Step parenting takes effort, patience, hope, and heart

Blended family partners know that being a step parent takes perseverance.  The step parent experience is challenging, but at the same time, can rewarding for many step family parents. Blended family advice columns and step family quotes let us know that, as hard as it is, the blended family unit is well worth the effort. Adults who are products of a blended family often describe their step parent as someone they once resisted as children, but came to love and respect in later years. Take heart and persevere.

Absent biological parents

Veteran step kids typically recall that although their biological father or mother never made much of an effort to parent them, they idolized the absent parent and found easy fault with the step parent who expected them obey rules, do their homework and clean their rooms. Then, in their late teens or early twenties, they came to realize that the person who provided them with the necessary structure and discipline for growth was indeed a true parent.

Defiance, expectations, and other hurdles in your blended family

Many of the struggles step parents face are all too common.  Some step children have a hard time accepting their step parent, and can be expected to defy his or her decisions; defiance can cause all kinds of chaos and frustration within a blended family.  Another struggle is an adult expectation that step kids will immediately see the inherent benefits of having the new step parent in their life, and automatically respect and appreciate them.  For their part, step kids resent the changes a step family heaps on them whether they like it or not. After all, it was the parents who made the decisions leading up to a blended family, not them.  The many drastic changes they experience need to be met with realistic expectations and understanding.

All in, good times and bad

A major challenge for some step parents comes when there is a behavioral, medical, or other problem with a step child. Their spouses rightfully focus their attention on the child in need, often in concert with their ex-spouse; but in doing so; they sometimes leave the step parent entirely out of the loop. It is important for step family partners to remember the primary role for step parents is to act as reinforcement and support for the biological parent. If your blended family spouse keeps you at arms-length during times of childrearing struggles, ask how you can help. For children, structure and discipline equals love. The strong and mutually supportive relationship you and your blended family partner have built represents an important structure for your step kids. Keep at it.

Step parent manifesto

  • Know the power of patience. Of the two kinds of influence, relational power is more useful to step parents than positional power. You obtain positional power merely by marrying the parent of your step child. The influence of a good relationship with your step child is much more powerful. This takes time.
  • Vocalize your commitment to the blended family and to your spouse, even if your step kids hear it as anything but good news. Help them understand that you are not here on approval, but here to stay. However, keep overt displays of affection to a minimum, especially if it seems to bother the children.
  • Communicate your understanding of your step parent role. Step kids need to hear your intention is not to replace their absent parent. Express how much you are looking forward to a growing relationship with them, and acknowledge that it may feel awkward for both of you.
  • Be approachable and accessible to your step children. Putting aside defiance and negative attitudes that make it difficult, talk with and listen to your step kids. It helps to remember that most negative reactions really come from loss, and have little to do with you personally.
  • Keep anger and stress under control. Children are quick to forgive biological parents when they make mistakes, but they are not as forgiving of stepparents.  When stress and conflict arise, and they will, make sure you manage yourself well.

Your job as step parent is to support your spouse, be available to your step kids, and maintain a lifestyle that models good behavior and responsibility. It is the job of step children to determine whether loving their step parent is worth the risk. Give them every reason to believe it is, and take heart. For more help, contact The Blended and Step Family Resource Center for coaching.