this event it has exacerbated a lot. Have spoken with his Dad (my husband ) re feelings on event and feel I am not being heard. I feel everyone is becoming ill because of the step son and he cruising as if nothing has happened. I am at a point where leaving seems to be my only choice. My son has said he does not want to leave and can’t understand why nothing changes in the house. For me to leave there is a huge financial cost and it scares me a lot as I have almost been homeless before. Any advice is appreciated.
Regards Naomi


Hi, I read your article, and it was a real eye opener. I am a single mother with an 8 year old daughter and soon by God’s grace I am planning to marry a man who has a 8 year old son as well. My daughter has not seen her biological dad in 5 years. My going to be step son has a good relation with his biological mom.

Could you suggest what both my husband and I should look forward to parenting our kids together?


I’ve been a step parent, but my issue is the step mother of my children. First, my ex cheated on me with the step mother when my kids were just 3 & 4. From the get go she hated me because my ex hated me. She doesn’t even know me. I followed my state guidelines, along with my attorneys recommendations, and requested a 60/40 split on child support based on our incomes. There was co-custody, with my kids living with me and ever other weekend with them, and shared holidays. Plus I agreed to let them deduct one on their taxes. I knew we would struggle. Well, the stepmom (at the time, girlfriend) paid me a visit at my workplace demanding that I account for all of my expenses to justify child support. She signed my children up for dance classes without my knowledge and my ex expected me to pay, which I did. They never offered to take or pick up my kids to dance, or anything else for that matter. They would just point the finger at me as soon as one had a cold or whatever. I have always placed my kids first and I tried to give them everything they needed . She sent my kids home on Christmas Day one year with all their belongings they had at their dads house because she thought they didn’t visit enough. She was jealous of the 3 of us, would never let their dad be alone with his kids, and would never let him give them any money.
Long story short…when the final child support check was mailed to me she calculated the payment through high school graduation day, and included pennies in the cents field of the check. They never contributed to college.
Now that my children are adults, married and have children she insists on being called grandma, and I just learned my ex has been bad-mouthing me to the in-laws! I have always taken the high road because I didn’t want my kids to be upset (except when she signed my kids up for classes). I don’t know how to handle this woman! I don’t understand why she thinks she’s so entitled when she’s done nothing but be cruel.


It is a blessing that with the child support over and the kids grown that there is little need for any contact with stepmother and the ex-husband except for major events such as graduations and weddings when you can wave and say Hi and then spend time separately. There are no more joint endeavors. . Each set of parents have a new opportunity to have an adult-adult relationship with their kids and can make their own decisions such as gifting or advice. The main thing is not to bad talk the other set of parents and respect their right for this too. Be mindful that positive praise of the ex and a general positive outlook will make the kids happier to be with you and make you look the bigger person. The future is yours to make !


After two years of my remarriage, my adult son visited us from abroad,( he was planning to settle in the country)and he was met with hositility from my husband. My husband had hardly known my son , before he came to stay with us.
The reasons for my husbands behaviour are my sons lack of respect, lack of discipline, which are all untrue. The treatment my son received was humiliating both to him and myself. I argued and fought with my husband to let him stay with us, as he needed time to adjust to life here in the US. He stayed with us for 3 months out of necessity, but under much stress and tensions.
It is over a year now, that my son has moved out and has made a life of his own, but i am left with anger , sadness and turmoil at my husband and his harshness and hostility. I don’t know how to handle this emotion.


I have a very similar story to Marie, my new partner picked up on every little thing my children did wrong,he resented them living with us and not his children. The upshot of that was that my daughters count wait to move out even though they were both in their teens. The tension in the house was unbearable. He was being a bully and making my kid feel rejected and picked on. They did both move out as soon as they could. When my partner asked me to Marry him,I told him I could only marry him if he acknowledged the way he treated my daughters was very harsh and unfair and if he was able to genuinely apologise to them separately, for the misery and fear he made them feel. Amazingly he did do this,I am sre it was hard for him. However 12 ys on andis fond of them anf they him.


