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This YouTube video provides perspective on this Q&A article
about stepparenting. The video mentions eight lessons in this
self-improvement Web site - I've simplified that to seven.
This is one of a series of lesson-7 articles
on howtoevolve a
stepfamily. The "/" in re/marriage and re/divorce
notes that it may be a stepparent's first union. "Co-parents" means both
bioparents, or any of the
three or more
related stepparents and bioparents managing a multi-home
article assumes you're familiar with....
to this nonprofit Web site and the
Stepparent describes the
role of an adult who nurtures
a resident or visiting child
of their mate. Stepmothers and stepfathers may or may not have
biological children of their own, and/or conceive "ours" children with their
partner. Any family with at least one
stepchild and one part-time or full-time stepparent is astepfamily.
Becausestepfamilies following divorce (vs. mate-death) are
relatively new to our culture, the roles of
stepparent and stepchild are often alien, confusing, and frustrating. If new
mates made wise
these relationships can become rich sources of closeness, affection, companionship, fun, satisfaction, and
The questions and answers here come from 36 years' clinical research and
listening to over 1000 typical new and veteran co-parents since 1981.
My own experience as a stepfather and adult stepson adds perspective.
The American College Dictionary (1970) says the prefix
"step" comes from the old English steop-, which
meant "related by marriage rather than blood." A related root is the Icelandic
denoting bereaved or orphaned. Microsoft's Bookshelf describes a
current secondary meaning of stepchild as "Something that does not
receive appropriate care, respect, or attention."
authors and commentators try to avoid the negative taint of "step-"
with labels and adjectives like co-family, blended,
second, bi-nuclear, reconstituted, combined, bonus, rem(arried),
and reconstructed (family).Terms like
these encourage people to ignore their "step-" identity, and live
from unrealistic (biofamily) expectations.
Becauseour culture doesn't alert typical
new-stepfamily adults to
stresses they'll face,
typical stepmoms and stepdads don't know what they need to know about stepfamily
challenges and rewards. So all
stepfamily adults and supporters need to study (at least)
Lesson 7 in this Web
site.It's based on
36 years' research
and clinical experience with over 1,000 typical stepfamily adults.
Q5)Are typical stepparents
supposed to love their stepkids?
An inexorable reality is that
respect and friendship may develop between a stepparent and stepchild, but
not the same kind of bonding and love that
healthy bioparents and kids exchange.
Exceptions may happen if a new stepchild is very young. Some stepparents endure their stressful caregiving role
to be with
their beloved partner. Others really like their mate's child/ren and enjoy nurturing them.
Many stepkids don't want a
stepparent - in general, or the one their bioparent chose. Even if children enjoy
a stepdad or stepmom, they may feel
disloyal to their
same-gender bioparent if they express their appreciation and respect openly.
Well-informed supporters counsel stepparents and stepkids to not
expect themselves to love each other or feel guilty if they don't. See
this for more perspective.
What if a stepchild
rejects a stepparent despite the adult's best
In some new stepfamilies, a well-meaning stepmom or
stepdad extends friendship, patience, and empathy to their
stepkids, and gets steady indifference,
hostility ("rejection"), and possibly criticism from their mate if the stepparent protests.
Such "rejection" may indicate
that the stepchild...
Typical stepkids don't understand these
stressors, and can't clearly identify and
primary needs. They depend on their co-parents to validate their feelings and
needs, and want to empathically help satisfy them.
And "rejected" stepparents need to know that...
their feelings of hurt,
confusion, and resentment of the child's behavior and their
reactions are normal, legitimate, and deserve no guilt, shame, or self doubt
what uninformed people may say; and...
choose, repeatedly,who's needs and feelings are more important:
their own, their mate's or their biochild's. The bioparent's actions
(vs. words) will demonstrate
stepparent and their stepchild
may simply have "bad chemistry" - i.e. significantly different
values, interests, and tolerances.
If true for you...
that typical stepparents face?
Thoughevery stepfamily is unique, typical stepmothers and stepfathers face common
concurrent problems (discomforts) like these, starting in courtship:
grieving unrealistic courtship ideals and fantasies, and accepting
complex, stressful stepfamily
complexities (Q7 above), and many concurrent
dislike from their stepkids and/or
step-relatives - specially their partner's ex mate/s;
experiencing escalating hurts and resentments
because their mate puts their stepkids' (and/or ex mate's) needs
ahead of their
primary relationship too often, despite
the stepparent's hints, protests, and requests;
coming to dread stepkids'
visitations for many reasons, and feeling
guilty about this and helpless to improve it;
finding that most lay people and many
family-support professionals have little awareness or empathy for what
experience and need. One result is that many stepparents feel isolated and alone
in resolving their role discomforts - specially if they have no biokids of their
own, so their mate can't empathize. (Solution: find or start a
And typical stepparents also face challenges like...
