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Blended Family? The 5 Secrets of Effective Stepparenting

by Carri and Gordon Taylor
Blended Family? The 5 Secrets of Effective Stepparenting

Parenting is never easy, but when you have a blended family—with bio-kids and stepkids, your spouse’s ex, and other extended family members thrown into the mix—things can get very difficult very quickly. We receive questions every week in Empowering Parents from readers who ask: “How can I discipline my stepkids effectively and get their respect? No matter what I do, they just won’t listen to me.” Carri and Gordon Taylor, nationally recognized experts on creating thriving stepfamilies, have answers that have worked for countless stepparents.

"The steprelationship is the barometer of how (or if) the family is coming together—and the child is the one who will determine that because you can't make anyone like you."

It can be extremely hard to find the right balance when you’re a stepparent. Many adults try to blend their families with high expectations: they may think it will be similar to their first marriage in terms of time spent with their spouse and the attention they’ll be able to give the relationship. Unfortunately, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Related: How to parent effectively.

We like to say that first marriages are “apples,” and second marriages are “oranges”: you can’t compare the two, because while a first marriage is all about your new partner, a subsequent marriage revolves around the kids—and making sure that everyone has a place in the family. In working with stepfamilies over the years, we’ve found if the parents try to rush it or “force new family,” it’s not going to work out well. And here's the tough part for adults: the steprelationship is the barometer of how (or if) the family is coming together—and the child is the one who will determine that, because you can’t make anyone like you.

It’s important to realize that everyone's role shifts when you create a stepfamily. In fact, when you first bring everyone together, all the kids will try to figure out where—or even if—they belong in the new system. If they don’t believe they have a place—or if they think someone is taking their place—they’ll often act out. We’ve come up with five tried-and-true “secrets” that helped us after we created our own stepfamily. We’ve also used them to help thousands of other couples successfully blend theirs. (Read to the end for the “bonus secret” that we think every stepparent should know!)

Secret Number 1: Defer to the Bio-Parent

Surprised? It’s true. As a stepparent, it’s important to defer to the bio-parent. Even though this might go against everything you expected, the steprelationship needs time to develop. It’s important not to be the heavy, but you can't disappear either. Maintaining your presence and at the same time supporting the bio-parent is difficult, but will be productive. The irony is that when you relax and support the bio-parent, the relationship with your stepchild will form faster.

You’re the good cop; let the bio-parent be the bad cop. If there’s a behavior for which your stepchild needs a consequence, let your spouse deal with it and support their decision. The good cop finds out the interests of the stepchild and develops the relationship by getting involved in the child’s life based on those discoveries.

Related: How to give consequences that work.

Secret Number 2: Don't Compete with Your Counterpart

Don’t compete with your counterpart; rather, uphold them. In other words, don't try to be a better mom than your stepkids’ bio-mom, or a better dad than their bio-dad. No matter what you think of the bio-parent’s style of discipline (or lack thereof) it’s important to respect and acknowledge the strength of the biological connection. This can be difficult to do when your new spouse is still at war with his or her ex, and possibly still fighting over the kids and other issues.

Many stepmoms decide they’re going to make up for all the hurt and pain. Many stepfathers have an attitude of “I’m going to shape up this platoon and lead the troops out of the wilderness.” But as somebody once said, “If the stepdad is leading and no one is following, he’s just out for a walk.” We encourage stepparents to establish a relationship with their stepkids rather than being a dictator or rigid authoritarian. Simply be present in the child’s life and avoid “fixing things” or competing with the bio-parent.

Secret Number 3: Discover Your Stepchild's Interests

Discover the things your stepson or stepdaughter likes. Start off as you would with any friendship: find some common ground and do things together that you might both enjoy. Remember, you’re just there to build a relationship appropriately, not to parent or take the place of your stepchild’s mother or father. Come in as a friend or a benevolent aunt or uncle; in other words, choose a role other than “parent” in order to foster the relationship.

Secret Number 4: Get Out of the Way

Let your spouse have one-on-one time with his or her kids—without you. This helps reduce the displacement and loss the child might be feeling, and assures him that he hasn’t been displaced by somebody else. This flies in the face of the myth of “instant family.” In our own stepfamily, we always encouraged each other to go off for the weekend or do special things with our bio-kids solo, and it helped everyone immeasurably. In all blended families, this reassures the children that they still belong and haven’t lost the love of their bio-parent to the new spouse.

Related: How to get through to a defiant child.

One of the most common complaints of biological parents is that they believe they're caught in the middle. We often hear, “I love my spouse and I love my children, but I feel like I’m being pulled apart.” Many stepparents get all sick and nervous if their spouse is still spending time with his or her kids and not including them. Our advice to them is, “Well, if you plan to be in this marriage awhile, don't worry about it—you'll get your turn.” In the meantime, this relieves the bio-parent and releases them to enjoy their children— and lets the stepkids know you’re not there to take their parent away.