My fiancé and I finally moved in together we have a beautiful family of 5 blended children that all love with us. His 2 daughters 12 and 13, and my 3 children my sons 12 and 14 and daughter 18. We of course have many challenges but also lots of good stuff. The thing we are struggling with the most is the other parents who have little to no involvement. His daughter who is 13 is very angry and hurt by her mother and my 14 yr old son is hurt and angry at his dad. Not knowing how to love and bond with the other step child and help them through this and not over step bounds on both sides cause hurt and anger with both of us as step parents. Any advise would be very appreciated.
Thank you

Stephanie C

Can I ask a question? How do I handle it if I feel my husband/kids’ step father is too hard on the kids? I may be too lenient but nobody’s perfect and I think that applies to kids as well…

Karen Young

Lots of gentle conversations. The more your husband feels attacked, the more likely it is that he will defend his behaviour. I also think it’s wise to leave discipline to the biological parent. They have the history and the connection with the child which will take time for the step-parent to develop.

Garry B

Being a step dad for 30 plus years, I believe I can, at least, give some perspective. One of my stepchildren, we came to find out, too late, was bipolar, and is now, in on a stint in the state hospital. He’s 38.
Complications multiplied in the relationship, because of that. Biological parent denial was part of the issue. I suggested help, when the child was about 7 years old.
I don’t believe any of us go into a new marriage blindly. Especially a second one. My wife of 32 years, and myself, are seeing a counselor, which is helping. So there’s hope of a continued relationship. You get really tired in dealing with those situations.
Mostly, in line with most decent folks not wanting to hurt the children, give your spouse real consideration, when they show concern about the children in your lives. Even if he/she ‘is just a step parent.” Trust goes a long way. Listen, and consider what they might see.
You might find out, that you don’t know your child, as well as you’d think. And, your second life partner might be a valuable asset, thus, strengthening the bonds, all the way around.
Good luck, all you second timers. You’re in for some hard times, but, also, some really great times!


I do believe it is wise that the biological parent disciplines… but if daddy is more than four months a year traveling for his work and he is over compensating when he comes back.. it is very hard. The biological mom has an alcohol issue, she cannot take care of herself and does not have any contact with her, in meanwhile, 15 year old son.
A friend of mine says to me; you are over correcting his behavior because the father doesn’t. I really love my husband, we’ve been living together over 8 years but i’m ready to give up because of his lack of parenting…

Carli T

I have a 4 year old step daughter Leia, I’ve been apart of her life for the past 3 years. Her mother is a narcissist, I know that is a harsh statement but it is what it is. She has Leia believing she can’t eat rice because it’ll make her fat, that obese people are ugly, that they’re better than everyone else and if Leia mentions us while there, they ignore her till she changes the subject. She comes back swearing, pretending to smoke with a pen, lying, and arguing against everything we well her. Leia and I have always been close, she would come home telling me about these things so I let my husband know and he addressed them with her mother but there was no response. Over the past month she’s been distant and all of a sudden these things never happened. I told my husband about the eating situation because I didn’t want her starving herself and now she says “I didn’t say that silly, my moms a good mom” but there was no mentioning of her mother. She constantly reminds me that I am not her mom which I agree. But now she says her sister isn’t really her sister because she didn’t come from her mother and she’s been found trying to hurt her sister, my daughter, which is weird because she’s always been affectionate toward her, she is one. We’ve been in and out of court so many times, it’s exhausting. I’m not sure what to do anymore. I want to help my husband push for custody for the sake of Leia’s mental health but I don’t know if I should. She states she wants to be there because they let her do what she wants, that she doesn’t like it here. I don’t know what to do, I feel like giving up.


Any updates on this ? I am having really similar issues with my stepson and his crazy mom. She does all the awful things you can imagine- disappearing for months, telling my husband I am nothing to her son, when i obviously raise him. when she comes back She decides he’s allergic to milk, that he’s gluten free, makes him take calming pills… It’s hard for me to not go crazy and want to throw in the towel on a regular basis. Hearing your story makes me feel less alone.


About two years ago I separated from my husband. We have been divorced now for a year. We have two kids together who are 2 and 6. When we told our oldest son he cried and didn’t understand but as time went on he was actually very happy with the divorce because we had fought all the time. We tried not to in front of him but unfortunately it did happen. Anywho- During the separation the kids adjusted extremely well which caught me by surprise but during that time I met someone else. Someone who I would fall in love with. He was just starting to go through his divorce and I knew if I continued falling in love with this man that we would run into obstacles because he had two children as well – twin boys who at the time were 8. His ex wife has not been very good at communicating with him and tends to make him feel like a bad father and we were hoping with time she would get better and less angry but its been a year and a half and that has not changed. Anyway, we recently moved in together and surprised the kids with a house. We thought this we be an exciting time for them but turns out its not. Its made one of his children act out and ask questions a normal 9 year old wouldn’t seem to ask. He lashes out at my oldest son and has been rude to me at times. His other son seems to be doing ok for now. Yesterday he asked my boyfriend if he was the one who wanted the divorce and if I had anything to do with it. There mom tends to tell them more then they need to know so I feel like she may be saying things to them and they are not telling us. What I need to know is how can i be more supportive and what should I be doing so that they understand I love them and I care about there father?

