Where the Science of Psychology Meets the Art of Being Human

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

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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 with an investment who will potentially want to interfere 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 in time the stepfamily will 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. (Juuuust in cast 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 progression 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 shake up, 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 the 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.

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156 Comments

Jay

Hi Karen,

Thanks for nice article and great advice. I’m a divorced father of three (7, 5, and 5). I recently got engaged to be married to my girlfriend of approximately 2 years. She has meet my kids many times and they all really enjoy her company and talk about her all the time when we’re together. The trouble is that it feels like she goes out of her way to avoid spending time with my children, scheduling business meetings on weeknights and trips to her ski house or to play golf on the weekends. I don’t have the expectation that she be a “mother” to my kids or fulfill any of my parenting responsibilities, but is it too much to ask that she make an effort to spend more time with my kids despite her love for her hobbies and busy work schedule? Your thoughts would be appreciated. Thank you.

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Karen Young

Jay this is an important conversation to have with your partner. As a stepmother myself, I can say that there are many reasons she may be doing this – all of which are okay, but just need to be talked through. One of the things that can happen in stepfamilies is that there can be a strong sense of ‘not belonging’ for the stepparent. You and your children have rituals and ways of relating that have been there from the beginning. You have memories and shared experiences that she isn’t a part of. This can be really difficult for a step-parent, regardless of how much love that stepparent has for the children. Remember you have had many years of shared experiences, love and bonding with your children, but your partner hasn’t. Of course, there may be other things going on, such as she might feel a great need to give you space with your children without her. None of these signal dysfunction or anything to worry about. It can be difficult as a biological parent to understand why the person you love doesn’t want to spend time with your children, but there are so many reasons for this. It takes time for a stepfamily to blend. Have the conversation with her and make it safe for her to speak openly and honestly about what’s happening for her. Whatever she says is okay and is unlikely to be any reflection on her commitment to you and your children. Good things take time.

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Step monster

Hi there. I’m a stepmother of two children girl (15 almost 16) boy 14.5yrs old. I’ve been married to their father for 6.5years but together for almost 10. I came along when the kids were 4 and 6… I had nothing to do with the parents separation which occurred 2.5/3 years prior. It has been a struggle and to this day still is.
I do not bear any of my own children at this time… Has been a struggle. We’ve had the children week on week off over the years. With the exception of the girl staying full time at her mothers for the past – almost 2 years. It has been a journey… At the beginning it was great. (I’m very much a kid person I tend to love them and things are usually reciprocal). Things started going downhill when the girl was 9.5 years old. Her father an I decided to get married. Since then we have been through counsellors. A full year living apart- separated. Infidelity and struggles with the bio mom ( there has never been a full fledge war but we despise eachother). Weve have lawyer/court involvement, CAS involvent, all over the years. My husband and I decided to come back together 2 years ago (obvious reason for stepdaughter to choose to leave). Out of the two children my relationship with the girl has struggled the most. At this point in time I will not be alone with her as to fear of her spreading lies about me – I work in a job that upholds standards.. I could loose my job if the perfect lie told. My stepdaughter tends to lie about many things… Not just me. But it has been fully recognized that she hates me. I’ve tried dozens of times over the years trusting in the good mements only to be let down soon after. I definitely have my gaurs up but am pleasant and respectful if she is around. With my stepson I feel he had been scheming with his sister and mother in his younger years. As he’s gotten older he seems to think more on his own. But I do see him in a loyalty bind very frequently that causes him to close up, she me disrespect and causes me headache and feeling deffensive. We’ve never spoken ill about the bio mom in front of the children. (My hubby and I have discussed alone). I’ve even been supportive of the mother ensuring the kids call for Mother’s Day or her birthday if they happen to be with us, I ensure they’ve thought of her for Christmas etc. I’m by no means perfect. When my feelings get hurt I can be distant. I can retreat on my own. I’ve explained feelings of frustration,feeling unheard, misunderstood, having no say, disheartened, used, disrespected, unloved, an outsider so on and so forth. It’s a real struggle that at times I wonder if I could run away from.. Then knowing I can fight this struggle and overcome the grief. There is at times tension in our home ….arguments/resentment between my husband and I (95% to do with kids/ex).
I listen to others stories and often wonder if I’m alone at this….if there is something wrong with me.
#10yearsinnotalwayshappyhappyjoyjoy