Secret Number 5: Act Lovingly Even If You Don't Like Your Stepkids

We hear this all the time: “I feel guilty because I don’t love my stepkids.” The reality is that you may never love them as your own—or even like them. And remember, you can’t make your stepkids like you, either! You are the “intruder.” In their minds, you’ve displaced them. But even if you don’t like them, you can learn to act lovingly toward them. Love is an action; so behave in a loving manner toward your stepkids. It may surprise you down the road; as the relationship develops, love just may develop!

It’s important to realize that because of the pain kids experience after divorce—and continue to feel with a remarriage—they may act out. They may not have the skills to talk it out and express what’s really going on inside. Many couples will come in for counseling and in essence say, “Fix these kids.” Yet the kids aren’t broken—the family is. So we ask the adults if they are willing to acknowledge the pain and brokenness that they created. If the couple is able to gain the skills to listen and understand what the child is going through, over time, the kids will usually respond productively.

Related: Parenting oppositional, defiant kids and stepkids.

Bonus Secret: Find Something Right

Find something good about your stepkids. Instead of focusing on the negative or complaining about them, find something positive to say to your spouse. That gets your husband or wife out of the middle, and puts you in a more positive frame of mind about the kids.

Here’s the analogy we like to use with the stepparents we see: The stepfamily relationship is a “baby relationship”: it’s brand new and very weak. In essence, it's like you’re trying to pull a Mack truck with a piece of string. And if you pull too hard or discipline too rigidly, you'll just pop the string. So take the time to develop the relationship, making the string into a cord, the cord into a rope, and the rope into a chain. The chain you end up with some day will be strong enough to take all the pushes and pulls of normal relationships. (And by the way, we are talking about years—not days, weeks, or months!)

We understand that these “5 Secrets of Effective Stepparenting” are not always easy to follow, but over the years, we've seen fabulous things happen in stepfamilies when they do it right. And it's happened in our own family—we’ve been able to develop some wonderful relationships with our stepkids by sticking to these principles. Just remember that it takes a lot of time, perseverance, maturity, commitment and patience on the part of all the adults involved.


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Carri and Gordon Taylor are nationally-recognized experts on blending families successfully. They began their stepfamily journey in 1986, when Gordon brought three sons to the marriage and Carri brought two daughters. Gordon is a practicing licensed marriage and family therapist, and Carri is a certified communications skills trainer and personal coach. They have 10 grandchildren and live in Edmond, Oklahoma, where they speak for church groups, businesses, and conferences.


I have taking alot af abuse from from my stepchild. yell at, pulls, even hit. But since his sister has moved out the abuse has stopped. My kids did not upset him. He was jealous of his sister. The mother died and the dad worked out of town. The grandmother was raising them. Then here come me, the stepmom. It took almost 5 years and we are alot better. But yes I had to learn what he liked. But I also had to learn not to let him have everything he wants. Grandmom alway gave him everything he wanted. I had to stop that. Grandmom feeled sorry for him because his mom died but I finally got though to them, he was using that to get what he wanted. His 14 now and mom died went he was 6. I do feel sorry for him but I don't allow him to use it to get what he want. I listen to him talk about his mom, I understan because I lost my mom one year before he lost his. I try to explain to him it hurts no matter how old you are but you have to move on. You will alway love your mom and I am not here to replace her. ( I could never do that) But I would like to be a part of his life. With reading your articles and the help of my youngest son, who is my right arm. We have learn to live together as a family. Yes we still have moments, all families do buy the are not as bad as the use to be. He still gets jealous of his dad and me. But I have learn to give them their time and here lately the alwayc omes and gets me and wants me to be apart of their time. He has also learn to apolgy when he is wrong. I have learn to love him. I know it is a differant kind of love I feel for my own kids because they were born in to it. Outside family, his and my cause most of the problems were have now but we have learn to talk to each other not they outside family and get though it. Thank you for all you advice.

Comment By : stepmom in Mississippi

I think Carri and Gordon did a great job with this. I found it very informative and usefull. I would like to see more.

Comment By : PeterJA

This is very helpful. Being a stepparent is a very emotional role, in one you feel guilt, alienation, anger with very little positive results. This article has echoed my counselor's advice to step down of the parent role and give that responsibility to my husband while trying to make mends with the stepchild.

Comment By : gms123

I have been a step-father for 8 years and I am a trained therapist. The wisdom in this article has not only provided some good reminders, but more importantly encouragement to work on changes and guidance for where those changes can happen to improve our family relationships. Thank you.

Comment By : katdaddyo

I recognize this as good advice but advice I don't feel I can follow in my situation. My husband (the bio-dad) works nights and sleeps during the day. He doesn't have a Monday-Friday job either, but rather works 4 nights then is off 2. Because of his schedule, most of the time when we have his kids, he is working nights and sleeping during the day, leaving me as the virtual sole parent. We've been married just over 3 yrs; I have no children of my own so the "parent" role was/is new to me and I'm really trying to 'parent' well though I completely agree with a previous poster that being a stepparent is a very emotional and thankless role. In all the stepparenting articles or books (sadly, there's not very many, all things considered) I find, none seem to offer advice for families with non-traditional schedules. It's very depressing and frustrating.

