How to live with a step parent

In this Article

  • What Is a Stepfamily?
  • Adjusting to a New Stepparent
  • Does a Stepparent Replace My Biological Parent?
  • What if My New Stepparent Has Different Rules?
  • What if I Don’t Like My Stepparent?
  • Coping With Stepfamily Transitions

It’s a reality today that about half of all marriages end in divorce and three out of every four people who get divorced will marry again. This means millions of new stepfamilies are formed each year. Sometimes the transition is pretty easy. But many times, families have trouble adjusting to the new living arrangements, rules, and relationships.

Dealing with stepparents and the changes that come with them can be complex, and sometimes frustrating. But taking time to build a good relationship with your stepparent can help you and your family.

What Is a Stepfamily?

A stepfamily is a family in which one parent has children that are not related to the other parent. Sometimes, both parents have their own children from a previous marriage or relationship. Other times, only one parent already has children.

Stepfamilies can be complex because the children may live with one biological parent and visit their other biological parent, or live with each biological parent part of the time.

Adjusting to a New Stepparent

Building any relationship takes time and effort. Don’t expect to be best friends with your new stepparent overnight. If you and your stepparent have similar interests, and personalities that work well together, it may take less time to adjust. But relationships with stepparents can be complicated because they may be “part friend” and “part parent.”

Getting used to the balance between the friend and parent parts can take awhile. Don’t be disappointed if the adjustment takes longer than you thought. Over time, you and your stepparent will both adjust to the new situation.

Does a Stepparent Replace My Biological Parent?

Your stepparent and biological parent are different people. And, the relationship with your stepparent will develop at a different point in your life than your relationship with your biological parent.

Because of these differences, your relationship with your stepparent will not be the same as that with your biological parent, even though their parenting roles may be similar.

What if My New Stepparent Has Different Rules?

Adjusting to new rules is a common problem for stepfamilies. Because your stepparent brings different experiences to the family than your biological parent, they may have different opinions and expectations. Your stepparent may expect you to be more responsible, have good table manners, be louder, be quieter, or many other things.

While you may think some of these new rules are worse than the ones you’re used to, most likely they are just new to you. Your stepparent may even have some rules that you like better.

If you don’t like a particular rule, it probably won’t help to tell your stepparent that it is a bad rule. It may be helpful to tell your stepparent that the rule is different, and you are having trouble adjusting to it. Try to work out rules on which both you and your stepparent can agree.

Remember, throughout your life, you will have to adjust to new rules from time to time. This will happen when you live in a college or military dormitory, with roommates or a spouse. Learning to adjust to others and their expectations and to negotiate with them is an important part of becoming an adult.

What if I Don’t Like My Stepparent?

It is normal to initially feel some dislike or resentment of a stepparent, especially when you are first adjusting to the new situation. As with anybody you meet, you will naturally like some people more and some less than others.

Although you may feel you dislike everything about your stepparent, there will probably be some things you do like. Chances are, you have a few interests in common. Try focusing on the things you do like about your stepparent. This can be a starting point for building a better relationship.

It can also help to talk about your feelings with an adult friend who has an objective perspective.

If you talk to your parent, don’t say that your stepparent is all bad. Instead, tell your parent specific things you don’t like about your stepparent. This way, you can avoid hurting anyone’s feelings. It may also prevent fights between your parent and stepparent. You may also find it easier to focus on a problem or issue if you are being specific.

Coping With Stepfamily Transitions

A new stepparent means change. Feeling a bit unstable because of a new stepparent is normal.

It may help to focus on other, stable areas of your life during this transition, such as school, sports, or hobbies. This may make things seem a little more normal.

Be aware that your parent and stepparent may want you to spend time with the family to help everyone bond. This is good, but if you feel overwhelmed by all the new things in your family, let your parents know. You may want to tell them that focusing on the stable parts of your life helps you cope with the family transitions.

Another way to cope with stepfamily changes is to talk with a school counselor or professional therapist about your feelings. This way you can get support and maybe learn some ways to adjust.

Make sure to discuss more than just the bad things. Talk about the good, funny, different, and interesting things about having a new stepparent. Over time, most teens learn to accept stepparents and enjoy spending time with them alone and with their biological parents.

If you have persistent, severe anxiety, or feel angry or depressed as a result of your relationships with your stepfamily, ask for help from a therapist or your primary health care provider.

Sources

King, V. Journal of Marriage and Family, 2006.В

DeAngelis, T., Monitor on Psychology, 2005.

