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.



I would love a little advice. Dan and I have been together for about 61/2 years. When we met his son was 3 So he’s 9 now. I felt like his ex and I really had a pretty good relationship going until just recently. Good as in my parents have taken the boy on a few trips we always get to see him in holidays when my parents are around even if it’s “not” our year. Now I’m 3 rd grade he is struggling a lot in school At night when he comes home he cry’s when he doesn’t understand so his teacher said he needs to be medicated Of course the mom who is a pill and procedure freak found a guy despite the fathers best efforts to medicate him. We set an appointment with the same Dr for the 4 parents to go and talk with this guy and have a serious conversation about our conserves and she pulls her son out of school to bring him to the meeting. Using him as a pawn so things can’t get to real. Then about 15 minutes into it she looks at the dr and the dr reassured her. She tells me this is non of my business that he’s her son and I’m not family anyway I’m going to medicate my kid and there is nothing dan can do about it. And you won’t change my mind. So we left. Son in the room crying Now what


Can I ask a question? My husband and I have been divorced for 7yrs. We share a 9 year old son. He remarried 2 years ago and had another child who is 9 mos old. Since having the new child, he new wife and baby have taken several vacations together. I can’t help but feel bad for my son that he is being excluded. I am doing my best to shield him from knowing about these vacations, but at times he knows because dad insists on face timing or knows because of having schedule being rearranged. He has asked me why he isn’t going and I say I’m not sure that he has to ask his dad. Which he doesn’t not. I feel like he is going to harbor those feeling and may start to resent his half sibling. I have tried to express my concern to my ex-husband, but he doesn’t see the harm. Says he is fine. Am I wrong to think that they should include all children on family trip?

Kimme P

Wow. If all this doesn’t hit home!

First coming to the realization that I am a stepmom for life. I too was living in the fantasy that everything would be peace and love. I do not have any children of my own and was hoping that my stepdaughter would openly accept me. That was a huge let down. I’m not going to lie. The rejection has caused a lot of strain on my husband’s and I relationship. Plus we have very different ideas about parenting. This too has caused a lot of stress. So I eventually gave up. Not mentioning a word in fear that it would cause an argument.

Unfortunately my stepdaughter has been recently diagnosed with an eating disorder. Of which I noticed immediately sometime back. Anytime I suggested treatments I felt she needed I was met with instant dismissal. However I did push on about it. Which again, has caused much stress between us. She has been hospitalized and now both parents are finally agreeing on a treatment program. It has been so frustrating to watch her suffer. Know what she needs. And to be constantly met with dismissal from her father, my husband.

I’m extremely relieved that she is finally getting the help she needs. But have lost a lot of respect for my husband in the meantime. I feel I am not respected in this part of our relationship. Again, it is very frustrating to watch the same behaviors. I understand the letting go part. But it’s just not easy.


I have two step-sons that live with me and my wife. One is 22 and the other is 20 and also her nephew, who is 23. I work 60 plus hours weekly and come home to a nasty house and they keep their rooms clean. The nephew works and doesn’t give my wife no money for staying and wen I bring it up, it’s an argument. He can buy beer and go clubbing every week but can’t chip $5 or $10 on anything. The youngest son doesn’t work and sits at home playing video games all day. Same results when I speak on it. The oldest son works and pays $200 a month but doesn’t clean up, leaves clothes around and isn’t saving money to move and doesn’t plan on it. I’m on the edge of kicking everyone out which will be a big issue or moving out myself. I can’t continue living like this.


