Trying to Parent Your Stepchildren – Is It a Good Idea?

Ask any step-parent and they will tell you, creating boundaries with your partner regarding step-parenting is essential for a happy blended home.

Parenting advice regarding how to deal with stepchildren can be confusing. You don’t want to overstep any boundaries with your spouse or step-children. At the same time, you want to ensure that you’re able to provide guidance and receive respect from your partner’s children.

Each child is unique,  so your step-children may welcome you into the family with open arms or they may rebel against you. Regardless of how you are received by your spouse’s children, there are important parenting tips to keep in mind once you become a blended family.

Ask questions.

Ask your spouse specific questions to get the answer you want. For example, they may not want you to punish the children or scold them, but what if you are witnessing them deliberately breaking house rules – such as in the case of them sneaking out at night. Should you step in?

Other questions to ask include:

  • Am I allowed to discipline the children? If so, are there any topics or situations that you would prefer to handle on your own?
  • How are my individual relationships doing with the children? Do I favor one over the other?
  • What should I do if I grow frustrated with the child’s behavior?
  • If both parents have children, how will they ensure no one feels neglected?

Being clear about your questions will lessen the chances of having misunderstandings.

Communicate with your partner about boundaries.

The best parenting advice you can follow regarding how to deal with stepchildren is to communicate with your spouse. How do they want you to move forward as a stepparent? Odds are they will have strong opinions about whether you should be involved with the discipline process.

It’s beneficial to talk about the core issues that you and your spouse agree on and narrow down your differences in how you approach parenting. Doing so will help you further define your role.

In the end, it is up to your spouse to decide what role you will play in their child’s life regarding discipline.

Support your spouse’s parenting choices.

You may not be able to discipline or mentor your stepchildren, but that doesn’t mean you can’t help the process to be pleasant.

While it is up to your spouse to deliver consequences for wrongdoing, you should play an active part in supporting their parenting choices. This will help your stepchildren to view you as their parent’s ally, instead of their co-parent.

Involvement with both biological parents.

It may be in the best interest of all involved if you are able to have a conversation with both biological parents about how to move forward as the stepparent. This allows everyone involved to voice their expectations and concerns.

When the children involved hear that you have discussed this topic with both of their parents, they will feel more comfortable with the situation. This will make things feel more like a collaboration of adults and less like you are trying to replace their loved one.

Of course, this is only possible if your partner has a cordial relationship with their ex.

Encourage biological parent bonding.

Overcome any jealousy you might feel for the ex by supporting their relationship with their child. By taking this road you will lessen any resentment the child may feel toward you for ‘replacing’ their parent.

What happens if your spouse doesn’t want you involved?

If your spouse decides that they would prefer you not play a role in disciplining, guiding, and supervising their children you may feel like your hands are tied.

Their decision may seem unfair and it might hurt your feelings, but you must respect your spouse’s decision regarding the care of their children. Over time they may allow you more responsibility when it comes to childcare, but until then you must follow their lead.

Think about what you can do.

It can be difficult if your spouse would prefer you take a step back from disciplining their children. But instead of thinking of what you can’t do for them, think of what you can. Such things may include:

  • Encouraging them to pursue their dreams.
  • Teaching them a skill.
  • Being a listening ear.
  • Celebrating their achievements.
  • Studies show that a parent’s mental outlook can have a direct effect on their child’s behavior. Set a good example by having a positive outlook on your blended family and you may see your stepchildren follow suit.

Focus on spending time individually with your stepchildren and creating your own special bond with them. Support their decisions, make jokes with them, create family hobbies together. These things are what will help you grow together as a new family.

Consider the child’s age.

How you approach building a relationship with your stepchild will have a lot to do with their age.

If you are coming into a marriage where your stepchild is five years of age or younger, you will have a much easier time getting them to adjust you as a stepparent. If your stepchild is a teen or approaching their teenage years, things can get a little trickier.

In either case, it is important for you to try and establish a respectful relationship without seeming like you’re trying to replace their biological parent.

Be patient.