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.В

National Stepfamily Resource Center: “Stepfamily Fact Sheet.”

How to live with a step parent

Parenting is tough enough as it is. When you’re a stepparent, the job is all the more challenging.

Below, HuffPost Divorce reader and bloggers who are stepparents share a few things no one ever told them about the experience of being a bonus mom or stepdad. See what they had to say below.

1. “No one tell you that being a stepparent will put your self-esteem to the ultimate test. The kids ignore you, no matter how nice you are to them. The majority of decisions in your life are being dictated by an ex-spouse and society automatically thinks of you as a home wrecker (even though you met your spouse years after his separation) — how could the situation not mess with your self-esteem? Without a strong sense of self, your insecurities will have you doubting your every move.” —Jenna Korf , certified stepfamily coach

2. “No one tells you just how much the ex can affect your relationship and the new family by what he or she does or doesn’t do.” — Nicholas Golden

3. “No one tells you parenting isn’t instinctive. I thought my maternal instincts would be an innate response to having stepkids. Nope. It was fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants parenting.” — Janelle Dexheimer

4. “No one tells you how hard it is to balance the demands of your role. You are a safe place for your stepchild to open up about feelings they have and can’t talk to their own parents about. At first, I was excited and felt like, ‘Yes, they finally trust me!’ But then you find out this can be a huge negative: Do I try and be the cool parent and handle it on my own and keep what they say to me in confidence knowing that their dad or mom should know about it? If I tell the kids’ dad or mom, then they will feel as though I betrayed them and their trust. It’s a tough situation!” — Kerri Mingoia

5. No one tells you that the moment the kids include you or go to you instead of their parent will be the greatest feeling in the world. It’s as if you’ve finally been initiated into a secret society.” — Jenna Korf, pictured below

Despite what shows like TheBrady Bunch and Modern Family would have us believe, stepparenting is hard. “Blending a family is like a dish that takes a long time to cook,” says Molly Barrow, PhD, author of How To Survive Step Parenting. “You can’t force it before it’s ready.”

But if you’re patient and take the following tips to heart, the rewards are well worth the effort. These nine tips can help.

1. DON’T come on too strong.

“Many stepparents try too hard to create an instant bond,” says Christina Steinorth, MFT, author of Cue Cards for Life: Gentle Reminders for Better Relationships. “Though they have good intentions, many stepparents try to buy their stepchild’s love through lots of gifts or by being the really cool parent. Kids can see right through that.” Be realistic — and be yourself. You’ll have a better chance of developing that close relationship you long for.

2. Do get on the same parenting page with your new spouse — and their ex.

“All the parents need to discuss their methods — rewards, punishments, chores, allowances, bedtimes, homework — and come to an agreement about the rules,” says Tina B. Tessina, PhD, author of Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting about the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage. “The transition is much easier if the parents are in accord. If something happens you haven’t discussed, just defer to one parent, and work it out later.”

3. DO encourage your stepchild to have one-on-one time with both of their biological parents.

“Some stepparents are threatened by their stepchildren spending time alone with their biological parent — especially their spouse’s ex — but they shouldn’t be,” Steinorth says. “When you’re supportive of it, you’re sending the message that this isn’t a competition for affection and that you truly want to see your stepchildren happy.”

4. DO have family meetings weekly.

Give everyone, including the kids, a chance to share how they feel, what they like and don’t like, and ask them to share both positive and negative opinions,” Tessina says. “Ask for suggestions about how to make things better.”

Continued

5. DON’T set your expectations too high.

“This is especially important for stepparents that already have children of their own,” Steinorth says. “You may feel that you’ll be able to step into a new family and have the same interactions, feelings, and bonds you share with your biological children. What new stepparents seem to forget is that they have a shared history with their biological children that they don’t have with their stepchildren. Give your ‘new family’ time to develop its own unique dynamic, without any pressure of how you think it should be.”

6. DON’T overstep your bounds.

“A big mistake many stepparents make is over-disciplining a child in an attempt to gain respect,” Barrow says. “This often backfires and causes the kid to despise them. I recommend stepping back and allowing the primary parent to discipline their own children for at least the first year. After you’ve spent time earning their affection and respect, then you have a much better chance of being listened to.”

7. Be ready to hear, “You’re not my real mom/dad.”

“This is a stepchild’s way of trying to take power away from your role,” Steinorth says.

Be ready with an appropriate response.

