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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When things feel hard or the world feels big, children will be looking to their important adults for signs of safety. They will be asking, ‘Do you think I'm safe?' 'Do you think I can do this?' With everything in us, we have to send the message, ‘Yes! Yes love, this is hard and you are safe. You can do hard things.'

Even if we believe they are up to the challenge, it can be difficult to communicate this with absolute confidence. We love them, and when they're distressed, we're going to feel it. Inadvertently, we can align with their fear and send signals of danger, especially through nonverbals. 

What they need is for us to align with their 'brave' - that part of them that wants to do hard things and has the courage to do them. It might be small but it will be there. Like a muscle, courage strengthens with use - little by little, but the potential is always there.

First, let them feel you inside their world, not outside of it. This lets their anxious brain know that support is here - that you see what they see and you get it. This happens through validation. It doesn't mean you agree. It means that you see what they see, and feel what they feel. Meet the intensity of their emotion, so they can feel you with them. It can come off as insincere if your nonverbals are overly calm in the face of their distress. (Think a zen-like low, monotone voice and neutral face - both can be read as threat by an anxious brain). Try:

'This is big for you isn't it!' 
'It's awful having to do things you haven't done before. What you are feeling makes so much sense. I'd feel the same!

Once they really feel you there with them, then they can trust what comes next, which is your felt belief that they will be safe, and that they can do hard things. 

Even if things don't go to plan, you know they will cope. This can be hard, especially because it is so easy to 'catch' their anxiety. When it feels like anxiety is drawing you both in, take a moment, breathe, and ask, 'Do I believe in them, or their anxiety?' Let your answer guide you, because you know your young one was built for big, beautiful things. It's in them. Anxiety is part of their move towards brave, not the end of it.
Sometimes we all just need space to talk to someone who will listen without giving advice, or problem solving, or lecturing. Someone who will let us talk, and who can handle our experiences and words and feelings without having to smooth out the wrinkles or tidy the frayed edges. 

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#parenting #parenthood #mindfulparenting
Words can be hard sometimes. The right words can be orbital and unconquerable and hard to grab hold of. Feelings though - they’ll always make themselves known, with or without the ‘why’. 

Kids and teens are no different to the rest of us. Their feelings can feel bigger than words - unfathomable and messy and too much to be lassoed into language. If we tap into our own experience, we can sometimes (not all the time) get an idea of what they might need. 

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#parenting #mindfulparenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparent
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