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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Today was an ending and a beginning. My darling girl finished year 12. The final year at school is tough enough, but this year was seismic. Our teens have moved through this year with the most outstanding courage and grace and strength, and now it is time for them to rest and play. My gosh they deserve it. 

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There is a beautifully fertile void that is waiting for whatever comes next for each of them, but that void is still a void. At different times it might feel exciting, overwhelming, or brutal in its emptiness.

We also have to remember that this is a time of letting go, and there might be grief that comes with that. Before they can grab on to their next big adventure, they have to let go of the guard rails. This means gently adjusting their hold on the world they have known for the last 12+ years, with its places and routines and people that have felt like home on so many days. There will be redirects and shiftings, and through it all the things that need to stay will stay, and the things that need to adjust will adjust. 

To my darling girl, your loved incredible friends, and the teens who make our world what it is - you are the beautiful  thinkers, the big feelers, the creators, the change makers, and the ones who will craft and grow a better world. However you might feel now, the lights are waiting to shine for you and because of you. The world beyond school is opening its arms to you. That opening might happen quickly, or gently, or smoothly or chaotically, but it will happen. This world needs every one of you - your voices, your spirits, your fire, your softness, your strength and your power. You are world-ready, and we are so glad you are here xxx
When our kids or teens are in high emotion, their words might sound anxious, angry, inconsolable, jealous, defiant. As messy as the words might be, they have a good reason for being there. Big feelings surge as a way to influence the environment to meet a need. Of course, sometimes the fallout from this can be nuclear.
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Wherever there is a big emotion, there will always be an important need behind it - safety, comfort, attention, food, rest, connection. The need will always be valid, even if the way they’re going about meeting it is a little rough. As with so many difficult parenting moments, there will be gold in the middle of the mess if we know where to look. 
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There will be times for shaping the behaviour into a healthier response, but in the middle of a big feeling is not one of those times. Big feelings are NOT a sign of dysfunction, bad kids or bad parenting. They are a part of being human, and they bring rich opportunities for wisdom, learning and growth. .
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Parenting isn’t about stopping the emotional storms, but about moving through the storm and reaching the other side in a way that preserves the opportunity for our kids and teens to learn and grow from the experience - and they will always learn best from experience. 
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To calm a big feeling, name what you see, ‘I can see you’re disappointed. I know how much you wanted that’, or, ‘I can see this feels big for you,’ or, ‘You’re angry at me about .. aren’t you. I understand that. I would be mad too if I had to […],’ or ‘It sounds like today has been a really hard day.’ 
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When we connect with the emotion, we help soothe the nervous system. The emotion has done its job, found support, and can start to ease. 
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When they are at that line, deciding whether to retreat to safety or move forward into brave, there will be a part of them that will know they have what it takes to be brave. It might be pale, or quiet, or a little tumbled by the noise from anxiety, but it will be there. And it will be magical. Our job as their flight crew is to clear the way for this magical part of them to rise. ‘I can see this feels scary for you - and I know you can do this.’ 
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Give them space to talk but you don’t need to fix anything. You’ll want to, but the answers are in them, not us. Sometimes the answer will be to feel it out, or push for change, or feel the futility of it all so the feeling can let go, knowing it’s done it’s job - it’s recruited support, or raised awareness that something isn’t right.

Sometimes the feelings might be seismic but the words might be gone for a while. That’s okay too. Do they want to start with whatever words are there? Or talk about something else? Or go for a walk with you? Watch a movie with you? Or do a spontaneous, unnecessary drive thru with you just because you can - no words, no need to explain - just you and them and car music for the next 20 minutes. 

The more you can validate what they’re feeling (maybe, ‘Today was big for you wasn’t it’) and give them space to feel, the more they can feel the feeling, understand the need that’s fuelling it, and experiment with ways to deal with it. Sometimes, ‘dealing with it’ might mean acknowledging that there is something that feels big or important and a little out of reach right now, and feeling the fullness and futility of that. 

Part of building resilience is recognising that some days are rubbish, and that sometimes those days last for longer than they should, but we get through. First we feel floored, then we feel stuck, then we shift because the only choices we have we have are to stay down or move, even when moving hurts. Then, eventually we adjust - either ourselves, the problem, or to a new ‘is’. But the learning comes from experience.

I wish our kids never felt pain, but we don’t get to decide that. We don’t get to decide how our children grow, but we do get to decide how much space and support we give them for this growth. We can love them through it but we can’t love them out of it. I wish we could but we can’t.

So instead of feeling the need to silence their pain, make space for it. In the end we have no choice. Sometimes all the love in the world won’t be enough to put the wrong things right, but it can help them feel held while they move through the pain enough to find their out breath, and the strength that comes with that.♥️

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