expectations about stepfamily life into realistic
expectations over four or more years, while their mates and supporters may or
may not do the same;
coping with personal, role, and stepfamily
confusion at holidays (like Mother's and
Father's Days) and family celebrations, starting with their
finding that most how-to
books and programs about stepparenting offer
vignettes (validation) and generalities (like "communicate openly and honestly"), but
solutions (e.g. learn and apply seven
patiently teach them to your kids);
values conflicts with their
partner over child visitations + discipline + finances (including insurance,
and wills) + custody + education + health + legal
parenting agreements +
relations with ex mates and in-laws + religion + boundaries + home
selection and management.
typical stepfather or stepmother will face some mix of
these problems. The ultimate
problem for millions of U.S. stepparents is admitting some months or
years after committing that they chose the wrong
people, for the
work at these self-improvement
Lessons together during courtship!)
Do average stepfathers face different problems than typical
Typical stepparents face general role and relationship
some that are
gender-unique. For instance...
Statistics suggest that divorced or
widowed American men are more likely to re/marry quickly than previously-married women.
This implies stepfathers may be more at risk of making need-driven, uninformed
commitment decisions than typical
Conversely, divorced or widowed single mothers are more likely to need
caregiving, financial, and home-maintenance help, and make need-driven unwise
commitment choices - specially if they bear significant
Typical step-brides may experience
greater conflict, anxiety, and/or satisfaction over their
commitment ceremony than average
Traditionally, husbands are
breadwinners, and wives are responsible for raising kids and household
management. That often means that if a custodial stepchild or stepsiblings are
unhappy or conflicted, society and a stepmother's mate, relatives, and friends
expect her to take responsibility for reducing the trouble.
This may be amplified because
female brains are more concerned with
relationship problems and family harmony than male brains; and...
Males are generally more reluctant
to seek and accept relationship help (e.g. self-help books, counseling, support
groups) than females. So there are significantly more books and
websites for stepmothers than stepfathers now.
That may mean that average stepdads bear more stepfamily
Typical males are often more sexually
aggressive than females, and the incest taboo is usually weaker in stepfamilies; so average stepdads may struggle more with
feelings for their stepdaughters more than stepmoms do with stepsons;
More possible differences between average stepfathers and stepmothers...
Typical stepmoms may have
higher needs for empathy, intimacy (vs. sex), and emotional expression than
stepfathers. That may yield higher odds of frustration in
women choosing or accepting a stepmother role; and...
Typical women have deeper needs to
conceive and nurture children than men. Typical stepmoms take on their role in their 30s or 40s.
This urge + their age + local stepfamily conditions can cause a higher level
of conception-related conflicts in
stepmothers. This is specially likely with childless stepmothers whose mate
doesn't want more children.
A child's stepmother and biomother
and/or co-grandmothers may be more likely to judge, criticize, and resent each other as
caregivers than typical stepfathers and biofathers; and....
Because most females are more
emotionally sensitive, responsive, and expressive than males, typical
grieve more completely than stepfathers, and be more likely to
blocked grief in their step and biochildren;
Average stepmothers may be
needy of approval from, and closeness with, their stepchild/ren; and (b) more
sensitive to stepchild rejection than stepfathers;
males tend to rely more on logic to "figure out" and "explain"
family-relationship problems than females. So stepfathers may be more
easily frustrated than stepmothers if stepfamily members or supporters
"aren't logical." This can also be true for stepmoms with
Because divorcing biomothers usually get physical
custody of their minor kids, stepfathers are more likely to have
resident stepchildren than stepmothers. This can make it easier to build adult-child
relationships (and discover dislikes) than for part-time stepmoms.
Research suggests that the odds for significant strife between
typical stepmothers and stepdaughters (specially residential and
is higher than for average stepsons and stepdads. Finally..
Stepfathers may be less empathic
with, or sensitive or reactive to, marital dissatisfaction than average
Reflect... can you think of other
stepfamily stressors that are gender-specific?
Do veteran bioparents make
childlessstepparents are more likely to
caregiving confusions and
unrealistic expectations of themselves and other
stepfamily members than veteran bioparents. This is specially likely for
previously-unmarried stepparents, who must learn two complex
social roles concurrently: spouse and child-nurturer.
"An adult who is
(a) motivated and (b) able to (c) learn individual children's
current developmental and
family-adjustment needs and (d) work patiently and
respectfully to help kids fill them, while (e) consistently satisfying their
own needs well enough."