Also, my kids have transitioned very easily and it has not been an issue for them, at least not now. It seems to be a cake walk for my partner but not for me and its hard to get him to understand that.

I would really appreciate any feedback.

steve m

i have an adult single daughter with few friends, and deals with depression, sometimes she needs father daughter time and has asked me to go with her on a 2 day trip to refresh, but my new wife has issues with that. her Mother and my wife died and she needs some parent time with me. what is your suggestion

Karen Young

Steve absolutely if your daughter needs time with you, give it to her. You didn’t stop being her dad when you got remarried. You are also an important connection to her mum – I completely understand why she would want time with you. You are a lucky dad to have an adult daughter who seeks you out like this. Talk to your wife about her concerns and why it bothers her, but be mindful of your daughter’s needs – they’re very valid.

Christy R

My partner has 3 kids 2 girls and a boy. The eldest and the youngest (the boy) are close to me but the second girl, is disrespectful and abusive…And this has been a constant pattern no matter what I try. Also she is disrespectful of both her parents and of teachers and students in her school and this seems to be a common theme. I have tried for 3 years and am my wits end…what would your advice be?

Single Father

Well here I go……..I was married for about 8yrs and been separated for 2yrs now and have 3 kids. My about to be 9yrs old son is not mine’s. I was there during the entire pregnancy all through 8yrs of his life, but in his last year me and his mom were already separated and she had move on with the biological father of my son and since then I can’t see him anymore. What can I do to be able to see my son? Do I have any legal rights to be with him? Can they just take him out of my life? I never had any legal issues with the mom and yes she did cheated on me while we were married. Thanks.


My husband and I have been married for a year and he has one daughter, 16 but doesn’t have a good relationship with her. She stays with us 50% of the time. I have a son, 30, and a 19 year old daughter neither of them live with us. He gets mad when I spend time with my kids and he isn’t invited. Is that wrong not to invite him.

Karen Young

Your children and you had a life together well before your husband. It is perfectly reasonable for you and your children to have time together without him sometimes. This is no different to children of married parents who sometimes spend time separately with the individual parents.


Thank you for this article! I am married (one year, together four) to a man with a 19 year old girl (I have no kids myself). They have been pretty close although it seems like now that she has a boyfriend she isn’t around much. She went out of state for college for the first two years but this fall is transferring in-state, about two hours away; she lives with us in the summer.

I had no idea how hard this would feel, as I have easily connected with kids in the past. All and all our relationship is decent (I know hearing stories how much harder it could be, so I’m grateful). But I really long for more closeness and end up feeling so much like an outsider. I hate to feel so awkward in my own home, so it is very helpful to have articles like this to refer to…I know I am not alone.

I recently had coffee with her alone (my husband has been encouraging me to) and asked her a few questions about what kind of relationship she wanted, if she feels like she is a part of the household, how I can support her, etc. She said she’d like a close relationship and when I asked her how we can cultivate that, she said to spend time together. I am glad I had the conversation with her but to be honest feel like I am putting in all the effort. I just hope she was being honest with me, since I don’t want her to feel obligated to spend time with me. Sometimes I’m not sure if it is a teenage/young adult thing or a stepmother/stepdaughter thing. I feel it is a lot of finding a balance between letting go (no high expectations/fantasy) and putting in effort to grow a connection (having hope). It’s not easy! But this article helped me a lot and will be bookmarking it for reminders! Thank you!

Karen Young

Selena keep doing what you’re doing. I love that you have asked her what she would like from you in terms of a relationship. Step-relationships take time. Keep going slowly and gently, and let her take the lead. Your sensitivity to what she needs will make a difference.