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Laney

I feel the same as you. Our blended family is that of younger children, none that out right hate or resent me. But I believe the mother has her hand in changing that, as recently she refuses to let the children come here (they have 3-4 days every week for the past 3 years. We announce our wedding date, and all of a sudden, we aren’t fit parents and aren’t allowed to have the kids) I hate their mother. Hate. She is evil. Manipulative. Controlling. She lies and uses the children to her advantage. She controls my future husband and simply doesn’t respect any normal boundaries. The strain is getting to be unbareable. I feel alone. I feel at fault for trying to help raise kids that I should have known I’d never have an equal part in. I just want to give up. If I left, she’d give him back his kids, and I wouldn’t have to deal with the constant death grip she has on our lives and relationship. The only advice I have is, if you love them, keep trying. It’s poor advice, I know. It doesn’t much help in all the bad times. But it’s the only thing I keep hanging on to, that if I try harder today than i did yesterday, to love him, love the kids, that eventually that Love will prevail over the bullshit.

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Stepmonster

Laney,
Thank you so much for sharing your story… It can be a very lonely world. Knowing others have struggled goes a long way in feeling supported!!! 😊

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Brianne

Hi Karen,

Great article. Thank you for being so thorough with your advice. Do you have any thoughts or advice on a biological parent not accepting the new step-parent as a step-parent? And telling their children that their ex-spouses partner isn’t their step-parent?

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Karen Young

If the ex-spouse isn’t open to a conversation, speak with the children about what a step-parent is. Let them know it doesn’t matter in the end what that person is called, but what they do and what they mean to the children. It will be helpful for the biological parent and the new partner (the step-parent) to chat about this first to get things clear. Will the step-parent be a part of the family? How will they be there for the children? What will their relationship with the children look like? How are they different to a non-step-parent? How is the stepdad/stepmum different to the biological parent? What will the children’s relationship with the stepparent look like? Also ask the children what they would like from the relationship. This might be difficult for them to answer, but it can be helpful to let them see that they can also influence their relationship with their stepparent, if that influence is not intended to do harm.

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MyasMom

My husband was soooo excited about his daughter coming her for Christmas. WE both scrapped and saved to buy her $1500 ticket for her to come stay the holiday season with us here in the United states from Germany and the last few days have been really tough on me.

This 15 year old kid speaks English; but refuses to. Refuses to acknowledge my existence. Anytime I speak or ask her a question she responds as if she thinks with the most stank attitude I’ve ever received. My poor 15 year old is trying her hardest to ask her questions, make her feel welcome and my stepdaughter only speaks to her in “yes” “no” responses.

I told my husband the kid acts as if she’d like us to disappear so that she can have him to herself. She only speaks in complete sentences when he’s there. She only eats or drinks if he offers it to her.

Honestly, I love my husband; but to me he cultivates it…. he allows her to isolate her self. He allows her to only say good night , good morning, thank you… to HIM directly.

How do I start this conversation with him with out sounding like I hate this child?

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AlexJB

You are right. Her behavior is wrong and I am certain she is doing this on purpose. Just like you feel her vibes towards you. However, maybe she is going through her own little battle in her head. Did you ever ask her directly. She is 15 and should be able to express her feelings. Maybe a girls night out. Anywhere she could open up. You and her. Or maybe she is just a unpleasant personality…I really understand how you feel. Uuurrghh I know how you feel 🙂 ..also looking for answers here. Wishing you strength and courage and that resentment will not take a hold of us 🙂 good luck

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Darren

Just moved interstate and starting out with a new realationship.
First few weeks seemed ok however I was very busy with work.
Now on holidays back in at my house with the children 16 and 10 I feel as if they would prefer me out of their life and have their mum back all to themselves.

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Paola

I’vebeen with my husband for almost 7 years.he was a single father of 3 boys when I met him and we now have one of our own… We lived with them 4. One of them is already 14 and my husband always criticize my way of correcting him or them. I’m always being in charge of school matters, javing them do chores or keep their rooms clean. My husband is very laod back and never gets involved in terms of discipline. He is always playinh videogames but NEVER ask them to do anything around the house. This year, the 11 yrs old one almost failed the year because I wasn’t on top of it, so I’ve became more strict with them, however, my husband is not even concern about their grades or anything but he feels like critizing the way that I am handling the situation. I thought just letting them do whatever they want if he’s treating me like I amnot their mom, but I can’t help it, I do feel they are my kids and It’s my responsibility to make them better people. I have tried explaining this to my hunsband but it always ends up in a fight… Please help!!

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Karen Young

Your children are very lucky to have you. To some extent, there may be a need to accept that you and your husband have very different ideas of parenting. The conversation may need to be more around figuring out together how you can be more accepting of each other’s styles, rather than trying to change each other.