Comment By : RJLM

I wish any of these things could help. We have 3 children in our home; 1 mine and 2 his. His ex wife is in and out of their kids lives for months at a time and when she is "in", it's awful! We raise them all to be the same in this house but wen the bio-mom is around they turn completely against me and stop calling me "mama kris" and start calling em Kristen. It's so hard to deal with their behavior changes and I end up not liking them at all by the end of the month. I wish I knew what to do other than get mad.

Comment By : mama kris

* Dear ‘mama kris’: Sometimes in an effort to create the feeling of a new family unit, parents in blended families get ‘stuck’ in an idea that’s just not working for everyone involved. It sounds like it would help ease tensions for your whole family if you agreed to stop requiring your step-children to call you ‘mama kris’. It would help you, because you would not be getting mad when they don’t address you in this way. Since this seems to come up when they are with their mother, let’s assume it’s also an issue for her too. It will help your relationship with your step-children because you’re not putting them in the middle—by asking them to choose between you and their Mom by requiring them to refer to you as their ‘mama’. And your husband will probably appreciate your efforts to reduce the conflict with his children. Together, as parents, you should all focus on requiring the kids to speak and behave politely. But speaking politely does not necessarily require that children in blended families use familial terms that make them uncomfortable or that cause conflict for other family members. We appreciate your question and wish your family the best.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

Just to clear something I said up... I do not, nor would I ever, require my step kids to call e "mama kris". They came up with that years ago when their dad and I were dating. Same with my daughter, she calls my husband dad because she wants to. The only time the kids do not call me mama kris is when they see their mom. That itself does not bother me but the "My real mom says we don't need to listen to your stupid rules" does. Esp. after their real mom hasn't seen them for 7 months.

Comment By : mama kris

Mama Kris, if you are interested in ever chatting or sharing stories....let me know! It seems as though we have ALOT in common and sometimes I long for someone to talk to that understand at least a little! :)

Comment By : Fulltimestepmom

I am a stepmom to two teenage girls and have a biological one year old son. It's always the same that when the weekend comes to have the girls at our house, my insides get all twisted up in knots. My husband is a great supporter of he & I sticking together as a team. We have all been a family for almost four years and it never gets any easier. Probably because they are now both teenagers and they are girls with all the drama. I am relieved to hear that there are others that are going through this, but I sometimes wonder if my spouse and I will survive. One girl is 16 the other is 14. They just anger me when they are here at our house with how sloppy they are, refuse to pick up after themselves, and get snotty with both of us. Sometimes my husband tries too much to be their friend I think. I literally cannot stand to be around them, especially when they argue. It is stressful, but he is good at discipline towards them. They just act so spoiled but shape up when they want money from us. And they never thank me, only their dad. I work 40 hours a week too. It feels good to just get this off my chest because I have thought about therapy for my husband and myself because I think it would help a lot. I just do not even want to be around them...Help!

Comment By : LMJ

* Dear LMJ: Although you say that your husband is a great supporter of you and he sticking together as a team and that he is good at disciplining his girls, you also think you and your husband could use therapy and you sometimes wonder if you will survive as a couple. When you feel this kind of concern about your marriage and have a lot of anger and resentment, it probably is a good idea to get the help of a professional counselor to sort out what the important issues are, and give you both the support and skills needed to resolve the issues in your relationship. Although it seems like a simple solution is to just not allow the girls to come and visit, if that were to happen, it might cause more problems with your spouse. You might start by asking your family physician for a referral. We wish your family the best.

Comment By : Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor

My husband and I have been married for 5 years. Originally, his ex had been given custody of all three of his boys (now 13, 15 & 16). Very soon after the divorce the middle boy insisted on living with us. We fought for nearly a year - thousands of dollars (not important), counseling, guardian ad litems, and an attorney for the son. We were finally awarded custody and have been living together, happily, for 2 years. In September of this year, the oldest insisted in coming to live with us (claiming the same abusive treatment from their stepfather as the middle son did). Again after months of court and attorneys, we won custody. We knew there was some resentment on the part of the middle son - jealousy, I'm sure. But, the ex caught on to that very quickly and began feeding it to make the situation worse than it ever should have been. Long story short, we are a fairly disciplined household - her's is not. She allowed the 14 years old son to date an 18 year old girl. She gave him and very expensive phone with no restrictions (he can text, call and get web access all night long and during the school day - even though the phones are prohibited in school). She works 2 jobs and is never home to watch the kids when they are with her, so they love the freedom. The middle child has now decided he wants to live with her again because of his "freedom" and we find ourselves back in court. This is surely going to drive us to bankruptcy. My husband is definitely the best parent for these kids. We think the ex is a narcissist who only wants the kids to hurt my husband and for the money they bring to her. Again, she is never home and when she is, she usually farms the kids out to spend the night with one of their friends. Any advise? We don't know what to do.