“When it happens, the key is to not deny what your stepchild is telling you. Keep it factual and avoid the power struggle.” Your best bet? “You’re right, I’m not your biological parent, I’m your stepparent. But that doesn’t mean I love or care about you less.”

8. DO plan activities with your stepchild.

Bike together, go bowling, take an art class together, or even go grocery shopping and cook dinner together once or twice a week. “Shared experiences are a great way to bond with stepchildren,” Steinorth says. “Try to carve out one-on-one time together at least once a month.”

9. DON’T take it personally.

“Just remember that your stepchildren are dealing with their own feelings about the end of their biological parents’ marriage,” Steinorth says.

“When parents divorce, many children still hold out hope that their parents will work things out and get back together. But when a stepparent comes into the picture, the new stepparent is, in essence, putting an end to that dream. Kids mourn the loss of what they had hoped could be, and those feelings take time to work through.”

Sources

Molly Barrow, PhD, author, How To Survive Step-Parenting.

Christina Steinorth, MA, MFT, author, Cue Cards for Life: Gentle Reminders for Better Relationships.

Tina B. Tessina, PhD, author, Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting about the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage.

How to live with a step parent

In working with stepfamilies, I’ve found that a common expectation from divorced dads is that their partner will step in and parent their children. They might think that if their partner spends more time with the child, a bond will occur quickly and they’ll be a “real” family.

But this can often backfire as there are many challenges a stepparent faces that usually don’t exist for the parent; challenges that make it exhausting, and sometimes impossible, to “parent” another’s child, especially early on in the relationship.

The relationship between stepparent and stepchild will take years to develop and forcing it may actually delay things, or prevent it from ever happening, as negative feelings and resentments build.

But since a lot of dads don’t know this, they get frustrated when their wife wants a break or is resistant to parenting their child. The fact is, there are some very good reasons why it’s often harder to stepparent than it is to parent.

  1. Children are more forgiving of a parent than a stepparent. Parents might learn as they go as too, especially first-time parents, but the cost is less. There may already be so many negative emotions around having a stepparent, that one wrong move might cause the child to hold a grudge, making it impossible to ever get close to him. Stepparents often live in fear of misstepping, especially when they don’t know what that might be until it’s too late.

A parent has a higher level of tolerance for their own child than the stepparent has. The stepparent didn’t go through nine months of carrying the baby in their womb. They (usually) didn’t have those very precious first few years with the child where they bonded. The child is not an extension of the stepparent. It’s just natural to have more patience for something that’s yours, than something that isn’t. The mess, the noise, the tantrums, the stress — I don’t believe any parent loves these things, but they tolerate it because, well, that child is theirs. Something happened when that baby was born that gave them unlimited ability to put up with anything and everything the child throws at them. Even when they do need a break or get angry, their love for that child never wavers and they’re ready to get back in the saddle in record time. Most stepparents don’t have this super power and it can often take a long time to trust the child again or have positive feelings towards them.

A stepparent never knows when they should speak up. A stepparent is always worried about stepping on toes, getting backlash for something she said, or even something she didn’t say — something that was misinterpreted by the ex or incorrectly passed on to the ex by the kids. And because of #1 above, there’s always a fear of her stepchild not liking her anymore. What an awful existence, living with someone who doesn’t like you — but often holds so much power in the house. It’s exhausting to be so unsure of oneself. And walking on eggshells for an extended period of time will wear out even the strongest of spirits.

The child wants to be parented by their parent, not their stepparent. Children are craving time and attention from their parent. They don’t see their stepparents as authority figures, meaning the child doesn’t see them as someone they have to listen to. If they feel resentment that they even have this extra person in their life, listening to and respecting them as an important person in their life isn’t at the top of their to-do list. And even if the relationship is decent between them, it can still feel an intrusion when a stepparent tries to intervene.

Children naturally want to please their parents, not so with stepparents. Children don’t look for the approval of their stepparent the way they do their parent. There’s not a natural sense of wanting to be accepted by them. Don’t get me wrong, we all want to be liked, but what I’m referring to is happening on a much deeper level. In fact, sometimes they want to make things as difficult as possible for them, hoping on some level that maybe they’ll just leave and the child can have their parent all to themselves again.