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Paola

Thank you very much for your response. It may seem simple but it means a lot in my current situation and having a third party’s point of view sometimes is enough to realize the simplest solutions. Have a great day

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Chad

Hi Karen. I have recently started a relationship with a woman and imedialty fell in love with her. I have two girls. And she has a 13 year for of girl and a 3 year old boy. I absolutely love her older child. But I don’t agree with the way she is raising her 3 year old son. I know it’s not my place to tell her how to parent but sometimes it just eats at me like nails on a chalk board. Even her older child will tell her not to give into him all the time. He is really just spoiled. Is it my place to kinda step up n or just back away and deal with it

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Karen Young

If you want to share your observations, just go very gently and keep it to factual observations that aren’t open to interpretation. ‘I notice when you … he … ‘, or something like that. It will be important to come across as non-judgemental. The more people feel judged, the more likely it is that they will defend their behaviour rather than open up to what they might do differently. Your comments might still be taken personally of course, but your best chance is to be loving and supportive at the same time as you share your observations.

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Tracy

A few years ago I meet my now husband through my then boyfriend. He was married at the time and so an affair was started. I know that he was unhappy in his marriage and he even said he was going to leave her but that was easier said than done. She was either having surgery or having a baby or they were trying to get money straight. She found out about us and put him out. Apparently this was not his first or only affair and yes I knew about the other girls. They are no longer in the picture. Her putting him out was the best thing for us. Now he was free and happy and we were able to be married. Thing is she tried to take his kids from him. At first it didn’t matter but then he started missing the kids. He had taken care of the kids while she worked –which at the time worked out well for us to see each other. When she put him out she would not allow him to take the kids anywhere. Well they are his kids too. He was only allowed to visit the kids in her home. She finally let him take the kids an evening here and there but never over night with us. Finally I told him just to keep the kids and he did. When he returned them she would not let him take the kids again. She took him to court for custody and child support after that. Before the hearing he tried to take the kids again but she prevented him and he ended up in jail for domestic violence. Because of her he now has a criminal record and the kids had to go to counseling and things got out of hand. I tried to help him get sole custody and then joint custody but she hired a lawyer which we could not afford. We got married right after the first custody hearing to show that we were serious. Then she was wanting us to pay child support and pay her bills. I believe he should support his kids but not pay her bills. To help reduce child support we had a child of our own. I have a son through a previous relationship. We are still paying a lot in child support which I don’t think is fair and we only see the kids every other weekend. She calls my husband whenever she wants, supposedly to tell him about the kids and I know he calls her when I’m at work which I’ve told him just gives her more reason not to respect me. My question though is what should I do to let her know to get over herself so that we can have a peaceful relationship for the kids’ sake. The kids are involved in different things and I go to all of them even if my husband can’t go. She doesn’t want me there and makes it known. When I am there the kids are uncomfortable and don’t want to talk to me because they are afraid it will upset her and so they don’t enjoy their events. On father’s day I wanted to go with them since my son was at his dads. She had gotten tickets to an event for him and the kids to go so we (husband and I) scrapped together money so I could go too. Apparently they had talked about it before and it was supposed to be just him and the kids on father’s day with no interference. I am not an interference. I told my husband that he is my husband now and I should be able to go. When the kids are at my house the youngest one has to call her every day and night and it gets tiring. She needs to let her know that she can’t just call her whenever but the court papers say if they want to call we have to let them. I am their stepmother and she can-not dictate what goes on in my house but she has the courts make these rules of things we can’t do with the kids. The kids have trouble sleeping at our house because of her. I put my son in the same school as hers to show support but she has made it so that I can’t pick them up from school. And now some of the other parents look at me as if I don’t belong there. It’s a small school and yes most of the parents knew her before but that doesn’t mean I can’t be there too. And now if I join a school committee that she is on she removes herself and the other parents are annoyed which is just drama. I am trying to be the peace person and include everyone but she constantly undermines me. I tell my husband to tell the judge this or that so she can see there are more people involved then just her but he gets tired of doing it and I think he just wants to let it go and let her win. So what should I do to make her respect me as their stepmother and also show her that I am not a bad person? Yes I made a mistake having an affair but I am a godly person and I have a right to be in those kids lives and do things with them and she needs to get over herself because it’s not all about her.

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Karen Young

I would suggest stepping back and letting your husband and his ex-wife get on with the job of raising their children. It sounds as though your involvement in their parenting isn’t helping anything at all. It’s completely understandable that she wants that time with her children without you there. If being at their sporting events makes her and the children uncomfortable, it sounds as though there isn’t a lot of good that can come from you being there. Be sensitive to that.

