The Art of Staying Out Of an Argument with Your Stepchild

Posted September 9, 2010 by

I am presently helping to raise my second “blended family.”  I consider my first blended family a success story due to the fact that I never said a negative word about my stepchildren’s mother and she became a very supportive liaison when I divorced my stepchildren’s dad.  Also, maintaining a loving and positive relationship with my stepchildren to this day after divorcing their dad seven years ago, in my heart feels like a success as well.  I attribute these personal accomplishments to staying out of “it.”

I have been invited into many arguments, 98% of which I have declined.  The typical scenario goes like this….  A stepchild has done something outside the house rules … their biological parent is trying to manage them into understanding the importance of “following the rules.”  The stepchild then says or does something to try to engage my participation by breaking another house rule or saying something ugly about me or even about the biological parent. I will then remind myself the following: “they are a kids and they know not what they say.” I will go to another room, or take a walk and disregard their invitation. That’s because as soon as I say anything at all, the focus is off of the child and onto ME . Any effective parenting the biological parent has accomplished is now in jeopardy.

I deeply believe we must show respect to the stepchild’s biological parent by giving them the space to work this out “one on one” with the child,  rather than become just the opportunity the child was looking for to redirect the argument.

It is a basic principle and I imagine most parents have figured this out.  But maybe there is one parent out there who thinks they are helping/ defending/ backing up/ assisting the biological parent, when more than likely the interjection is counterproductive, as I found out so long ago.  I would hope this gently helps those parents see why their good intentions may not help.  Many people that work with troubled kids in a variety of areas will tell you flat out, as a stepparent you really don’t stand a chance in this type of scenario.

Sometimes, the biological parent is passive and not inclined to deal with the poor behavior.  In my experience, the passive parent is still more effective than the stepparent.  The biological parent has more history with the child and generally would have better instincts on how the parental conversation should flow regarding breaking the rules.

I believe the important thread here is to have good communication between you and the biological parent. Know what the house rules are and the potential consequences for breaking them.  Though the house rules should be well known within the home, the debates and discussions about them between the adults should be completely private without the children knowing who made the rules and where the weak links may be between the adults.  In our home, the adults talk/debate privately about parental strategies.

Kids are smart; they are wiser to the world at 10 years of age than I was at 20.  It is a different world entirely. Though the values of life have not changed, people have.  We may have to work twice as hard to teach our future leaders the cause and effect of their words and actions,  but the investment in your precious child is well worth the price.


Empowering Parents welcomes Julia Clark to the Parent Blogger team! Julia is the single mother of an 8-year-old girl. She is presently also caring for her gently aging father. Julia has two older stepchildren, a boy and a girl in their twenties, from her first marriage. She is also five years into her second blended family with her fiancé and his three children, a 12-year-old boy, a 15-year-old girl and an 18-year-old boy. “With three generations at home, it’s always busy,” says Julia.

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  1. The Frog and The Princess (Edit) Report

    Never ever let your step children know you are a princess. If you call too much attention to yourself, they resent it. It was my first blended family, and I sure could have used a coach. I actually did everything wrong – trying to be a mother – trying to get their biological parent to take responsibility – trying to have a relationship with the girls without X-mom’s approval.

    My own children tried to ridicule my new marriage, but I stood my ground and challenged them “If you want a relationship with me – you will have to accept my choice for a spouse.” On the other hand, my step children’s bio parents were not so gracious.

    We lasted 7-years. I am happily engaged now embarking on a new adult blended family with adult step children (one expecting twins) and will take tips from this article seriously.

  2. Julia Clark (Edit) Report

    Randy, Correction to the first quote I learned from my dad “Decide how you feel about someone by your own experience and NOT based on what others say about them” I type very fast and I missed a couple words. (I did reread too.) Sorry about that. Also, you could always point out to your children how different what the ‘see’ is to what they ‘hear’. Every arrow goes through the kids, if you can resist throwing arrows it is the greatest gift of all for your children… and only the parents can do this. People can think up pretty bad things when they are angry, if you resist the invite to fight you will at least not fuel the fire, plus no matter what you think up, the other person always seems to think worse, it’s a waste of energy. It’s hard, really hard. Somehow we all do survive it. Pick up some good habits to occupy your mind away from all the worries ie. reading, biking, walking it off .. Thanks again. 🙂

  3. Carole Banks (Edit) Report

    Dear Randy:

    We’re sorry to hear you’re experiencing this. These can be difficult times. Basically you have to rely on your behavior to show your kids who you are as a parent and a person. If you feel and demonstrate love for your children, they will experience being loved by you. As James Lehman says, “Kids learn much more from watching what we do than from hearing what we say.” That’s also true with regard to what other people say about you if it contradicts your behavior. Kids will believe what they experience.