Hi this is Michelle..I have a partner 43 years old and I’m 20 years old. He have a only one daughter 16 years old. When My step daughter was 8 years old ,her mum and dad separate because her mum is horrible, I don’t wanna say this in this way but it is what it it. . Since her mum and dad separate , her dad looking after to her for 9 years now. And I meet my partner for 2 years from now.. we’re having argument because of his daughters behaviour .His daughter is ungrateful, silently rude, and don’t have gratitude for all what I did for her , the fact that I’m looking after her rabbits and she earns money because of the rabbits but everything what I did for her is doesn’t mean anything to her. She ignores me all the time . We never talk about us. We just always talk about the rabbits coz he’s giving me instructions what to do for the baby rabbits. And I cooked a dinner every night. But she never appreciate it. And now I feel like my relationship to her dad is destroying because of his daughter’s behaviour. We always have argument about his daughter. Because his daughter is not even listening to his father Everytime her father talk to her. And we’re not even allowed to be affectionate if her daughter is there. Even holding hands are not allowed. And we can’t even go for night out because my partner doesn’t want to leave his daughter home even for a while. And we’re just having time if his daughter is at school that’s it. In this situation I don’t really know what to do .. coz sometimes I feel like an second option coz I know his priority is his daughter ? and it’s just hurts me because I feel like I’m not enough even though he always told me I’m enough for him.. and sometimes I feel like a maid in this house than a girlfriend or partner , we don’t even have a nice time because he’s always busy work in his farm that’s what he always do when his days off coz he’s a pilot ,and he told me he wants me to go with him when he’s doing some jobs in the farm so we can spend time together, but that’s not the kind of time that I wanted that spend time in the farm with all the jobs when his day offs.. I don’t know what to do, I don’t know how to tell him that I’m hurt of everything but I love him that’s why I’m still here . . I will be so glad to hear you back to answer . Thank you.


My husband and I have a 3 yr old a be oy nd we will soon be getting custody of his 12yr boy and 6 yr girl because their mother passed away…I have mixed emotions more about how my son will be affected being the only one and now having to share his parents, also how the kids will be treated differently from myself because mine is mine and the others I have little to no say…they were raised different than what my husband and I will raise them…also my husband never was part of their lives and will now want to make up for it will my son be forgotten about…that’s silly but he may feel that way…I am just lost with emotions and thoughts

Wendy H

I think this will enlarge your sons circle. These are his siblings. As a mother of an only child, he will crave this as he gets older most likely. We have an unlimited supply of love. I doubt your husband will forget his third child, but I do believe there will be growing pains.With their mother gone, they will probably need a different love from you than most step children. Give it all time and be willing to rethink your plan as needed.


Thank you for writing about this topic both realistically and positively. There is so much online about how the step-parent must adjust in reaction to the feelings and needs of the children if they are to ‘fit in’; very little about the realities of all parties adjusting.


I’ve be with my for 8 years, we just recently got married (month ago)
For the most part I do get along with my 2 stepdaughters (15 and 13) . Last night their mom worked nights,till 11pm
I have my daughter for the weekend and cooked us a nice supper. I didnt ask or offer my stepdaughters if they wanted supper. I know it isnt fair but keep in mind they hardly listen to their mom and gives her attitude , I completely stay out and never ever have said a word to them about any behavior. Also they dont do anything around the house to help out….NOTHING at all.
So my wife is angry at me for not offering them any dinner. I realise it was wrong of me but at the same time they’re well old enough to make a simple meal….they eat around normal dinner time and I didn’t get home and cook supper til 630pm. Started eating at 730. Also, my wife spent the morning baking goods for her co workers. Shouldn’t she have given supper for her daughters thought and prepared something ahead of time for them?
Am I really in the wrong here?


I have 2 children son aged 6 & daughter aged 9 and my partner has two boys 11 & 12. We have been together for 6 years both of our marriages ended before we were together as a result of our ex’s having an affair (not together)
Our relationships was like a fairytale our kids all get on so well we were truly blessed! Then we moved in together 6 months ago and gradually it’s all falling a part and I’m not sure what to do?!
We have my step boys every other weekend, I look after them as my partner is at work, we have great fun all the kids together!
However when I ask my partner to help pick up my kids from school on his day off or drop or pick them up from a friends he simply says no! He says he feels guilty if he does this for my kids cause he doesn’t do it for his but his boys don’t mind as there mother’s nee hisbaydoes things for them so they say they kind of expect their dad to be helping with my kids. It’s really hurt me that he won’t help me at all and would rather see me rushing around cooking the dinner dropping kids off picking them back up
And he just watches the telly like he hasn’t a care in the world!!