Your time with the children can happen when they are with you and their father. In the same way she doesn’t come to your family events when you have the children, it is understandable that she doesn’t want you there when she is with the children. Of course it is different with their father, because he’s their father, but as a step-parent, it’s important to respect the boundaries of the biological parents and the children first. Similarly with father’s day, that is a day for the children and their father and if they made it clear they just wanted to spend time with their father, there is nothing wrong with that. They deserve time with him, and need time with him, without you. Would you be okay with the children and your husband’s ex-wife coming on your anniversary dinner?

One of the toughest parts of being a stepparent is that you are not part of the biological family. There is a history and relationships that happened before you, and that will continue after you. Yes, your husband is your husband, but he is their father first. Your involvement in their lives can grow, and hopefully the time will come where you have an important and loved place in their lives, but for this to happen, it has to be on their terms and when they’re ready. They are trying to get used to a new normal, and they have every right to do this in their own time. If that means you need to step back sometimes, it’s important that you do that for their sake and also for the sake of your relationship with them.

You might be their stepmother, but she is their mother and she has every right to a say in the way her children are treated and what happens to them whether they are in her house, your house or anybody else’s house. This will take negotiation and compromise and the best way to make that happen is to stop pushing against her and expecting that she ‘get over herself’. If she doesn’t want to be in the places you are, she doesn’t have to be. Give her the space she deserves. You had an affair with her husband. While it is not for anyone else to judge you for that, she has ever right to. It is completely insensitive to expect her to be okay with you putting yourself in her space, such as committes etc. Some sensitivity on your part would help things enormously.

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The Outsider by Choice

I do not have any children of my own and I have been with my boyfriend for 4 years. We have lived together since the beginning since we were friends for many years before. He has a 10 year old girl- I met her when she was about 3. Me and her always got along just great! we played, had fun, etc..but for some reason I cannot seem to stand her now. I have nothing in common with her any longer- she is a great kid and is not spoiled or anything of that matter, but she is just not a kid I would hang out with or like if I met her. She is very immature for her age. I am in a living HELL right now because every time she is here, one weekend on and off, I change my personality. I am always observing and watching my man to make sure he still “loves” me when she is around, if he offers me food when he offers her food…etc. I am very aware how much of an IDIOT I sound like, believe me, and I have really tried to shake this feeling off, but I have not been able to do so and it has gotten to the point of me HATING the weekends she comes over and counting the seconds until it is over.
How on earth can I let go and get rid of this horrible and disgusting jealousy and feelings of being an outsider all of the time when my man actually supports me and does all he can for me? We just had a discussion and he told me: “I cannot help you if you will not let me”. ouch. OUCH.
I need someone that actually understands me to give me some advice, someone that has gone through this!

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Jamie

I am having a hard time myself. I have a 14 y/o stepson and have been in his life since he was 7. We used to have him on vacactions and 6 weeks of summer vacation because he lived out of state. He moved back two years ago so we have him once a week and every other weekend. My problem is that he is never more than 3 feet from my husband the entire time he’s with us. When he talks it’s only to his father. Dinner used to be awful as only the two of them would have a conversation directed by my stepson while my bio son and I sat in silence. My husband and i have a 4 year old together and my stepson wants nothing to do with him despite encouraging him and letting him know how much his brother loves him. When he’s with us, I feel really lonely because my husband spends all of his time with my stepson and he is constantly like “Dad…Dad…Dad…” all day long. These weekends that he is with us are the only weekends my husband is home from work as he works away from home 1/2 of the month. My husband won’t go on date nights on the nights he is with us. I just feel separate.

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Karen Young

I understand the difficulty you’re having, but it’s important to see this through your stepson’s eyes. He would likely consider that you have his dad all the time (even though that’s not the case), but he only has him on a limited basis. It’s likely that he misses his dad when he isn’t with him, and it is completely understandable that he wants to be close to him. This isn’t personal – I understand it feels person, but it isn’t. It’s about your stepson wanting to feel close and secure with his dad. If you can, try to see it as that. This won’t last forever. Your stepson is moving through adolescence, and when he moves closer to adulthood, he will be experimenting more with his own independence. Of course he will still need his father, and he will still want to spend time with him, but as time goes on, you will feel less excluded. Be patient, and don’t take it personally.

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Shel

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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Ash

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

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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.

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Lyz

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.

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Natalie

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.

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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.

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Sarah

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),

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Renee

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!??

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Esther

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.

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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 !

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Reni

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.

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SS

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??

Reply
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.

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GIJANE

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.

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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!

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KirstyC

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!

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Mal

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 country..my 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…

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Selena

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!

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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.

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Anna

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.

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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.

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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.

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