Challenges of being a stepparent

Becoming a stepparent comes with its challenges. Most kids whose parents get remarried while their separated parent is still alive hope they might get a chance of reconnection. Often, this is the primary cause of resentment towards stepparents. The hope of their parents reuniting might cause negative feelings such as anger, hate, or confusion.

As a stepparent, it is normal to be stressed by the relationship you have with your new family. Over 60% of remarried couples disagree a lot when the children are involved. There might be a few challenges before you can create a strong bond with the kids. Some of these include:

  • Discipline: You might have different ideas on how to discipline or parent the kids.
  • Hesitance: The kids might be apprehensive about developing a new relationship with you and refuse to bond.
  • Emotions: The kids might be experiencing conflicting emotions.
  • Their age: Younger kids might adapt quickly to the new relationship compared to older kids. If you have young stepchildren, you should keep in mind that they may not fully understand why their family structure is changing. They might start reacting to this change later on as they grow older. 
  • How long you've bonded with them: Although there might be exceptions, it is normal for kids to react defensively. Kids are usually more willing to accept you as a stepparent if you have a history with them before you join their family.  
  • How long you have been dating their parent: Children might be suspicious if you have rushed to marry their parent. If you have dated for some time, they might understand that you are there for a long-term relationship and can be trusted. 
  • The other parent: As a stepparent, it is easier for you to deal with couples that have open communication. If your partner and their previous spouse are still in conflict, it might affect your current relationship. If this is the case, you may consider encouraging them to keep their issues away from the kids.
  • Availability: Depending on the kid’s attitude, they might want to spend more time with their birth parent. In this case, try not to infringe on their time as it’s better to put their needs first. This may also help you bond with the family more smoothly.

Challenges kids face

Here are some of the challenges children might face when a stepparent joins their family:

  • Adaptation issues: Children may struggle with their feelings about a new stepparent. They may develop feelings of resentment if they think you're trying to replace their biological parent.
  • Trust issues: It is normal if your stepchildren are not sure if they should trust you. Often, kids who have experienced their biological parents' divorce feel abandoned. They may be reluctant to trust you because they’re worried you will also leave them when they get attached.
  • Sibling rivalry: If you have kids joining your new family, they might feel the urge to compete with your stepchildren for dominance and attention. Your children or stepchildren might be unsure if their position is secure.
  • Parenting plans: Where the other biological parent is available, your stepchildren might be used to spending unlimited time with them. They might find it challenging to adapt when you set your boundaries. From their perspective, the limits you set might be uncomfortable, which might be a challenge for them.
  • Grief and loss after divorce: Children may have an emotional connection with the separated parent or the prior family setting as a whole. The failure of either or both may cause grief on their side. If you remarry into their family, it might trigger these feelings. There might not be enough time for them to go through these feelings. This may affect your relationship with them.

What not to do as a stepparent

As a stepparent, you should do your best to avoid the following mistakes:

  • Try too hard to please: Many stepparents try too hard to please their stepchildren. You might have a better chance of winning them over by being true to yourself and them. Children often ease up at their own pace.
  • Impose your own rules without an agreement: Rules often cause misunderstandings in families with stepparents. Before imposing your own rules in the household, try getting your spouse (and their ex if your spouse and their ex are co-parenting) on board by discussing why you think those rules are important. Sometimes you might find it challenging to make an outright decision on a unique situation. In this case, defer to one of the parents. 
  • Set your expectations too high: Don’t assume you will fit in with the new family immediately. Children may take longer than you expect to adapt to the unique family setting. Avoid imposing your expectations, and let things play out naturally instead.
  • Overstep your boundaries as a stepparent: You might assume disciplining your stepchildren will help you gain their respect. However, chances are it will not work in your favor. Your stepchildren might start building up resentment, which may affect your relationship. Consider involving the primary parent where discipline is needed. You will gain their respect as time goes on and they get used to you.
  • Take it personally: It is normal if your stepchildren are going through a rough time adjusting to their new family situation. In most cases, if a divorce led to the separation of their primary parents, they might take time to accept it. You should consider their feelings and focus on empathizing.
  • Focus on the problem: It is more beneficial to focus on coming up with a solution to the challenges your family might be facing.
  • Interfere with the family structure: Stepparents should not come in between the children and the primary parents' relationships. Also, consider helping them solve their conflicts with positive solutions such as reassuring the children that everything will be fine rather than trying to divide them.
  • Avoid communication: Communication strengthens the bond in blended families. When communication is clear, there is little room for misunderstanding.
  • Pick favorites: Where stepsibling rivalry is concerned, consider reminding them that you love all of them equally and would like each of them to be part of your life. Favoritism and bias should be avoided.

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Medically Reviewed on 10/22/2021
References
SOURCES:

AMERICAN COUNSELING ASSOCIATION: "Stepping up to the challenge."

HelpGuide: "Blended Family and Step-Parenting Tips."

NPR: "The Key To Stepparenting: Be Patient, It Takes Time."

KidsHealth: "Becoming a Stepparent."

Guardian News: "I love him, but not his kids."

GoodTherapy: "Blended Family Issues." ?