A parent has unconditional love for their child, whereas a stepchild can feel like a foreign entity to a stepparent. People love to judge a stepmom who doesn’t automatically fall in love with her stepchild. But the reality is these are basically two strangers who didn’t choose each other, now finding themselves part of the same family. Since it can take years for a stepfamily to feel and function like a family, so those first years are an adjustment, to say the least, for everyone. A child doesn’t automatically think of their stepparent as a parent – or of any importance to them at all. That bond will take years to develop. And sometimes it just doesn’t happen.

Dads: If you want to be your wife’s hero, listen to her when she says she’s having hard time trying to parent your child or when she’s asking you to do more of the heavy lifting, that is rightfully yours. It’s not because she “doesn’t like” your child, it’s not because she doesn’t care for you. It’s simply because this is the nature of stepfamily dynamics and sometimes it’s just impossible for her to be what you expect.

The development of the stepparent/stepchild relationship doesn’t happen overnight, so If you want to preserve the space for that relationship to happen, honor the process by letting it evolve naturally, at a pace everyone is comfortable with.

Knowing ahead of time which conflicts are likely to appear with stepchildren and spouse will make your new role as a stepparent easier.

How to live with a step parent

Stepparents: Six common problems of stepfamilies and stepparents. Some conflicts of a stepfamily are almost inevitable. Yet, knowing what conflicts are likely to appear with stepchildren and spouse will make your new role as a stepparent more smooth.

Six Stepfamily Problems:

Conflicts for stepfamilies fall in six different categories. If you enter the “state: of stepparenthood without prior discussion, planning and agreement with your spouse-to-be, you will certainly be caught by one or more of these conflicts. And, frankly, even the best planned, discussed, and agreed-upon-in-advance blueprints will meet with some problems such as the six discussed below.

It’s the nature of the beast: stepfamily!

1. Unrealistic expectations of marriage.

  • Belief that romance will conquer all.
  • Belief that marriage will “jumpstart” his/her life.
  • Belief being married will solve all problems, including loneliness.
  • Belief that life will continue to be like the courtship phase was.
  • Belief that romance will stay alive in a marriage unaided, or even with lots of help.

2. Unrealistic expectations of a stepfamily.

  • Belief that a stepfamily will be immediately loving: the instant family myth.
  • Belief that stepchildren will love you.
  • Belief that the stepchildren will respect and/or obey you.
  • Belief that a stepfamily will be like a nuclear family.
  • Belief that the biological parent, your spouse, will support you in ways that are not happening.
  • Belief that the biological parent, your spouse, will see your side.
  • Belief that the biological parent, your spouse, will intuitively know what you want–that he/she can mindread.
  • Belief that the stepchildren will be fair to you.
  • Belief that the stepchildren can think like adults.
  • Belief that the biological parent, your spouse, will want to function as a team.

3. One spouse is not involved in the care of his/her children.

  • One partner, say dad, seemed very involved with this children while the couple were dating. After marriage, however, Dad seems to forget about the children.
  • Stepmom takes on most of the care. In fact, Dad and the world seem to expect that this will be the case.
  • One partner, say mom, turns over the care of her boys to stepdad. or vice-versa.
  • One partner wants authority without involvement.

4. One spouse feels his/her children are treated unequally in the family.

His and her children:

  • One parent, say dad, feels he is trying much harder with her children than she is with his children.
  • One parent, say mom, feels she is doing everything possible to be fair to his children. He is not being fair to her children. Over time even small inequities can build up to major problems when relatively consistent.

5. Problems with the biological parent.

A biological parent will be a real portion of your new married life, dead or alive.

Alive biological parents present practical problems such as holidays, major family events, involvement with school, sports, and other outside activities, plus continued contact between your new spouse and his/her old spouse.

Dead parents bring discussions of death, grief, visits to cemetery, emotions, and living up to an idealized parent and possibly an idealized former spouse.

Pearl Ketover Prilik, in her book Stepmothering, Another Kind of Love, gives advice that can apply to stepmothers or stepfathers. She writes, “It’s uncomfortable to have someone in your life whom you may never have seen and may not like when you finally meet…. Stepmothers often resent being forced by their husbands of stepchildren, either directly or indirectly, into contact with a woman they would not, under normal circumstance, choose to have in their life in any context whatsoever. But in order to keep your sanity, you will have to learn how to integrate this woman’s existence into your life.”

6. Underestimating the bond of the biological parent who is now your spouse with his/her children.

How to live with a step parent

Quote: Taube Kaufman in her book The Combined Family A Guide to Creating Successful Step-Relationships writes, “One-parent families develop their own standards of conduct and methods of communicating. The longer parents and children are together,, the more entrenched they are likely to become in their own unique culture. There is a special bond, a silent code, between single parents and their children that is closed to outsiders.”