I need help what should I do ? Tell him to step up or move out ?

jene l

I wish I knew what to do. I am an adult stepdaughter, the reason mytepmother giver me for my father not spening time with me, even now as an adult is, “he never spends time with any of his children. If there is hurt feelings and I try to address it, she and my step family downplays it.. Now published my book, she shared my link, but didn’t put anything like “heres my stepdaughters book or heres Jene’s book. But instead she just shared the link..
When my stepsister published her book, oddly enough 2 weeks after I did, she announced her daughter published a book. I am hurt and this is something that is constantly happening. Should I ignore like always or cut that family out.. I am tired and this is the last straw.


Thank you for your article! I wish I had read it before. I have been remarried for 3 years. I have two children, who at the time of marriage were 14 (girl) and 17 (boy). My previous wife passed away. My current wife has two children as well. At the time of marriage they were 14 (boy) and 10 (girl). My wife let go of the fantasy way before I did. I let go but I still struggle because most things feel like they keep going backwards. I realize this is because of the fantasy itself as described in your article. I’m used to a close family and sometimes I wonder what is the point to having this “new” family if we can’t be close. I love my wife and my kids love her too. Obviously its not the same as there bio mom but they genuinely love her. My wife’s children are completely the opposite of my own and so is my wife’s parenting style. I’m stricter with my kids such as making sure they make their bed, do there homework, are respectful, etc., than she is with her own. I get frustrated because her kids don’t have the same expectations placed on them, or if they do its not enforced. I try not to say anything but eventually I blow up after seeing them get by with so much. I like them and they are not bad kids but I feel they are being trained to be adults so they should have higher expectations placed on them so that they can be responsible adults. Most of our arguments arise when I get frustrated about mentioning these things to my wife and nothing changes. My wife recognizes some of what I say but she tells me that she is not good with discipline. My children see the unfairness as well. It feel like we are just way different people. I wanted us to be one united and caring family with everyone supporting each other (the fantasy). Things have gotten somewhat better over the years but there is a long way to go. My kids are in college and one of hers is as well. Her daughter still lives with us and drives me crazy because her priorities are so out of whack. My daughter and hers converse and seems like there is a relationship there but only her daughters terms. It feels like the realationships on my wife’s side are very one sided. We give them are all and they may give something back. It’s difficult to form a relationship with her daughter because she shuts herself in her room 24/7 for the most part. I want to have a relationship with her but when she is out and about I get so frustrated with her for her priorities being so far out of whack. I’m not sure what to do as I feel like giving up but your article is suggesting letting go which I have trouble with the true meaning of that. Do we live in the same house but do are own separate things such as I concentrate on my kids and she concentrates on her kids and we do are own separate things but occasionally coming together for things such as holidays? So most of the time is spent being away from each other so to speak?


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?


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Lead with warmth and confidence: ‘Yes I know this feels big, and yes I know you can handle it.’ 

We’re not saying they’ll handle it well, and we’re not dismissing their anxiety. What we’re saying is ‘I know you can handle the discomfort of anxiety.’ 

It’s not our job to relive this discomfort. We’ll want to, but we don’t have to. Our job is to give them the experiences they need (when it’s safe) to let them see that they can handle the discomfort of anxiety. 

This is important, because there will  always be anxiety when they do something brave, new, important, growthful. 

They can feel anxious and do brave. Leading with warmth and confidence is about, ‘Yes, I believe you that this feels bad, and yes, I believe in you.’ When we believe in them, they will follow. So often though, it will start with us.♥️
There are things we do because we love them, but that doesn’t mean they’ll feel loved because of those things.

Of course our kids know we love them, and we know they love us. But sometimes, they might feel disconnected from that feeling of being ‘loved by’. As parents, we might feel disconnected from the feeling of being ‘appreciated by’.

It’s no coincidence that sometimes their need to feel loved, and our need to feel appreciated collide. This collision won’t sound like crashing metal or breaking concrete. It will sound like anger, frustration, demanding, nagging. 

It will feel like not mattering, resentment, disconnection. It can burst through us like meteors of anger, frustration, irritation, defiance. It can be this way for us and our young ones. (And our adult relationships too.)

