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.

Reply
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?

Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Follow Hey Sigmund on Instagram

Anxiety is a sign that the brain has registered threat and is mobilising the body to get to safety. One of the ways it does this is by organising the body for movement - to fight the danger or flee the danger. 

If there is no need or no opportunity for movement, that fight or flight fuel will still be looking for expression. This can come out as wriggly, fidgety, hyperactive behaviour. This is why any of us might pace or struggle to sit still when we’re anxious. 

If kids or teens are bouncing around, wriggling in their chairs, or having trouble sitting still, it could be anxiety. Remember with anxiety, it’s not about what is actually safe but about what the brain perceives. New or challenging work, doing something unfamiliar, too much going on, a tired or hungry body, anything that comes with any chance of judgement, failure, humiliation can all throw the brain into fight or flight.

When this happens, the body might feel busy, activated, restless. This in itself can drive even more anxiety in kids or teens. Any of us can struggle when we don’t feel comfortable in our own bodies. 

Anxiety is energy with nowhere to go. To move through anxiety, give the energy somewhere to go - a fast walk, a run, a whole-body shake, hula hooping, kicking a ball - any movement that spends the energy will help bring the brain and body back to calm.♥️
.
.
.
#parenting #anxietyinkids #childanxiety #parenting #parent
This is not bad behaviour. It’s big behaviour a from a brain that has registered threat and is working hard to feel safe again. 

‘Threat’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what the brain perceives. The brain can perceive threat when there is any chance missing out on or messing up something important, anything that feels unfamiliar, hard, or challenging, feeling misunderstood, thinking you might be angry or disappointed with them, being separated from you, being hungry or tired, anything that pushes against their sensory needs - so many things. 

During anxiety, the amygdala in the brain is switched to high volume, so other big feelings will be too. This might look like tears, sadness, or anger. 

Big feelings have a good reason for being there. The amygdala has the very important job of keeping us safe, and it does this beautifully, but not always with grace. One of the ways the amygdala keeps us safe is by calling on big feelings to recruit social support. When big feelings happen, people notice. They might not always notice the way we want to be noticed, but we are noticed. This increases our chances of safety. 

Of course, kids and teens still need our guidance and leadership and the conversations that grow them, but not during the emotional storm. They just won’t hear you anyway because their brain is too busy trying to get back to safety. In that moment, they don’t want to be fixed or ‘grown’. They want to feel seen, safe and heard. 

During the storm, preserve your connection with them as much as you can. You might not always be able to do this, and that’s okay. None of this is about perfection. If you have a rupture, repair it as soon as you can. Then, when their brains and bodies come back to calm, this is the time for the conversations that will grow them. 

Rather than, ‘What consequences do they need to do better?’, shift to, ‘What support do they need to do better?’ The greatest support will come from you in a way they can receive: ‘What happened?’ ‘What can you do differently next time?’ ‘You’re the most wonderful kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen. How can you put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
Big behaviour is a sign of a nervous system in distress. Before anything, that vulnerable nervous system needs to be brought back home to felt safety. 

This will happen most powerfully with relationship and connection. Breathe and be with. Let them know you get it. This can happen with words or nonverbals. It’s about feeling what they feel, but staying regulated.

If they want space, give them space but stay in emotional proximity, ‘Ok I’m just going to stay over here. I’m right here if you need.’

If they’re using spicy words to make sure there is no confusion about how they feel about you right now, flag the behaviour, then make your intent clear, ‘I know how upset you are and I want to understand more about what’s happening for you. I’m not going to do this while you’re speaking to me like this. You can still be mad, but you need to be respectful. I’m here for you.’

Think of how you would respond if a friend was telling you about something that upset her. You wouldn’t tell her to calm down, or try to fix her (she’s not broken), or talk to her about her behaviour. You would just be there. You would ‘drop an anchor’ and steady those rough seas around her until she feels okay enough again. Along the way you would be doing things that let her know your intent to support her. You’d do this with you facial expressions, your voice, your body, your posture. You’d feel her feels, and she’d feel you ‘getting her’. It’s about letting her know that you understand what she’s feeling, even if you don’t understand why (or agree with why). 

It’s the same for our children. As their important big people, they also need leadership. The time for this is after the storm has passed, when their brains and bodies feel safe and calm. Because of your relationship, connection and their felt sense of safety, you will have access to their ‘thinking brain’. This is the time for those meaningful conversations: 
- ‘What happened?’
- ‘What did I do that helped/ didn’t help?’
- ‘What can you do differently next time?’
- ‘You’re a great kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen, but here we are. What can you do to put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
As children grow, and especially by adolescence, we have the illusion of control but whether or not we have any real influence will be up to them. The temptation to control our children will always come from a place of love. Fear will likely have a heavy hand in there too. When they fall, we’ll feel it. Sometimes it will feel like an ache in our core. Sometimes it will feel like failure or guilt, or anger. We might wish we could have stopped them, pushed a little harder, warned a little bigger, stood a little closer. We’re parents and we’re human and it’s what this parenting thing does. It makes fear and anxiety billow around us like lost smoke, too easily.

Remember, they want you to be proud of them, and they want to do the right thing. When they feel your curiosity over judgement, and the safety of you over shame, it will be easier for them to open up to you. Nobody will guide them better than you because nobody will care more about where they land. They know this, but the magic happens when they also know that you are safe and that you will hold them, their needs, their opinions and feelings with strong, gentle, loving hands, no matter what.♥️
Anger is the ‘fight’ part of the fight or flight response. It has important work to do. Anger never exists on its own. It exists to hold other more vulnerable emotions in a way that feels safer. It’s sometimes feels easier, safer, more acceptable, stronger to feel the ‘big’ that comes with anger, than the vulnerability that comes with anxiety, sadness, loneliness. This isn’t deliberate. It’s just another way our bodies and brains try to keep us safe. 

The problem isn’t the anger. The problem is the behaviour that can come with the anger. Let there be no limits on thoughts and feelings, only behaviour. When children are angry, as long as they are safe and others are safe, we don’t need to fix their anger. They aren’t broken. Instead, drop the anchor: as much as you can - and this won’t always be easy - be a calm, steadying, loving presence to help bring their nervous systems back home to calm. 

Then, when they are truly calm, and with love and leadership, have the conversations that will grow them - 
- What happened? 
- What can you do differently next time?
- You’re a really great kid. I know you didn’t want this to happen but here we are. How can you make things right. Would you like some ideas? Do you need some help with that?
- What did I do that helped? What did I do that didn’t help? Is there something that might feel more helpful next time?

When their behaviour falls short of ‘adorable’, rather than asking ‘What consequences they need to do better?’ let the question be, ‘What support do they need to do better.’ Often, the biggest support will be a conversation with you, and that will be enough.♥️
.
.
#parenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparenting #anxietyinkids

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This