Underestimating this bond can give rise to negative feelings ranging from jealously to resentment of the children to feeling left out to a complete feeling of being unloved by your new spouse and his/her children.

Prilik writes, “Some stepmothers are shocked to discover that they feel resentment, anxiety, jealousy, indifference, or even downright dislike for their stepchildren. These negative feelings are perfectly normal, but they are difficult to admit and still more difficult to face.”

Unfortunatley, Stepmothering, Another Kind of Love by Pearl Ketover Prilik is no longer in print. If you can locate a copy of this book through a local library or an used-book store, it is an excellent book to read and/or buy to keep.

What If a Teen with Divorced Parents Wants to Live with the Opposite Parent?

Where a child lives after a divorce is a priority for many parents considering an end to their marital union. Younger children often remain in the marital home with one parent to assist in the transition and to promote a feeling of security. Many states have adopted time-sharing plans in favor of custody and visitation arrangements. However, one thing remains the same—unemancipated children under the age of 18 typically do not have a right to choose which parent they live with after a divorce.

How to live with a step parent

Possible Consideration of a Child’s Age When Determining Custody

The laws relating to a child’s preference for his or her custodial residence vary by state. Most states do not specify an age at which a child can choose which parent he or she lives with after a divorce. Instead, the majority of states allows a judge to consider a child’s reasonable preferences for living arrangements when making custody decisions. The age at which a judge weighs a child’s desire for living with one parent over the other depends more on maturity than chronological age.

Because parents may manipulate a younger child more easily than an older child, judges may not give as much weight to a younger child’s preferences. This is not to say that a parent may not unfairly manipulate a teenager into choosing one home over another home. Therefore, judges usually investigate a teenager’s request to live with one parent instead of viewing the request solely in relation to the child’s age or maturity level.

In general, though, courts do not ask a minor child who he or she prefers to live with after a divorce. However, teenagers may request to move in with the noncustodial parent for a variety of reasons. Ascertaining the reason for the request is the first step for parents to consider when discussing a change of residence. Determining the true reason for the desire to move can guide parents in determining if the move may be beneficial for the entire family.

The Teenager’s Best Interest As the Controlling Factor

The overriding concern in any custody decision is the child’s best interests. If a teenager’s safety or well-being is at risk living with a specific parent, a judge will not grant a teen’s request to live with that parent.

For instance, judges consider factors such as a parent’s history of violence, domestic abuse, or substance abuse carefully when weighing a teenager’s request to live with them. The safety and stability of the home may also be factors in a judge’s custody decision. Another factor may be the presence of a stepparent who attempts to interfere with or prevent a relationship between the teenager and the parent. Most states allow a judge to consider all factors that the judge believes are relevant in determining the teenager’s best interest when deciding on their primary residence.

Regardless of the reason a teenager may want to move in with his or her other parent, parents have the responsibility to ensure that the final decision is in the best interest of the teenager, even though he or she may not recognize that fact right now.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.

To petition for your parents (mother or father) to live in the United States as Green Card holders, you must be a U.S. citizen and at least 21 years old. Green Card holders (permanent residents) may not petition to bring parents to live permanently in the United States.

The table below describes what steps you must take to petition depending upon your circumstances:

Note: If your name or your parent’s name has changed, please include proof of the legal name change (may include marriage certificate, divorce decree, adoption decree, court judgment of name change, etc.)

You will be notified by USCIS if your Form I-130 petition is approved or denied. If it is approved and your parent is outside the United States, he or she will be notified to go to the local U.S. consulate to complete visa processing.

If your parent is currently in the United States, he or she may be eligible to file Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or to Adjust Status, at the same time as you file Form I-130. See the Concurrent Filing of Form I-485 page for more information.

For additional information, see our How Do I Guides.

Your parents do not need to apply for employment authorization (work permit) once they are admitted as an immigrant with their immigrant visa. If your parents are now outside the United States, they will receive a passport stamp upon arrival in the United States. This stamp will prove that they are allowed to work in the United States until their Permanent Resident Card is received.

If your parents are in the United States and have applied to adjust to permanent resident status by filing Form I-485, they are eligible to apply for employment and travel authorization while their case is pending. Your parents should use Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization and Form I-131, Application for Travel Document, to apply for travel authorization. The fee for Form I-485 also covers Form I-765 and Form I-131 until a decision is made on the application to adjust status.