  4. Julia Clark (Edit) Report

    Randy, I had/have a wonderful Dad. My parents divorced when I was 9. I lived with my mom until 13, I felt she did not care about me. She missed my birthday. I moved in with my Dad. In my divorce I have endured much verbal abuse from my ex through my lawyer. After reading your comment, I would work hard to teach my children not to ‘decide how you feel about someone based on what others say about them’ (my dad taught me this) I would work hard to teach my children to base my views on someone by how that person treated me and what that person says to me’ that is how we form a proper opinion if someone is our friend or not. When your soon to be exwife says hurtful things about you it is called ‘dimming another persons light to make their own shine'(my dad taught me that). She sounds jealous and in competition with you. My ex said horrible things to my step children about their mom and eventually about me. They became ‘used to’ their dad spilling ugly words, your children may too about their mom. It seems founded on immaturity to me, as a fellow victim of such behavior. She probably has custody, that’s stressful with so much on her shoulders. If I were you, I would have 1 dinner every week night with all the kids and try to spend every sat or sun with all of them, or whoever is available and wants to. Be a consistent positive role model in their lives, pay your child support, if you have extra cash splurge once in a while with a trip to the mall. In their company, behave in the way you want your children to behave, SHOW them respect, never disrespect their mom, it only makes you look bad. Get a good lawyer and make payments if you have to, for a good lawyer. Keep the bad behavior in the other peoples court, keep yours clean. You will feel less guilty. Hug the kids, tell them openly how much you love them and how much you miss them. That your love for them is no different, be GENTLE with them, they are wounded lambs, let them vent on you if that helps them feel better (but no swearing I am full against that). You can do this. I joined Step Families of America years ago but lost interest with them. Empower yourself by being a class act and eventually your children will look up to you again. They are just confused. Good luck. 🙂

  5. Randy (Edit) Report

    Would love to hear more about how we accomplish the same thing as single/divorcing parents. I have lingering custody dispute, withholding, and false reporting going on which undermines my role as parent for my adopted children. I have always considered all of my children, 2 biological, 2 adopted, as the same, but messaging to the children from my ex has encouraged acting out and defiant attitudes along with overt messages to the children that Dad does not care as much or love the adoptive children the same.

  6. Julia Clark (Edit) Report

    stepmomof3, The wisdom you share goes deep. I relate to your wish to have done special things with your step daughter only to be shut down, (I had wanted to teach my beautiful step daughter to cook). So, I have had that too. When children live with the Dad, a mom has to really not want the responsibility, that causes such pain and confusion in a child, as I have witnessed, it can be the foundation of so much anger, where do we begin? Our ‘distance’ has been the grand canyon. You are profound when you advise not to take any of this personal, Wow. That is so true. That, I just said to my fiance’ the other day, early in our relationship I realized no matter who I was, I never stood a chance from the get go. Accepting that, I really loved their dad and I would not give up in the light of his angry children, my love stayed strong through the raging winds in our lives and they know of my behavior only as a lady. I have sent them to their rooms as a result of their own behavior, I will not allow being cursed at, but the regret will be in their backyard, not mine. It’s the only thing I can control is my own behavior, they are setting their own course. The hurt their dad lives with as a result of their aggression has taken a toll on him. He feels caught in the middle, but does not want to live yelling, screaming and swearing as they insist on, they have forced him to let them go. His older son and daughter (recently) have forced their mother to take them back. His last youngest son still lives with us and is standing up to the mahem at his mom’s that he threatened the mom he did not want to go back and visit unless they stopped the fighting. So good for him, he does not want to live with the stress of all that and though he wants so desperately to be with his mother he hangs here with his Dad and I for the peace of it. Imagine? The older son after 3 years gone and failing High School has confided in his dad his regret for everything he did & said here and that he wishes he was still here but it’s all too late, he is 18 and ‘you can’t go back’. Your comment contains such worldly experience it touched my heart to imagine all that you have been through. cudo’s to the wisdom of experience when it is noticed. Thanks again. 🙂