I believeaverage veteran bioparents are more likely to be effective
stepparents, short and long term. There are lots of exceptions - mature,
wise stepparents gifted with natural nurturing instincts, skills, and
your opinion on this question? Why is the answer important to you?
What are the (potential)
stepparenting, and when do they occur?
Stepparent is a family role which is either chosen ("I
want to help raise your kids"), or endured to get something of value.
The "rewards" of doing any social role well (by your standards) range
from local to long-term. A "reward" is something that makes you feel
good about yourself and/or someone else.
Typical short-term rewards of being an effective stepparent can include...
feeling liked, trusted, and
respected by a stepchild,
enjoying the child's personality, company,
sensing that they and other
people value your presence, opinion,
and guidance, and...
feeling the satisfaction of helping the
child fill current and long-term
needs, and the respect and appreciation of your mate and important others.
long-term stepparenting rewards take decades to harvest - e.g.
sacrificing and patiently contributing over years to help your stepchild
become a serene, self-sufficient,
(potentially) co-creates a
family of their own and contributes to society rather than
Option: ask the nearest
stepmother or stepfather (or stepchild) what theylike and
about their role, being in a stepfamily, and
whether they feel the rewards are worth the problems. Note that
their expectations, goals, experiences, and opinions may be
notably different than yours.
grown stepchildren is easier
than minor stepkids?
People may assumethat stepparent relations with
adult stepchildren are less conflictual
and more enjoyable than with typical minor stepkids. If
too soon, and/or are
wounded and join or
that's often not true.
Stepparents are likely to conflict with adult stepkids who...
grew up in a
low-nurturance (traumatic) childhood, and have significant psychological
wounds; and/or who...
reject or minimize their
identity or don't know
parental death or divorce, and re/marriage well enough;
will conflict with adult stepkids who...
trust, or respect their
stepparent/s or step-relatives; and/or who don't spontaneously want
to belong a
their bioparent's wishes and happiness; and/or adult stepkids who are...
in an unsatisfying or
over-stressful re/marriage or family now; and/or who...
addicted; and/or who...
feel responsible for, or are
enmeshed with a
bitter, angry, or antagonistic (i.e.
bioparent; and/or adult stepchildren who...
are overwhelmedby a mix
of these stressors and have no clear life purpose yet.
These problems are likely to cause significant conflict in and with a
stepparent if all their stepfamily adults aren't progressing with these 7 vital
whether you're courting or committed, gain perspective on an adult (or any)
stepchild with this checklist.
Also review these comments on assuming stepfamily conflicts will subside when the youngest
stepchild lives independently.
Pause and reflect on what the above means to you now, and whether you need to act on something...
What common mistakes
typical new stepparents avoid?
define a "stepparent mistake" as some attitude, behavior, or decision which
results in significant stress in or among any family adults or children. What's "significant"
is a subjective judgment. From this framework,
common mistakes that
typical new stepparents should be alert for include...
assessment for significant
wounds in themselves,
and each co-parent, stepchild, and key relative.
This assessment is best done during courtship.
And/or stepparents can come to regret
theirstepfamily is basically
than a traditional intact biofamily;
hazards won't apply
personally, or assuming that love and/or
spiritual faith alone will surely
overcome the hazards;
they and their stepkids must or will
respect each other immediately
decades of life experience, and prior marital and child-care
experience, will be enough to evolve a successful stepfamily;
And stepparents make a significant mistake if they assume
the children's "other bioparents" are not
full members of their new
stepfamily, or pretending to include them;
that any major conflict with stepfamily roles, rules, or relationships is
someone else's fault, vs. half the stepparent's
doing; and/or assuming that...
the stepparent has no options (is a
victim), and/or that...
any local "stepfamily problem" is the primary problem, instead of a
symptom of several
primary problems (unmet
needs; or assuming that..
need pretty much the same thing as
intact-family biokids, and/or that
adult stepkids will "be no problem";
And stepparents can mistakenly assume that...
principles of effective
biofamilychild-discipline will be effective in
their new stepfamily; and...
that any licensed, experienced
counselor, therapist, clergyperson, or
mediator will know all they need to know about stepfamily realities; and...
that it's OK for their mate to
"In (step)family conflicts,
my kids will come first." Resentment over feeling
second best is the most
surface reason for eventual
re/divorce; and/or if they assume...
most people will empathize, validate, and sympathize with)
the confusions, doubts, and stresses involved in custodial or non-custodial
How many typical
stepfamily adults do you think could name and explain even half of these stepparent
mistakes? Pause and notice what you're thinking now...
Do typical stepmothers need
support compared to stepdads and other co-parents?
There are more self-help books and Internet chat groups for stepmothers than stepfathers.
