How to establish and defend your role as step parent

There is no instruction manual for becoming a step parent; any more than there is a manual on how to be any kind of parent. What kind of step parent you are or wish to become is entirely up to you, your blended family spouse, and how well you both manage to set your own agenda and carry it through. One thing is certain, however: you can expect to hear from all sides about your step parenting abilities or failings.

Not-so useful comments made to step parents

  • You are not a real parent.
  • You are not a good step parent.
  • There are other step parents doing a better job than you.
  • You are overstepping your bounds.
  • You are not doing enough.
  • You are not properly looking out for your step kids.
  • You should butt out.
  • You are doing that all wrong.

It really is all up to you

If you are partnered with a man or woman with children from a previous relationship, you may have heard some of these observations. But here is an important fact: you are the only person who can define your identity as a step mother or step father. No matter how you feel pushed, pulled, coaxed, or otherwise manipulated, it is still your job alone to figure out how you can best work in this role. No one else is responsible. Many people in your life, including your blended family partner, will want a say in how you define yourself, so you will need self-discipline and clarity as you figure out how to proceed. Not that you should ignore the opinions of your partner, or your step kids to some extent, but you must feel comfortable within yourself and with the scope and reach of your influence over your step kids. Ask for support from friends and your spouse as you feel your way toward a comfortable identity as step parent, and give yourself a break when you find your inner voice being critical.

You are not your relationship with your step kids

There is a big difference between who you are as a step parent and your relationship with your step child. A relationship between two people is a dialogue, and both step parent and step child bring something to the discussion. The more comfortable and stable each person feels, the better their relationship. Who you are as a step parent can create an environment that encourages openness and trust. The simple fact that a step child does not accept your role as step parent does not mean you are a bad step parent.

Take a breath, take a break, and take heart

There is no how-to manual for step parents. How you define and carry out your role as step parent depends on you, your values and your commitment, your compassion and understanding, and your willingness to accept rejection or failure – for the time being. Parents and step parents alike are all in the same boat: we do the best we can with the information we have at hand, and hope our parental choices turn out well. Sometimes we will not be as successful as we would like, and we need to give ourselves a break when this occurs. No one is perfect. When we are willing to accept and even celebrate today for what it gave us in successes and disappointments, we can also be willing to embrace tomorrow for its possibilities. Good luck in your step family. If you need additional assistance, contact The Blended and Step Family Resource Center for coaching.