Note: If your parents have minor children abroad, those children (your siblings) cannot be sponsored on the same petition. See the Bringing Siblings to Live in the United States as Permanent Residents page for more information. After your parent becomes a permanent resident, he or she may file a new petition for any qualifying relative – see the Family of Green Card Holders (Permanent Residents) page for more on that.

If the visa petition you filed is denied, the denial letter will tell you how to appeal and how much time you have to file the appeal. After your appeal form and the required fee are processed, the appeal will be referred to the Board of Immigration Appeals. For more information, see the How Do I Guides section of the website.

Emotional attachment, trust, and love are what open the door to influence in parenting. Once that is established, an adult—foster parent, grandparent, adoptive parent, or stepparent—can lead and discipline a child. Said another way, the old adage is true: Rules without relationship leads to rebellion. Wise stepparents understand this and grow relationship in order to grow authority.

Authority can exist without a bonded relationship, but it has its limits. A police officer can pull you over, a boss or coach can tell you what to do, and a teacher can tell a student the rules of the classroom, but none of these authorities obtain obedience out of love or deep admiration.

Until stepparents establish a love-relationship with a child, they are just external authorities imposing boundaries. That’s why it’s critical early in a blended family that stepparents recognize these limits and borrow power from the biological parent. If they over-step the limits of their role, they can sabotage the developing relationships and any authority they might have had along with it. Therefore, for new stepparents the question is: How do they establish themselves as authority figures while waiting for bonding to occur?

Borrowing power

Think about babysitters. On their first visit to a home, they don’t have any relational authority with children. The kids don’t know them, don’t like them, and don’t need them. (Stepparents take note.) But if the kids and babysitter get many evenings together, they can form a significant relationship bond over time. In the meantime, while babysitters are hoping for a relationship to develop, how do they manage the children? Answer: by borrowing power.

Babysitters can put children in time-out, take away privileges, and declare bedtime because the child’s parent has passed power to the babysitter. The “she’s in charge while we’re gone” speech is usually quite effective. Now notice, this empowers the babysitter to set boundaries and impose consequences that ultimately are owned by the parent. However, if the biological parent is unwilling or unable to own these boundaries, there will be chaos.

Stepparenting follows a similar process. Initially stepparents act as extensions of the biological parent. They can enforce consequences, set boundaries, and say “no,” but do so knowing full well they are not standing on their own authority. They live on borrowed power until such time as their love-relationship with the child matures and opens the door to more influence and authority.

Discipline do’s and don’ts for stepparents

At best, new stepparent authority is fragile and easily shattered. That’s why these do’s and don’ts must be a priority.

  • Do make sure the biological parent has your back. Biological parents must communicate to their children an expectation of obedience to the stepparent and be willing to back up the stepparent’s actions. When disagreements occur, settle them in private.
  • Do strive for unity in parenting. Discuss behavioral expectations, boundaries, consequences, and values (read the parental unity rules). Bring your parenting philosophies in line.
  • Don’t be harsh or punish in a way that is inconsistent with the biological parent.
  • Do focus on relationship building. This is your long-term strength.
  • Don’t unilaterally change rules or try to make up for past parental mistakes or failings.
  • Do listen to the child. If they draw into you sooner than expected, don’t look back. Use the relational authority offered you. Don’t get impatient. It often takes years to bond and develop a trusting love-relationship with children. Be persistent in bonding with them.
  • Do communicate with the biological parent a lot! If uncertain, find parental unity before engaging the children.

TAKING ACTION

Relationship building tips for stepparents:

  • Play! Having fun is a great way to connect. Do something fun.
  • Track with them. Know what activities a child is engaged in and enter that world. Take them to practice, ask about an activity, be aware of their world.
  • Take interest in the child’s interests.
  • Share your talents, skills, and hobbies.
  • Communicate your commitment. Let the child know you value and want a relationship with them. This helps them to know your heart.
  • Share the Lord and your spiritual walk. Shared spirituality can facilitate connection and a sense of family identity. But don’t be preachy. Instead, share with humility your faith journey so they will see you as a safe person.

Pastors:
Stepparenting is a delicate balancing act. Knowing when to step in or back away is challenging; missteps often pit biological parents and stepparents against one another. The more abreast you are of stepfamily dynamics, the better prepared you will be to help couples get on the same page and unify their family. A good start would be reading The Smart Stepfamily.

© 2012 by Ron L. Deal. All rights reserved.