We humans have funny ways of saying, ‘I miss you.’

Our ‘I miss you’ might sound like nagging, annoyance, anger. It might feel like resentment, rage, being taken for granted, sadness, loneliness. It might look like being less playful, less delighting in their presence.

Their ‘I miss you’ might look like tantrums, aggression, tears, ignoring, defiant indifference, attention-seeking (attention-needing). It might sound like demands, anger, frustration.

The point is, there are things we do because we love them - cleaning, the laundry, the groceries, cooking. And yes, we want them to be grateful, but feeling grateful and feeling loved are different things. 

Sometimes the things that make them feel loved are so surprising and simple and unexpected - seeking them out for play, micro-connections, the way you touch their hair at bedtime, the sound of your laugh at their jokes, when you delight in their presence (‘Gosh I’ve missed you today!’ Or, ‘I love being your mum so much. I love it better than everything. Even chips. If someone said you can be queen of the universe or Molly’s mum, I’d say ‘Pfft don’t annoy me with your offers of a crown. I’m Molly’s mum and I’ll never love being anything more.’’)

So ask them, ‘What do I do that makes you feel loved?’ If they say ‘When you buy me Lego’, gently guide them away from bought things, and towards what you do for them or with them.♥️
We don’t have to protect them from the discomfort of anxiety. We’ll want to, but we don’t have to.

OAnxiety often feels bigger than them, but it isn’t. This is a wisdom that only comes from experience. The more they sit with their anxiety, the more they will see that they can feel anxious and do brave anyway. Sometimes brave means moving forward. Sometimes it means standing still while the feeling washes away. 

It’s about sharing the space, not getting pushed out of it.

Our job as their adults isn’t to fix the discomfort of anxiety, but to help them recognise that they can handle that discomfort - because it’s going to be there whenever they do something brave, hard , important. When we move them to avoid anxiety, we potentially, inadvertently, also move them to avoid brave, hard, growthful things. 

‘Brave’ rarely feels brave. It will feel jagged and raw. Sometimes fragile and threadbare. Sometimes it will as though it’s breathing fire. But that’s how brave feels sometimes. 

The more they sit with the discomfort of anxiety, the more they will see that anxiety isn’t an enemy. They don’t have to be scared of it. It’s a faithful ally, a protector, and it’s telling them, ‘Brave lives here. Stay with me. Let me show you.’♥️
#parenting #childanxiety #anxietyinkids #teenanxiety
We have to stop treating anxiety as a disorder. Even for kids who have seismic levels of anxiety, pathologising anxiety will not serve them at all. All it will do is add to their need to avoid the thing that’s driving anxiety, which will most often be something brave, hard, important. (Of course if they are in front of an actual danger, we help anxiety do its job and get them out of the way of that danger, but that’s not the anxiety we’re talking about here.)

The key to anxiety isn’t in the ‘getting rid of’ anxiety, but in the ‘moving with’ anxiety. 

The story they (or we) put to their anxiety will determine their response. ‘You have anxiety. We need to fix it or avoid the thing that’s causing it,’ will drive a different response to, ‘Of course you have anxiety. You’re about to do something brave. What’s one little step you can take towards it?’

This doesn’t mean they will be able to ‘move with’ their anxiety straight away. The point is, the way we talk to them about anxiety matters. 

We don’t want them to be scared of anxiety, because we don’t want them to be scared of the brave, important, new, hard things that drive anxiety. Instead, we want to validate and normalise their anxiety, and attach it to a story that opens the way for brave: 

‘Yes you feel anxious - that’s because you’re about to do something brave. Sometimes it feels like it happens for no reason at all. That’s because we don’t always know what your brain is thinking. Maybe it’s thinking about doing something brave. Maybe it’s thinking about something that happened last week or last year. We don’t always know, and that’s okay. It can feel scary, and you’re safe. I would never let you do something unsafe, or something I didn’t think you could handle. Yes you feel anxious, and yes you can do this. You mightn’t feel brave, but you can do brave. What can I do to help you be brave right now?’♥️

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