  7. Julia Clark (Edit) Report

    SMof3, I too am tired of the negativity associated with step families and step moms. I connected beautifully with my first set of step children and the second were completely different. In all my years with them I have been caring and respectful. They however; have been abusive and aggressive, yet I still care for them, I know their stories and they have been through much. They are so mixed up they are beyond the fun and love I have for them. I know as an adult in a few short years none of all this will matter and they will have past by much time that could have been so much better. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and yes, keep reading because there is support in words that can be helpful, I have great respect for your experience. 🙂

  8. Julia Clark (Edit) Report

    Shauna, I do not know of a local group that specifically supports blended families and their challenges. It would probably require an auditorium. I have often thought if 50% of marriages end in divorce and the even worse chances of a second marriage, where are all these people going? I do find the more I speak of our blended family, the more people engage in conversation with me when they share they too are blended. I sometimes feel shy about our complicated situation when so many seem to have a nucleus family being same mom and same dad. But as I test the waters others open up and share they are blended as well. Maybe just connecting with a few local moms would help the need in your heart to share and be understood, I feel the same way. Thank you for taking the time to tell me how much you could relate to my article. Keep searching and reading in the meantime, you never know when you will stumble upon a gem. 🙂

  9. stepmomof3 (Edit) Report

    All I can say is it isn’t easy,and it isn’t their choice if the parents can’t get along. I think that it’s best that they split so that both parents can be happy. No sense being miserable. I have 3 older stepdaughters. They are now married with their own kids, but came into my life at 1,4,and 11. It’s been 25yrs, and I tried to never dis’ their mother. She remarried before us and had another child and we had twin boys (now15). And that is a different story for a different discussion. We would have the girls every other weekend until he gave permission for them to live out of state. Their mother had a right to be happy and my husband has always provided and gone above and beyond with vacations and college tuition,extra money. He missed being with them but realized it was more important that their mother be happy. And their stepdad was really a good influence on them. I have really tried from the getgo to stay out of the fray. They lived out of state, and are now great women with their own families. I was not their mother and never tried to be. I envy those women who can make that connection and be “friends” with the stepkids, but if anything it has always just been at a distance. Once I wanted to take the oldest to get her nails and makeup done and her mother thought that it wasn’t appropriate. So we never did that. I got the message. We are friendly enough now, but I don’t have that closeness that you would hope to have. It is still a bit difficult especially when they have problems in their lives to not say how I feel, but such is life. Now they have to grow up. One of my stepdaughters has her own stepchild, and she is now seeing and experiencing what I went through. It seems as if she is navigating well, but she isn’t married to him and has already had a divorce after not even a yr of marriage.
    Life isn’t easy no matter what good intentions you have. And no good deed go unpunished to use an old cliche’ Just take it day by day and try not to make the difficulties personal even though you can sometimes. Make sure you take care of yourself first then you can help them. Now teen boys…. that’s my issue now!

  10. SMof3 (Edit) Report

    Thank you. I love reading helpful articles regarding blended familes. I too am helping my husband raise his two youngest boys. I have been for eight years now and wish I would have started reading articles back then. While I would never bad mouth Mom, I have gotten myself into arguements, made decisions and done the disiplining. I know now where I went wrong. I also get tired of the meanness of step family websites and look forward to reading more of the positive!
    Shaunna, I too am looking for something helpful. Let me know what you find.

  11. shaunna (Edit) Report

    Wow-I never realized it but that happened with me-“redirecting the argument”. It almost broke up my new and fragile marriage more than once with his 17 year old daughter. I still need advice on dealing with older stepdaughters (there is another one who is 23 ). Neither one wanted him to ever be married to anyone-just wanted him to be there for them whenever they needed something. I am trying to find some kind of support group in my area but have had trouble finding anything of the sort. Any chance that anyone knows a good book/group/ organization that could help me deal with it all??



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