Being a stepparent is hard work. You will have days where you love your new kids to bits and others where you will wonder why you ever signed up for life as a blended family.

By assuming a role of authority in the house, you will have your self-esteem put to the test. Your new children may question you, rebel against you, or try and sabotage your relationship.

Just like any new parent, learning how to deal with stepchildren in a blended family is going to take patience. As can learning what your role is in their lives.

There is a learning curve, but with time you will develop your own relationship with your spouse’s children.

A final word …

Step-parenting comes with many challenges. In order to be successful, your partner must be open with you about the role they would like you to play in their child’s life. Encourage your new children and let them know that you want the best for them. And above all else, don’t give up!


About the Author: Rachael Pace

Rachael Pace is a relationship expert with years of experience in training and helping couples. She has helped countless individuals and organizations around the world, offering effective and efficient solutions for healthy and successful relationships. She is a featured writer for Marriage.com, a reliable resource to support healthy happy marriages.

 

One Comment

Erika

Im sorry, but this philosophy of “step back and let their bio parent raise them” does not work in a household with yours, mine, and ours kids. You will obviously be forced to treat your stepchildren differently (and they will notice trust me) if you are only permitted to be involved with the good and the bad and ugly you are excluded. they know you have no power and use that to make your life miserable. So you end up being a prisoner in your own home.

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Deborah

Im 60 and for first time am a step parent. Wasn’t allowed to have children before, in my past married…..but now… I have been married 1 year…. to a sweet man who has a 15 year old son, has 1/2 custody. The issue is that I am also the survivor of 27 years domestic violence. “I” am having a hard time dealing with the step child. I think your article hit it on the head, the child feels loyal to his biological mom and is either hostile towards me of coldly indifferent. And that is Okay…I understand that…His dad makes excuses and or doesn’t see it. I want this to work as I love my husband..but having difficulty with my past experiences, PTSD and dealing with the hostility at home. I am not sure I will be able to survive not taking this personally….any ideas?

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Anxiety shows up to check that you’re okay, not to tell you that you’re not. It’s your brain’s way of saying, ‘Not sure - there might be some trouble here, but there might not be, but just in case you should be ready for it if it comes, which it might not – but just in case you’d better be ready to run or fight – but it might be totally fine.’ Brains can be so confusing sometimes! 

You have a brain that is strong, healthy and hardworking. It’s magnificent and it’s doing a brilliant job of doing exactly what brains are meant to do – keep you alive. 

Your brain is fabulous, but it needs you to be the boss. Here’s how. When you feel anxious, ask yourself two questions:

- ‘Do I feel like this because I’m in danger or because there’s something brave or important I need to do?’

- Then, ‘Is this a time for me to be safe (sometimes it might be) or is this a time for me to be brave?

And remember, you will always have ‘brave’ in you, and anxiety doesn’t change that a bit.♥️

#positiveparenting #mindfulparenting #parenting #childanxiety #heywarrior #heywarriorbook
The temptation to fix their big feelings can be seismic. Often this is connected to needing to ease our own discomfort at their discomfort, which is so very normal.

Big feelings in them are meant to raise (sometimes big) feelings in us. This is all a healthy part of the attachment system. It happens to mobilise us to respond to their distress, or to protect them if their distress is in response to danger.

Emotion is energy in motion. We don’t want to bury it, stop it, smother it, and we don’t need to fix it. What we need to do is make a safe passage for it to move through them. 

Think of emotion like a river. Our job is to hold the ground strong and steady at the banks so the river can move safely, without bursting the banks.

However hard that river is racing, they need to know we can be with the river (the emotion), be with them, and handle it. This might feel or look like you aren’t doing anything, but actually it’s everything.

The safety that comes from you being the strong, steady presence that can lovingly contain their big feelings will let the emotional energy move through them and bring the brain back to calm.

Eventually, when they have lots of experience of us doing this with them, they will learn to do it for themselves, but that will take time and experience. The experience happens every time you hold them steady through their feelings. 