OMG I had the worse day today and than I run in to this article.. thank you so much but I would like to share my family situation.. I am a step mom. I had not met my husband’s children as we live in two different countries but he tried his best to ensure they know of me.. they are 8,5&5(twins). And we have a ten month old. I recently moved to my husband’s destination.. different culture, the children are mixed race me and my husband are from the same God they are so disrespectful and I feel so alone and hurt and confused especially cause I had this expectation especially because they are so young.. I can’t help but think my husband ex has something to do with it.. I don’t even know where to start with building a relationship with them even just for the sake of my husband whom I love so much.. any word of advice will be appriciated.. my husband wants them to permanently stay with their mom and we get them once in a while but I feel like that’s not right…


This was a great article to read. It’s been 5 years and sometimes I still feel like an outsider. It can feel very uncomfortable and awkward at times. Sometimes I tend to avoid situations because of the awkwardness. I wonder if it’s more how I’m feeling than how they are feeling. There is often a great deal of reflection about all this. Stepping back after 5 years I have come to realize that maybe I was clinging too strongly to the idea that we would all be this perfect family. Each of the ideas listed have been so true and part of the process. It was making me feel depressed to take on this role (or have expectations in my mind of how things would go). It’s good to read this and know that this is normal and difficult at times. I also thought it important that it may take 7-12 years to really blend a family. It definitely takes time and effort! But, how do you know how it’s going to go? There is much trial and error involved, especially for me because I don’t have my own children. Thanks for the article!

Hanging in there

Thank you so much for this article, I have bookmarked it for when the going get’s tough. It is so hard to keep your spirits up and see the light at the end of a very long tunnel. Letting go and not taking things personally are some of the hardest things i’ve ever done in my life! I am a fixer and I can’t be a fixer!


I have a 13 year old son. I married my sweetheart a year and a half ago. My husband works retail hours, so we get very little time together, but whenever we do, he wants it to be he and I only. My son goes to his father’s every other weekend, and now that it’s summer, every other week for the entire week. My husband will not eat at the table with us because he says my son’s table manners are awful. He will not allow my son to drink or snack in the living room. He tells him every day – EVERY DAY – to clean his room. He complains about how he does his own laundry. I actually got my Mothers’ Day dining experience taken away from me because I asked “what about my son?” when he said it was going to be he and I only. We have an extra room in our house that is not being used, and my son’s room is 10×12. When I asked if he could set up a game room out there for when his friends are over, I was told that he was not responsible enough to have a room like that. The room is still empty and my son and his friends sit on the bed in his room when they are over. I’m at wits end. It’s like he doesn’t want to be a family. He eats alone, he sleeps on the other end of the house – I snore – and we haven’t even consummated our marriage yet. What the hell am I doing wrong??

Karen Young

Please – read your comment back and ask yourself what you would tell a friend or someone you cared deeply about if they were telling you this. Your son is your priority. In this relationship, you are his voice. When you are silenced, he is too.


Comment to SS: being a step-mom and seeing your complaints, I think you’re being too hard on your hubby- except for the lack of consummating the marriage (what is that all about?). If you want a marriage to work, you have to put the marriage first. Work on the table manners and have your son eat at the table. That’s basic good behavior. If his room is messy, that is grounds for complaint. It’s hard being forced to live with people you don’t want to live with and then not having any input about your own household. And defending bad behavior will affect your relationship with your husband. Look at it all objectively, even though this site keeps saying to have no expectations- I feel that having them and communicating them makes a marriage work.

Brooke M

Hi SS,

I know your post is a few years old, but I wanted to comment anyway. Your husband knew that you had a son when he married you. It sounds like he isn’t a fan of children that aren’t biologically his, and like he hoped that your son would go quietly into the night after the wedding.

I know firsthand how annoying it is to be around someone with bad table manners, but I think it’s a little extreme that your husband has openly refused to eat at the table with your son. Do you think this would change if your son were to work on his table manners, or do you think your husband is using it as an excuse because he doesn’t want to be around your son? You said that when your husband is off work, he wants it to be just you and him. Where exactly does your son fit into this? Your son isn’t with you all the time, you said he goes to his dad’s house every other weekend and every other week in the summertime. So when your son is at your house and your husband is home, is your son just supposed to hide in his room and stay out of sight so that your husband can have you all to himself?

Your husband took away your Mother’s Day dining experience because you wanted your son to come to dinner with you? Does your husband understand that your son is the reason that you’re a mom in the first place? Why WOULDN’T you want your CHILD to go out to eat with you on MOTHER’S DAY? And your husband “taking away” your dining experience makes it sound like he treats you like a child. If your husband didn’t want to go to dinner as a family, you should have taken your son out to eat and your husband could have stayed home.