Comment By : Lost

* Dear ‘Lost’: It sounds like you have become very weary throughout all of this. Despite the challenges you and your husband have faced over the last few years, it seems as though you have been able to maintain a culture of accountability in your home. In situations like yours, it is most effective to focus on what you can control. You can’t control what the children’s biological mother does; you can only control yourselves, the standards you set in your home, and what types of behavior you model for the children, etc.. In divorce situations, James recommends refraining from talking negatively about the other parent in front of the children, and he says, “Don’t share all your fear, anxiety, anger resentment or grief with your children. They’re not at a level of development where they can handle that.” James did write another article that you might find helpful: Do You Parent with Your Wallet? (Or Know Someone Who Does?). This article will give you more tips for responding to mom’s current parenting style. Aside from these thoughts, the only other advice we have is to continue working with your local supports (lawyers, guardian at litems, etc.) to work through this. We wish you and your family luck as you continue to work through this.

Comment By : Sara A. Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

How does one deal with the fact that an adult child, born of a second marriage, desires to be a part of their father's ex-wife's life? The adult child is posting pictures of their father's ex-wife and themselves (no blood relations)on their facebook page, but none of their bio-mother, who raised them with much love? How does the bio-mother deal with the adult children who do not respect the mother's feelings of having to view pictures of her husband's ex-wife on her own childrens facebook page with no regard to the mother's feelings on the matter? Where do we go from here? And what if the adult child does not respect the mother's feelings on the matter? The adult children do not get it. They do not understand there is no reason for them to even be a part of the father's ex-wife life. This is beyond understanding. There is a child born from the first marriage and all get along but they are on too closely terms with the father's ex-wife, who by the way made our lives a living hell for 10 very long years. Where do we go from here? I'm hurt and lost! Signed, the wife from the second marriage, mother of disrespected adult children.

Comment By : Very Hurt Mother

* Hi 'Very Hurt Mother': It sounds as though you are in a very frustrating and confusing situation with your child. We recommend talking it over with your child in a calm, non-confrontational way about what is going on for him/her in posting those pictures. From there, you can disclose that you feel hurt that your child chooses not to post pictures of you on the facebook page; however, we recommend not taking this personally, even though it may feel like a personal attack. Ultimately, you cannot control which pictures your adult child chooses to put online; you can only control yourself and how you choose to respond to this. You might think of some strategies you can use to take care of yourself, such as choosing not to look at your child’s facebook page, going for a walk, spending time with friends or working on craft projects. I am attaching an article I think you might find helpful: Calm Parenting: Stop Letting Your Child's Behavior Make You Crazy. We know that this isn’t easy. Good luck to you and your family as you continue to work through this.

Comment By : Rebecca Wolfenden, Parental Support Advisor

If I may ask this... What do you do if you want to parent your own children one way, with a certain set of rules and expectations, but the other bio-parent doesn't agree? My husband gets stuck in the middle; he just doesn't know what to do someimes, he knows that I try my best to be the best parent possible and set fair expectations, and his ex-wife thinks I focus too much on responsibilities and not enough on just "letting kids be kids" (and she doesn't exactly communicate her opinions politely). I am big on chores, responsibilities, and following directions; play comes after. Bio-mom does not enforce chores or responsibilities, and feels that I put too much pressure on her daughter. This puts more pressure on me because she voices these opinions to my step-daughter who, of course, believes her. So I am always made out to be the strict one, which I would be okay with if my rules got followed (at least I know it would all pay off later in life). Instead, I get exaggeratingly heavy sighs, eye rolls, and the usual "Really? Who cares?" in a very sarcastic voice. Similar to another parent that commented above, I cringe when I have to pick up my step-daughter from school during the week because those are the days that there are more things to do (homework, clean room before bed, shower). I HATE that most of the time I spend with my step-daughter is spent telling her what to do. I really can't change that because I am the only parent home until late in the evening. So would the only solution be to change how I parent? I can't fathom doing so, as it works so well for me with my other 2 children...being in a blended family is like having 3 parents in one household and, in my case, 3 parents that all do things very differently.

Comment By : Trying to Manage Opposites

* Hi 'Trying to Manage Opposites': It can be so difficult to parent in a blended family. As you noted, it is common for everyone to have their own opinion about the correct way to manage a situation. We recommend talking with your husband about how you want to handle issues that come up in your family, so you are both responding in a united fashion. We also recommend letting your husband take on more of a disciplinary role with his daughter when possible, while you can be supportive of him, and his positions. When he does see her, he can let her know what the expectations are when she is in his home, and what the consequences will be if she does not follow those expectations. Neither you, nor your husband, can control what her mother does, or how she parents when his daughter is with her. We advise responding to your stepdaughter along the lines of “I know that your mom does things differently; however, this is what is expected when you are here.” I am attaching some articles you might find helpful: “My Blended Family Won’t Blend—Help!” Part I: How You and Your Spouse Can Get on the Same Page, “My Blended Family Won’t Blend!” Part II: What to Do When Your Stepkids Disrespect You. Good luck to you and your family as you continue to work through this.

