Stepparents and stepchildren

Gwen Randall-Young

ost complicated set of relationships. Two people fall in love and eventually want to live together. One or both may have children, as well as exes. While every situation is different, much of what follows will be applicable.
It’s true that children should respect their elders and appreciate their parents. This is an area where parents may occasionally run into difficulty with their biological children, but the issue seems to become even more intense in the case of stepparents.
It is a touchy area, because most stepparents want to be liked and respected by their partner’s children. However, the step-parenting relationship is different than being a biological parent. You cannot demand to be treated in a particular way, because that will only exacerbate an already difficult situation.
If the children instinctively like you, respect and appreciation are generally not issues. Usually when they are, it is because of underlying tension between the stepparent and the stepchildren. Sometimes an ex-partner is resentful of the new spouse, and the children show their loyalty by being cool to the new partner.
Alternatively, the children may resent the newcomer, especially if they have had a period of time when they had Mom or Dad all to themselves. Sometimes the stepparent tries too hard to be a parent, to be accepted, or to have some control over the stepchild. This will create resistance in the child, who already has a Mom and a Dad, and does not want a second of either! It is so important to try to view the situation from the child’s perspective.
Most children want their parents to be together, and unless a parent is deceased, they do not necessarily want their parent to find a new partner. When the new person is introduced to the children, it is usually as Mommy or Daddy’s ‘friend’. They seem to be able to handle the idea of a friend. I think if stepparents thought of themselves as friends of the stepchildren, and acted that way, that a mutually respectful parenting relationship might evolve.
Before moving in together, it is important for both parents in the blended family to discuss how parenting will be handled. Accept that there will be different rules and expectations at the bio parent’s home. Do not try to “compensate” for what you feel is lacking. Changing what the child has grown up with because of a stepparent’s view is unfair to the children. If changes are introduced it should happen gradually, and quite a while after the blending. Otherwise, the stepparent will be blamed.
It is also important that children be involved in discussions about the role the new adult is to play in their lives. Really listen to their concerns; this is a big change. If they are involved and have input in these discussions, they are more likely to co-operate. Blending a new family is an extremely delicate process, and so it is best to proceed slowly, gently, and with a willingness to be flexible.
Gwen Randall-Young is an author and award-winning psychologist. For permission to reprint this article, or to obtain books, CDs or MP3s, visit Follow Gwen on Facebook for inspiration.