Is your son’s room really such a mess that it’s necessary for your husband to get on his case about it every day? Is there a chance that you could help your son organize his room and then make a schedule of chores for your son to do to keep his room tidy, with the understanding that if he fails to do this, you’ll take away his video games or other privileges.

What exactly is it that bothers your husband about how your son does his own laundry?

In the home you live in with your husband, do you contribute to the mortgage payment, the utilities, the groceries and other household expenses? If so, it’s pretty unfair that you don’t get to have any input about the spare room in your house.

Your husband wants it to be just you and him when he’s off work. Your son is not allowed to have snacks or drinks in the living room. Your husband does not want to have meals at the table with your son. Your son doesn’t do his laundry in a way that is acceptable to your husband. Your son is expected to stay in a 10 x 12 bedroom and can’t entertain his friends in any other part of the house. It sounds to me like your husband just doesn’t want your son around, and that’s really sad. I’m sure your son can tell that your husband doesn’t like him…kids are perceptive about that kind of thing. Your husband isn’t a jerk if he doesn’t like kids, but he IS a jerk for not liking kids and knowingly marrying a woman who has a kid, and then making your son feel like an outsider. Pretty soon he’ll probably expect you to choose between him and your son. I hope you don’t let your husband drive a wedge between you and your son…it sounds like that’s exactly what he’s trying to do.

I feel really bad for your son, being shuttled back and forth between you and his dad, and being excluded and treated like an irritating inconvenience by his stepdad. That’s a really stressful situation for him. He’s a kid and he’s being saddled with things that no kid should have to worry about.


Hello there,

I am a stepmom of 22YO young woman and almost 19YO young man, also a mother to 11YO boy. I married my husband for almost 15 years. I have known my step children since they were 6 and 3 YO kids. I don’t have good relationship with my husband’s ex, just civilized. She never say hello to my son nor pay attention.

My 19YO stepson now living every second week with us (one week with his mum then one week with us) since he was 14 YO.
He never has any chores when he lives with his mum and only have one chores with us which is attend the lawn at front and backyard. He always let me down keep postponing his chores while my 11YO son has more chores than him.

I have asked my husband for support million times with no success, he makes me feel like I’m the bad stepmom alive. My stepson pays rent to his mom every time he stays with him but now with me, which I don’t mind since we also paid for his holiday with us to Europe. I love him but sometimes I think he takes me for granted.

What should I do..??? He’s old enough to see the rules, policy and the way we live, I don’t need to always remind him what to do nor nagging him.

Ken A.

Been a sort of stepdad for 4 years and hated every second of it, the kids are vile, she is their mother and can see they do no wrong, it’s always MY KIDS COME FIRST when it should be my kids and one I claim to love come equally, then she wonders why I cannot be a__ed with any of it, worst of all I am trapped here as I have no home of my own so the usual this is my house gets thrown at me in most circumstances and coz I don’t carry the same surname as them, yes she still uses her ex’s surname I am the enemy and outsider always… it aint fluffy as alot will make it out to be….. stay single and enjoy your freedom in life is my advice…. they aint worth it !


I can relate to and agree with the entirety of this article.
At 40 years old, I married the man of my dreams, a widower with three children: girl, 13; boy 11; boy 7. They had been without their mother for three years (who died suddenly of a stroke).

The best thing a step parent can do is come into the marriage with basic expectations, and to try not to be disappointed when those aren’t met. And truthfully, it is so important to be able to let go gracefully when things do not work out.

My step-daughter never accepted me in a parenting role, and my husband being a push-over, resulted in me setting the rules and being the disciplinarian. To this day the children love him so and I feel so disliked. My step-daughter also never allowed the boys to love me and accept me as she was very manipulative and controlling with them. “Little mama” is what she is called.

I hung in and helped my loving husband raise these children to adult hood and 2 years ago, he died suddenly. The children, adults now, are upset that their father left his estate to me in trust to them. In other words, it is mine to support me, and then they will receive any residual when I die. My step-daughter has even said that she would like her inheritance now, while she can use it, instead of waiting until I die. She has also suggested that it will be very hard for us to have a relationship since the money creates a power shift. She even suggested that she would like to settle the money issues now so that I can move forward without burdens in my relationship with her new baby boy. Unfortunately, her brothers are aligned with her now that her father is gone.