Comment By : Rebecca Wolfenden, Parental Support Advisor

Unable to muster any good feelings toward my 10 year old stepdaughter. Things were fine in the beginning: we did things together, shopping, soccer, girl scouts. Then out of the blue found out that she had been telling stories about me and her father to her biological mothers family. It was very hurtful and I have been unable to get past the anger. Shortly after this came to light she decided she wanted to move in with her bio-mom. Good riddance. Only lasted a few months and she wanted to move back. Since she has been back I have been angry/depressed all the time. My husband tries to be supportive but I do not want anything to do with her. Vacation was unbearable. She is very manipulative, selfish, lies about stupid stuff and tries to turn my grandchildren against me. I want nothing to do with her. My husband it getting discouraged. Says I'm supposed to be the adult. She'll give me dirty looks and then turn around later and try to hug me. I hate it, I don't want her to touch me because I believe it to be for attention. She is very disrespectful to my husband, constantly making him feel guilty. Then she hangs all over him where ever we are. My children were never that clingy. She is driving a wedge between me and my husband. I have two grown children and a 14 year old son that lives with us. He has had issues with having a young stepfather but shows him more respect that his own daughter HELP!

Comment By : DB

* To 'DB': It is understandably frustrating and upsetting to find out that your stepdaughter has been telling stories about you to others. While lying is certainly not OK, James Lehman talks about the reality that kids tell lies because they don’t know more effective ways to solve their problems. While I do not know your stepdaughter, it is not uncommon for kids in newly blended families to tell lies as a way to get past their discomfort of being in a new family. We do encourage you to look for the good in your stepdaughter. Try to spend some time together, one-on-one, to rebuild your relationship. If you feel that you are unable to get past your anger and depression, we recommend seeking out local supports to assist you in processing your feelings toward your stepdaughter. A good place to start is 211 is an informational service that can help to connect you with resources in your area. You can also reach them by calling 1 (800) 273-6222. I am also including a link to an article I think you might find helpful: "Sometimes I Don't Like My Child." Good luck to you and your family as you continue to work through this; we know this isn’t easy.

Comment By : Rebecca Wolfenden, Parental Support Advisor

I could really use some advice. I am the mom in a blended family. Our son's biological mother is not a part of his life, and he takes it out on my husband and I. He is finally beginning counseling, and while I know it will help... my husband and I have hit a snag. Our daughter, who is 16, asked me if she and I could go to a major rock concert. I told her I would ask Dad,but in my mind, I know that she and I will not be able to go, unless we take our son. He has had many behavioral issues, including displaced anger, and jealousy toward the time we spend on our daughter. She will be entering college soon, so we are showing her how to find colleges, organize choices, etc. How can I spend time with my daughter that we will both enjoy, without having to deal with the drama that I know will ensue if we take my son? She has given up a lot, and worked hard for this is the chance of a lifetime. I was viewing this as a kudos, as a reward for gaining admittance to National Honor Society and for working so hard in school. Our son is very bright but just as lazy when it comes to schoolwork and our son causes drama, not kudos. If he goes, he will cause drama. If he doesn't go, he will be jealous and act out at the house. I am starting to resent the fact that she and I cannot do anything together without there being ramifications at the house. When I attempt to talk to my husband about it, he gets very defensive (normal reaction) and then tells me "Just go." Any suggestions on what to do? I am feeling very much like no matter what I do, my daughter is going to be miserable, and that's the last thing I want.

Comment By : Frustratedmom

I have followed these "secrets" for two years out of the 3+ years relationship. In my case I am not any of the childrens BIOPARENT. Recently I have taken a more active role in parenting my "step" children. In doing this my spouse views it as I am over stepping my bounds when I feel I have observed and need to take a more effective role in the childrens lives. As I dergress I am the only maturnal influence in this blended family. Now my question...When or how rather will my spouse view me as an equal in our home so that the children view me as a equal to them? It is verbally expressed that I am respected as an equal, but not physically excercised. Any advise?

Comment By : Danielle

* To Danielle: It is hard to feel like you are not an equal partner in parenting when it comes to raising your family. We recommend talking with your spouse about the role each of you are taking in parenting with the goal of coming to a common agreement about this. We do advise letting the bio-parent take the lead in parenting while you take on more of a supportive role, and addressing any parenting differences privately. I’m including a link to a series of articles on blended families you might find useful: “My Blended Family Won’t Blend—Help!” Part I: How You and Your Spouse Can Get on the Same Page & “My Blended Family Won’t Blend!” Part II: What to Do When Your Stepkids Disrespect You. Good luck to you and your family as you continue to work through this.