This doesn’t mean ignoring big behaviour. For them, this can feel too much like bursting through the banks, which won’t feel safe. Sometimes you might need to recall the boundary and let them know where the edges are, while at the same time letting them see that you can handle the big of the feeling. Its about loving and leading all at once. ‘It’s okay to be angry. It’s not okay to use those words at me.’

Ultimately, big feelings are a call for support. Sometimes support looks like breathing and being with. Sometimes it looks like showing them you can hold the boundary, even when they feel like they’re about to burst through it. And if they’re using spicy words to get us to back off, it might look like respecting their need for space but staying in reaching distance, ‘Ok, I’m right here whenever you need.’♥️
We all need certain things to feel safe enough to put ourselves into the world. Kids with anxiety have magic in them, every one of them, but until they have a felt sense of safety, it will often stay hidden.

‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what they feel. At school, they might have the safest, most loving teacher in the safest, most loving school. This doesn’t mean they will feel enough relational safety straight away that will make it easier for them to do hard things. They can still do those hard things, but those things are going to feel bigger for a while. This is where they’ll need us and their other anchor adult to be patient, gentle, and persistent.

Children aren’t meant to feel safe with and take the lead from every adult. It’s not the adult’s role that makes the difference, but their relationship with the child.

Children are no different to us. Just because an adult tells them they’ll be okay, it doesn’t mean they’ll feel it or believe it. What they need is to be given time to actually experience the person as being safe, supportive and ready to catch them.

Relationship is key. The need for safety through relationship isn’t an ‘anxiety thing’. It’s a ‘human thing’. When we feel closer to the people around us, we can rise above the mountains in our way. When we feel someone really caring about us, we’re more likely to open up to their influence
and learn from them.

But we have to be patient. Even for teachers with big hearts and who undertand the importance of attachment relationships, it can take time.

Any adult at school can play an important part in helping a child feel safe – as long as that adult is loving, warm, and willing to do the work to connect with that child. It might be the librarian, the counsellor, the office person, a teacher aide. It doesn’t matter who, as long as it is someone who can be available for that child at dropoff or when feelings get big during the day and do little check-ins along the way.

A teacher, or any important adult can make a lasting difference by asking, ‘How do I build my relationship with this child so s/he trusts me when I say, ‘I’ve got you, and I know you can do this.’♥️
There is a beautiful ‘everythingness’ in all of us. The key to living well is being able to live flexibly and more deliberately between our edges.

So often though, the ‘shoulds’ and ‘should nots’ we inhale in childhood and as we grow, lead us to abandon some of those precious, needed parts of us. ‘Don’t be angry/ selfish/ shy/ rude. She’s not a maths person.’ ‘Don’t argue.’ Ugh.

Let’s make sure our children don’t cancel parts of themselves. They are everything, but not always all at once. They can be anxious and brave. Strong and soft. Angry and calm. Big and small. Generous and self-ish. Some things they will find hard, and they can do hard things. None of these are wrong ways to be. What trips us up is rigidity, and only ever responding from one side of who we can be.

We all have extremes or parts we favour. This is what makes up the beautiful, complex, individuality of us. We don’t need to change this, but the more we can open our children to the possibility in them, the more options they will have in responding to challenges, the everyday, people, and the world. 

We can do this by validating their ‘is’ without needing them to be different for a while in the moment, and also speaking to the other parts of them when we can. 

‘Yes maths is hard, and I know you can do hard things. How can I help?’

‘I can see how anxious you feel. That’s so okay. I also know you have brave in you.’

‘I love your ‘big’ and the way you make us laugh. You light up the room.’ And then at other times: ‘It can be hard being in a room with new people can’t it. It’s okay to be quiet. I could see you taking it all in.’

‘It’s okay to want space from people. Sometimes you just want your things and yourself for yourself, hey. I feel like that sometimes too. I love the way you know when you need this.’ And then at other times, ‘You looked like you loved being with your friends today. I loved watching you share.’

The are everything, but not all at once. Our job is to help them live flexibly and more deliberately between the full range of who they are and who they can be: anxious/brave; kind/self-ish; focussed inward/outward; angry/calm. This will take time, and there is no hurry.♥️

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