Your article rings true in that now I am faced with bowing out gracefully as these ‘children’ of my late husband do not need me any longer and honestly, I am tired of being the outsider. Without my husband, it just isn’t worth the fight any more. I am faced with moving on in my life without the step-children I worked so hard to create a relationship with. The inheritance squabble was the straw that broke the camels back for me. I just feel like my husband would be so disappointed in all of us that we don’t have each other to count on.


I have two children from a previous marriage. My current husband and I have been together for almost 10 years. We are both in our forties,he has never been married and doesn’t have children of his own. I love my husband but he can be very selfish and makes me feel like I’m not raising my children properly. My husband is a realtor that sits home all the time in bed or in his office waiting for clients to call He never supplements his income or strives to do better even though he loves to golf, fish and wants to buy a cottage. He knows I will do the majority of the housework, shopping, cooking and doesn’t realize how that reflects on my daughter.
.My 14 year old son is disabled and completely dependent. We agreed that when we started living together he would be my responsibility which was fine.My husband will watch him time to time for me while I run errands. I also have family members and respite places that my son goes to so that I can have a break and we as a couple can go out, etc. My 17 year old daughter doesn’t have a relationship with her bio father and has
anxiety issues but is excellent in school (95 average +), thinks about her future and really doesn’t get into trouble. She doesn’t have that many girlfriends that she hangs out with because she can’t stand the drama, she’s on all the sports teams and prefers to
hang with them during the seasons. She has a boyfriend of almost a year that is very respectful, not loud or annoying and they are best friends…I was like this as well! My husband thinks
that she should only be allowed with her boyfriend one or two days a week for a couple of hours otherwise it’s obsessive behaviour and the rest should be at home studying or out with girlfriends anytime…He thinks I don’t discipline her enough and that I let her get away with everything. Thing is, I’m very proud of her. I’ve never asked her to do homework she just does it and gets amazing marks. Yes she can be lazy (she’s a teenager?)but when I ask, she does what I’m asking her to do. She is responsible for her laundry, room and stuff around the house plus she works and volunteers in the summer and the odd weekend for extra money.She has always had trouble making friends,in the past some of her “besties” that hung out for years turned on her and bullied her. My husband was there through all of this. But things changed. My daughter has no respect for my husband because he only sees things in black and white…there is no grey area for him. She sees him sitting on the couch or in bed and watches me run around taking care of everyone until I’m exhausted never mind I run a full time business that I created 19 years ago. She is disgusted by his behaviour How do I get them to get along? My husband and I almost separated this past Christmas because he constantly tells me his disappointment in my parenting. We went to councelling, he was told to let me do the parenting and for him to concentrate on “us”, having a good life, better marriage…it lasts for a week or so and he sees the benefits. My daughter starts to come out of her room again and interacts until her boyfriend shows up and my husband starts all over…..I know parenting is hard but if you’re going to call yourself a step parent and and a good husband, then at least acknowledge the kids, have some form of positive communication and stop complaining to me….He thinks all of our problems are because of me….struggling!!! Help!??


I have been with my partner for 3 years and we married in October last year and i am now 6 months pregnant with our own baby. My husband has a 16yr old son who he has every other weekend. When we first got together we would do some really cool and fun days out and then it felt like it was never an issue having him. I took it in my stride, me and partner did have a few conversations about having him every other weekend as he is now 16yrs old as i think staying over when he lives down the road is a bit much now.

The issue is that my husband works every Saturday, so i the only alone time i get with him is every other Sunday as we have his son. As he is now 16 year old the relationship between me and him is harder as he doesn’t really like to always talk to me, one word answers and always on his phone. I get that most boys this age are like this but my husband still has to have him even if he is just lounging on the sofa at my house on his phone. There is unconditional love from his dad but I dont have that as i didn’t bring him up the relationship is not as strong. The 3 months i have left is so valuable to me to spend with my husband before our baby is due and i wanted him to understand this. However at the moment he seems to work on the weekends we are supposed to spend time together but makes sure he keeps the Sunday free for when he has his son. I feel separated when hes around and a not belonging feeling then i feel i make my own plans or just fit in with his just to see my husband. I also feel my husband feels guilty all the time as he had him when he was 18 and wasnt always around.