Comment By : Rebecca Wolfenden, Parental Support Advisor

I am a step mom to a 5 year old girl that we see about once or twice a month and six months pregant with my first. My husband is in the military and we have been moving around quite a bit for the past year and will be settled in a few months at our semi-perm location giving us more chances for visits. With this in mind, whenever my step daughter visits, it's a complete drain on me. She whines, he coddles. She puts, he buys her whatever she wants, most of the time in multiples from the last time we were together. She refuses to listen to me and if I remind her to do something as simple as eat her veggies, she will just sit and stare at me. Then my husband will tell her she doesn't have to eat it if she doesn't want to. This happens a good portion of the time to the point where I just let it all go and try to ignore her and my husband. I've talked to my husband about supporting me and his answer to me is, "I'm not a real parent so how do I know what to do." I don't look forward to our visits and would rather just have my husband and his daughter have their time together without me there ever again.

Comment By : newmom

I have been married to my husband for 18 years. He was married before and brought with him 2 children that I have adored since the day I met him. When I vowed to marry it wasn't just him it was his kids too. They were 1 and 4, now 19 and 22. My husband was awarded joint physical and legal custody of the kids. As the kids began to get older and the bio-mother wanted to move to a different school district the children were given the opportunity to pick which house they wanted to live at. My stepdaughter now 22 chose to live with her father and I because she got so sick of hearing her mother talk bad about her father. My stepson now 19 chose to live with his mother. At that point my stepdaughter has never had a close relationship to her mother because her mother blames her for not getting more child support. She even refused to spend mother's day with her own daughter, so I invited her to our house. To this day my husband is still the topic of conversation at any family function his ex-wife has. My stepson graduated in 2011 and moved to our house. He moved to our house so that he could spend some time with his dad that he had missed throughout the years of growing up. Even though at the time he lived with his mother, he had no rules and no curfew. He was allowed to stay with his girlfriend and she was allowed to stay at his house. Their ages were 15 and 13. My husband, his dad, tried on multiple occasions to discuss multiple issues by email and by phone,that he had about this and this and she always denied it. Now you can't blame a 13 and 15 year old for it, I was that age once and if I could get by with things then heck ya I would do it. Now my stepson is 19 and just recently left for bootcamp with the Marines. (WE ARE VERY PROUD OF HIM) I heard a kid talking to him before he left about how lucky he was to have not had a curfew or rules when he grew up. Now let me tell you his response to this kid. Straight from his mouth: (Well I might have thought it was okay back then but as I grew up I felt very hurt by the fact that my mother never cared where I was at or who I was with until the day I was to bring home the child support check from my dads. That is the only time she would call me and give me a time I had to be home. Once I got home, she didn't greet me with a hug or ask me how my weekend was with my dad, she asked for her check and then went on about her own business. So you see I felt like I was her paycheck and not her son. My point here is Kids will take advantage of every situation possible just as we did. If you get divorced and despise your ex, for the sake of the children and for your own sanity, you have to co-parent together. My husband is not a perfect person and he does despise his ex but he would not allow any bad mouthing about their mother, not by me or by his own children. He taught them to respect her because she is their mother. And even though it was tough for him at times because when someone is constantly belittling you to your kids you want to lash back. I told him someday your kids will figure it out on their own and they did. My stepchildren are all grown up now have become independent and are both succeeding in life. It was a hard road for them and for our blended family for a very long time but I am one proud StepMom and I love them as much as I love my own 2 children.

Comment By : momof4

What you do when you are the stay at home step-mom? I have 2 step-kids, a 5yr old stepdaughter that will not listen or follow the rules, and a 4yr old stepson that is the opposite. We don't blend as a family and i cant complain to my husband about her behavior anymore because then he will start saying that i treat her differently when is not the true. All i ask its cooperation, respect, and follow rules like they do at school.

Comment By : exhausted stay at home stepmom

* To exhausted stay at home stepmom: It is easy to be frustrated and exhausted when you feel as though your family is not blending. It is a tough place to be when you are home and simply want your stepchildren to be respectful and follow the rules, and one or more of them refuse. We recommend talking with your husband privately with the goal of coming up with house rules and expectations for everyone, as well as how the children are going to be held responsible for following those rules. You may find it helpful to check out these articles by James Lehman which also discuss helpful strategies to use in blended families, including how to discuss what both of your expectations are, and developing a plan as you move forward: “My Blended Family Won’t Blend—Help!” Part I: How You and Your Spouse Can Get on the Same Page, & “My Blended Family Won’t Blend!” Part II: What to Do When Your Stepkids Disrespect You We also find that behavior charts work well with younger kids, where you can reward your stepchildren for cooperating and following the house rules. We wish you and your family the best. Take care.

Comment By : Rebecca Wolfenden, Parental Support Advisor

Hi. My partner and I have been living together 2 and a half years. I have three children and he has none of his own. My kids love him, especially the smallest - who was only 1 when he came into our family.. but my partner won't hug my kids. They try to give him a cuddle goodnight, or just a random hug and he just gives them a pat on the back, or kindof brushes them off... Surely its only a matter of time until they give up on him. I feel like perhaps he just doesnt like them, but he has never said as much. It tears me apart - my kids seem happy and settled, I think his lack of affection towards them bothers me more than them. I am completely at a loss. Would love your thoughts??