I really just need to understand why i feel the way i do and this is not as i want just him to myself, i just value to lone time we do get. I wanted him to do other days in the week or go for dinner with him but he says this is not enough time and its money. He wants to have him every other Sunday but he struggles with stuff to do and if at home hes just watching TV but on his phone (not valuable time to me),


I’ve been dating my bf for 3 years now and he has a kid who is 4, so I’ve been around the majority of her life. We’ve recently been talking about marriage, but I really don’t like kids and have sought help on how to deal with potentially becoming a step-parent. So far, nothing has really helped. The best advice I’ve received is to just be a good person towards her and not force anything. I have nothing against his daughter, she’s sweet and fine and whatever, I just don’t like kids in general. They complicate everything (in my opinion). I also don’t think she’s very interested in having me in her life in general, shes always forced to say hello or goodbye to me, and I know that’s probably because I’m just not maternal or naturally warm towards her. I’m always nice to her, and I do put forth an effort to talk and play with her, but it’s such a facade and on the inside, I’m just counting down the minutes until she goes home to her mother. I love her father (my bf) so much, we have a wonderful relationship, and know he is a great father and a great man, but I don’t know if staying in the relationship is the right thing to do if I’m struggling so hard with the idea of being a step-parent.


Hi Liz, I would suggest you walk away from the relationship and only get involved with someone without children going forward. I say this from my own personal experience as a stepmother. Married to my husband for 5 years and he had a 12 year old daughter when I met him, she is now 18. It has been terrible for me and is the decision (marrying him) that I would most change if I could go back and choose a different choice in my life. My husband is an amazing man and great father but the stress that the stepchild/stepparent dynamic brings to my life (and the constant issues it causes in my marriage) is worse and harder than anything I’ve ever walked through. Best wishes to you regardless of your choice but wanted to share my thoughts here since you are not married yet. If I had read the step parent forums that are available online when I first started dated my husband I would have realized the realities that I have learned the hard way and would not have married him. Hoping this feedback will help you. I would suggest you read the stepparent forums that are out there as well.

T Currie

Hi Lyz,
I was reading your comment thinking I was the only person in the whole world who felt like you do. I don’t have nor have I ever wanted children.

When I met my partner 3 and half years ago his daughter was 11 and I thought ok, how bad can this be…….. he has joint custody.

she is now turning 15 and I feel I cannot breath, I feel so alone in my thoughts and nightmares.

We don’t talk AT ALL, he has to prompt her to say goodbye, hello etc, I choose to run away because I simply cannot cope with her, so each time she comes I am out.

He knows how much I am struggling with her.

I recently asked him if he would consider having her less, he said no, I then asked even if it meant our survival, he said no, so I guess I know where I stand, it is the most heart breaking situation I have ever faced.

It does give comfort reading everyones woes.

She arrives tonight and I am sat here writing this crying at the thought of her coming, its unbearable and something that I know won’t carry on, if I had my time again I would of run a mile.

Sorry I can’t be upbeat, there is no positives at all from me.


Hi well even am a stepmother and mother of a daughter also…..I got a 14 years Old son and a 10 états Old daughter of my second hub and his ex late wife….my daughter stat de m’y parents n she Will be with us maybe in two years. I do all for these two but still as if they using me for their work .in front of others the son act as if i dont exist for him…I dont know….JUST HELP ME

Karen Young

Be patient with your stepchildren. Many adolescents act as though their parents don’t exist! Of course it’s important to encourage them not to be rude to you, but if they want their space from you when other people are around, let them have that space. Adjusting to a step-parent is a huge adjustment for any child, especially children who are already adjusting to having lost their mother. Step-parenting is hard, but being a stepchild is hard too.


I have been with my husband almost 2 years now. We first got together when his son had just turned 2. I knew what i was getting into in the beginning and how his son obviously comes first and always will. In the beginning i let him handle all the decipline and every parent role out there. But now his son is about 4 years old and i have steppedbup and started to dicipline him but for the life of me he will not listen to anything i say. Its frustrating. And i do feel so left out and lonely because they have a connection that i dont. Im ready to start our family and have a kid together. Maybe then i wont be so negative all tbe time because i have my kid just like he has his. He says he wants to have a child with me, but sometimes i get the feeling like he is perfectly fine with just his son. And that i will always be an outsider. We have fought alot lately especially about his son and ex wife, and i feel like it is ruining us, and what we used to be. I dont know what to do. I just want to feel happy again. Not so lonely, and its only on the nights his son is with us during our times to keep him..