Comment By : Confused mamma

* To “Confused momma”: Thank you for writing in and sharing your story. Blended families do present some different challenges. I can hear how distressed you are by your partner’s seeming lack of affection toward your children. We all want the best for our children so it’s natural to feel some anxiety about how this may affect them in the long run. Something to keep in mind is we all have different temperaments and not everyone shows care and affection the same way. While you may show your children you care by hugging or cuddling with them, your partner may show them this through a pat on the back or maybe simply talking to them in a kind way. From what you have written, it seems you may be having a more difficult time with this than your children are. You might consider speaking with a family or couples counselor about ways of working through this challenge. The 211 National Helpline can connect you to local counselors who may be able to help you work through this issue. You can reach the Helpline by calling 1-800-273-6222 or by logging onto We wish you and your family the best. Take care.

Comment By : D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor

My fiance lives with me and his daughter his with us 80% of the time. We are getting married next month. His daughter and I have a great relationship. She talks to me about things she isn't willing to talk to her mom and dad about because she doesn't like to share her feelings. She is 9 years old. Her mom is depressed and not a happy person. The daughter, has expressed this. She has said she doesn't like to be with mom because mom is sad and doesn't understand that she should be happy because she has food, roof over her head, etc. The daughter cries herself to sleep at her mom's house because she feels lonely because mom does nothing with her. I told her if she feels lonely, she can always pick up the phone and call her dad or me. She said that makes her too sad because she would rather be with us. Her mom doesn't go to Church and has told her that she doesn't want to know anything that goes on at our house. Unfortunatly, the daughter took that as she can't tell her anything at all. So - when her daughter expressed that she wanted to be baptized - we signed her up for a baptism class at Church so she can get more information and she is supposed to be baptized this Saturday. Her dad let her mom know that she is going to be baptized in case she would like to come and she was hurt that her daughter hadn't told her. We told her why and she is going to have a talk with her. That being said, her dad and I were supposed to attend the baptism class together on Wednesday night. The daughter wants me to be there. Now, her mom has expressed interest in going. The problem is, her mom wants to go because she wants to find a problem with things, not because she has her daughter's best interest at heart. That being said, obviously if mom wants to go, she can go. However, I am pretty sure, her mom is not going to be thrilled with my being there. If I am able to still attend the class because I want to make sure she understands what Baptism is and the importance of it and that it is something she wants to do, am I able to ask questions or do I need to let her mom do/say everything. If mom expresses she doesn't want me to attend - so just dad and mom attend class - do I need to adhere to that? I would be fine with it if the daughter doesn't want me to go but that's not the case. I also don't want to make things difficult for the daughter for something so important. However - is this a sign of things to come? That if mom decides to show up once in a blue moon I can no longer participate. If mom wanted to go for best interest of child - I could try and deal with it - but when I believe it's for drama reasons - it hurts even more.

Comment By : sad1979

* To “Sad1979”: Thank you for writing in and sharing your story. Blended families can offer some unique challenges, not the least of which is deciding what everyone’s role will be. It’s great that you and your stepdaughter have developed a close relationship. That can go a long way towards helping your family blend smoothly. As far as whether or not you should also attend the Baptism class, there really isn’t a right or wrong answer. It depends upon what is going to work best for your family. One of the things that Carri and Gordon point out in the article is the importance of not competing with her bio mom. I can tell from your comment that you are trying to handle this situation in a positive, respectful way even though you may not agree with how bio mom interacts with your stepdaughter. It must be hard to hear about your stepdaughter’s feelings of loneliness and disappointment, but try to recognize that is only part of the picture and that bio mom wanting to be involved could be her way of trying to be closer to her daughter. It may be beneficial for you and your fiancé to discuss the pros and cons of having you attend the class and then decide what the best course of action would be. We wish you and your family the best as you work through this challenge. Take care.

Comment By : D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor

I am a stepmom and bio parent .. My husband has two of his own a girl and a boy .. And my self I had three girls from past relationship .. My step son he diagnose with ADHD .. I really don't know what to do with him and I need help .. He only acts up when his dad is not around he disrespect me all the time he tells me that I'm not his mom and he doesn't have to listen to me and he can do whatever he wants around the house he calls her stepsister stupid and all that names my kids gets really offended by him .. I tell my husband about how he disrespect me and I really don't like it and he needs to sit down and talk to him .. When my husband sits down with him and ask him why he disrespect me he will lied to his dad he will say that he didn't say this or I didn't do that which all the kids see and they hear what he says . sometimes I feel that my husband thinks I'm just lying to him and I'm just picking on him ., I'm tired of feeling that I'm always in the middle between .. I love my stepkids like my very own child .. I really need help and advise whaere to start and what to do..

Comment By : Please help me

* To “Please help me”: Blended families can offer some challenging situations. It’s not uncommon for kids to behave differently with one parent than with another; this can happen even in families where both parents are the bio parents. From our perspective, it’s going to be most helpful if you and your spouse are on the same page as far as house rules/expectations and how you are going to hold everyone accountable for the choices they make. Keep in mind you’re probably not going to agree with each other all the time. That’s to be expected. You’re two different people with different perspectives and ideas. When the two of you disagree, the most important thing to do is to have those conversations behind closed doors so the kids can’t take part. James Lehman discusses how parents of blended families can get on the same page in his article “My Blended Family Won’t Blend—Help!” Part I: How You and Your Spouse Can Get on the Same Page. You might also want to read “My Blended Family Won’t Blend!” Part II: What to Do When Your Stepkids Disrespect You. Once you and your spouse have developed the ground rules, you can sit down together and lay them out for the kids. You can also let them know what the consequence will be if the ground rules are broken. We often suggest using task-oriented consequences, such as loss of cell phone privileges until he can go for 24 hours without talking disrespectfully to family members. It’s great that your spouse sits down with his son to process the situation. We always advise problem solving after a conflict to help the child develop better ways of dealing with a situation. It may be more effective to use “what” questions as opposed to “why” questions. Here is a great article the goes over how to problem solve with kids you might find useful: The Surprising Reason for Bad Child Behavior: "I Can't Solve Problems". Good luck to you and your family as you continue to address this challenging behavior. Take care

Comment By : D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor

My partner and I have 6 kids.. 3 boys are mine and he has 2 boys and a girl. I find that he is very harsh with my kids. He has a different type of parenting then I do. We fight about this all the time. He thinks I am too soft with my kids and they walk all over me. When I bring up subject on his kids he gets very defensive. I am at my wits end. What do I do.

Comment By : HELP frustrated step mom

* To HELP frustrated step mom: It is not uncommon to have a different parenting style than your partner; after all, you are two different people with different backgrounds, and different philosophies. It can be even harder to resolve those differences in a blended family. We recommend talking with your partner in private about your common goals around parenting. This could be as simple as both of you having a goal to raise respectful, responsible children. From that common goal, you can start to find some compromise as to how to address acting out in each of your children, and common consequences for behavior that is against house rules. We do recommend having each parent take the lead in addressing behavior in their biological child, while the step-parent takes on more of a supporting role whenever possible. In this way, you are presenting a united front in enforcing house rules, while still having the opportunity to develop a relationship with your stepchildren. I am including links to some other articles I think you might find helpful. Take care, and we wish you the best as you continue to work on this as a family.
“My Blended Family Won’t Blend—Help!” Part I: How You and Your Spouse Can Get on the Same Page
“My Blended Family Won’t Blend!” Part II: What to Do When Your Stepkids Disrespect You

Comment By : Rebecca Wolfenden, Parental Support Advisor

I am in a step parent situation and i fear soon will lead to my fiance and i no longer being together. I am the mother of an 11 Yr old boy with ADHD whos father is not in the picture. My fiance has 2 children with his ex. A girl 14and a boy 7. The main problem is my son has no bond with my spouse. I mean the only time they talk is when my son is in trouble. I love both of them and i have been trying for years but my spouse doesnt want to make the effert as much as my son. I should also state that his daughter is not his bio daughter but he assumed responsibility for her a long time ago. The only child that gets the great dad treatment is the bio son, his daughter gets it when her mom freaks. I am just not sure what to do. My son doesnt want to be home if his kids are there because he hates seeing them happy. I just want them to have some kind of bond. I have tried expkaining it tomy spouse but that gets me no where. I tired explaining to my son that you have togive respect to get it and that didnt work. I Dont know what to do. There is just so much resentment in my house that im starting to become resentful myself.

Comment By : resenting blending

* To “resenting blending”: Thank you for writing in to Empowering Parents. We hear from many parents who are in blended family situations. Blended families can offer some unique challenges and it can be a tricky transition for everyone involved. I can hear how important it is for you that your son and fiancé have a good relationship. That’s understandable. Ultimately, whatever bond or relationship that develops between them is for them to determine. It’s not going to be possible for you to make that happen. It may be more effective for you and you fiancé to develop a plan of action for how you are going to parent your children together. Carrie and Gordon give some great tips in the article. James Lehman also wrote a two part article on blended families you can find here: “My Blended Family Won’t Blend—Help!” Part I: How You and Your Spouse Can Get on the Same Page & “My Blended Family Won’t Blend!” Part II: What to Do When Your Stepkids Disrespect You. From what you have written, it sounds like your fiancé is the one who talks to your son when he’s in trouble. As you will read in the articles, James advises for the bio parent to be the one who disciplines the child. Making that switch may help your son and fiancé interact at times other than when your son is in trouble. It may seem small but it is a step towards them having better interactions. One other thing you might consider is talking with a marriage or family counselor, perhaps one who specializes in blended families. You can contact the 211 National Helpline at 1-800-273-6222 (online at to find out about counselors and other local supports. We wish you and your family the best as you continue to work through this challenging transition. Take care.

Comment By : D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor

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