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Thanks so much @maggiedentauthor♥️…
“Karen Young - Hey Sigmund has such a wonderful way with words especially around anxiety. This is her latest beautiful picture book that explains anxiety through the lens of the Polyvagal theory using the metaphor of a house. This shows how sometimes anxiety can be hard to notice. I think this book can help kids and teens better understand stress and anxiety. I loved it! This would be great for homes, schools and in libraries.
Congratulations Karen.💛”
Of course we love them, no matter what - but they need to feel us loving them, no matter what. Especially when they are acting in unlovable ways, or saying unlovable things. Especially then.

This is not ‘rewarding bad behaviour’. To think this assumes that they want to behave badly. They don’t. What they want is to feel calm and safe again, but in that moment they don’t have the skills to do that themselves, so they need us to help them. 

It’s leading with love. It’s showing up, even when it’s hard. The more connected they feel to us, the more capacity we will have to lead them - back to calm, into better choices, towards claiming their space in the world kindly, respectfully, and with strength. 

This is not about dropping the boundary, but about holding it lovingly, ‘I can see you’re doing it tough right now. I’m right here. No, I won’t let you [name the boundary]. I’m right here. You’re not in trouble. We’ll get through this together.’

If you’re not sure what they need, ask them (when they are calm), ‘When you get upset/ angry/ anxious, what could I do that would help you feel loved and cared for in that moment? And this doesn’t mean saying ‘yes’ to a ‘no’ situation. What can I do to make the no easier to handle? What do I do that makes it harder?’♥️
Believe them AND believe in them. 

‘Yes this is hard. I know how much you don’t want to do this. It feels big doesn’t it. And I know you can do big things, even when it feels like you can’t. How can I help?’

They won’t believe in themselves until we show them what they are capable of. For this, we’ll have to believe in their ‘can’ more than they believe in their ‘can’t’.♥️
Sometimes it feels as though how we feel directs what we do, but it also works the other way: What we do will direct how we feel. 

When we avoid, we feel more anxious, and a bigger need to avoid. But when we do brave - and it only needs to be a teeny brave step - we feel brave. The braver we do, the braver we feel, and the braver we do… This is how we build brave - with tiny, tiny uncertain steps. 

So, tell me how you feel. All feelings are okay to be there. Now tell me what you like to do if your brave felt a little bigger. What tiny step can we take towards that. Because that brave is always in you. Always. And when you take the first step, your brave will rise bigger to meet you.♥️
#anxietyinkids #consciousparenting #parentingtips #gentleparent #parentinglife #mindfulparenting #childanxiety #heywarrior
If anxiety has had extra big teeth lately, I know how brutal this feels. I really do. Think of it as the invitation to strengthen your young ones against anxiety. It’s not the disappearance of brave, or the retreat of brave. It’s the invitation to build their brave.

This is because the strengthening against anxiety happens only with experience. When the experience is in front of you, it can feel like bloodshed. I know that. I really do. But this is when we fight for them and with them - to show them they can do this.

The need to support their avoidance can feel relentless. But as long as they are safe, we don’t need to hold them back. We’ll want to, and they’ll want us to, but we don’t need to. 

Handling the distress of anxiety IS the work. Anxiety isn’t the disruption to building brave, it’s the invitation to build brave. As their important adult who knows they are capable, strong, and brave, you are the one to help them do that.

The amygdala only learns from experience - for better or worse. So the more they avoid, the more the amygdala learns that the thing they are avoiding is ‘unsafe’, and it will continue to drive a big fight (anger, distress) or flight (avoidance) response. 

On the other hand, when they stay with the discomfort of anxiety - and they only need to stay with it for a little longer each time (tiny steps count as big steps with anxiety) - the amygdala learns that it’s okay to move forward. It’s safe enough.

This learning won’t happen quickly or easily though. In fact, it will probably get worse before it gets better. This is part of the process of strengthening them against anxiety, not a disruption to it. 

As long as they are safe, their anxiety and the discomfort of that anxiety won’t hurt them. 
What’s important making sure they don’t feel alone in their distress. We can do this with validation, which shows our emotional availability. 

They also need to feel us holding the boundary, by not supporting their avoidance. This sends the message that we trust their capacity to handle this.

‘I know this feels big, and I know you can do this. What would feel brave right now?’♥️

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