I'm not aware of
any such resources for stepparents' mates. That
suggests that authors, publishers, and website developers think
stepmoms need the most support, or there really are more calls for
support from stepmoms.
that may simply mean average American stepmoms are more vocal about venting and
seeking help than stepfamily men or stepfather's wives. For more perspective, review
a stepchild's "other
bioparent" is dead?
Yes and no. While there is no living ex mate to cause disputes, these
still apply. The number and
frequency of family conflicts may be less in post-death stepfamilies, but they
still can promote significant stress and possible psychological or legal re/divorce.
Some stressors are actually greater
- e.g. re/marrying mates and relatives mistakenly assuming stepfamily
don't apply to them because there is no living ex mate ["No, we're just a
regular (non-step) family."]
Another unique stressor is that stepparents
may feel they're competing with a ghost or
dead hero/ine in their new caregiving and spousal roles. They also lack the
co-parenting support that a healthy ex-mate can provide.
A potential indirect stress for stepfamily adults occurs if
they start to explore biofamily
nurturance levels and
wounds. The dead father or mother is
not available to...
describe kids' early years and ancestral
psychological wounds, or to...
Does it get
stepparents when their youngest stepchild
lives on their own?
The normal stresses over child custody, visitation, discipline,
education, and support do dwindle when the youngest stepchild starts
living on their own. So co-parents and supporters
can assume that the frequency, complexity, and intensity of stepfamily
conflicts will drop significantly.
If all co-parents have
made substantial progress on these
that assumption is probably justified - despite new values, loyalty, and relationship-
triangle stressors that will keep occurring.
Typical courting and veteran co-parents can't describe
five hazards or how to evolve a high-nurturance stepfamily.
the risk that when the youngest stepchild moves out, some
A myth that many older step-couples believe is
that because their stepkids are adults,
their stepfamily love-boat will have smooth sailing. This assumption can cause shock, disorientation, heartache, anxiety, and major
regret at "not having seen the need to prepare" - i.e. to study and
Q13 for more perspective.
What legal rights do average
stepparents have relative to their minor stepkids?
statutes vary by state. The general truth is "typical U.S. stepparents have few to no legal
parental rights (and responsibilities) re their stepkids unless they
legally adopt them." Most stepparents don't adopt their mate's children.
This lack of legal status and rights may be a problem when medical professionals need parental approval
to help an injured stepchild, and stepparents don't legally qualify. If
this is true in your state, an option is to have a family-law attorney
draw up a notarized "In Loco Parentis" document.
One or both bioparents
use this document to formally authorize a stepparent to act on their behalf with a named
minor stepchild. For the best results, ask any
attorney you hire if s/he specializes in family law.
Local (state) Bar
Associations can usually identify such specialists.
Another potential stressor occurs if
a stepparent dies without a will. In most states, her or his net assets may flow to
the surviving mate and/or blood relatives, but not to their stepkids if both
mates die together.
Conflict may occur if a concerned stepmom or dad requests
access to their stepchild's school records, and/or to be notified of
parent-teacher conferences. School districts and states vary in
their policies about complying with such requests, specially when a hostile ex
mate forbids it. Ask your local school administration what their policy is and
what options stepparents have.
Finally, a non-adoptive stepparent may or may not share legal adult liability if
a stepchild commits a crime. Check with your local authorities.
Bottom line: all your co-parents
should get qualified family-law counsel on local stepparent's legal rights and
responsibilities relative to their minor and grown stepkids. This is
usually best done during courtship to help mates make
three right choices.
Option - adapt these
guidelines for choosing a
professional stepfamily counselor to help pick a competent attorney.
re/marriage to a
stepparent usually "harder" than to a bioparent?
Single parents choose one of six types of new partners:
childless adults who
married or are
divorcing or widowed; or...
and/or widowed bioparents with (a) no stepfamily experience or (b)
significant stepfamily experience as a child and/or an adult.
Generally, chances for significant
re/marital stress are lower with new partners who have prior marital and
parenting experience. Learning to "do" the complex
roles of spouse and co-parent at
the same time and stay balanced is a
steep challenge, even for mature people
guided by their
true Selves (capital "S").
Caution: prior divorce suggests
relationship skills. This can significantly
offset the re/marital value of a new mate's life experience and knowledge.
Another offset is that
committing to someone with one or more living kids
will generate substantial conflicts over
values, priorities, loyalties, and
triangles (and perhaps rewards!) Two dual-role
(bioparent + stepparent) mates have a better chance for mutual empathy,
compassion, and support than couples where one mate doesn't take on the role of stepparent.
Include these important
as you partners research
making threewise stepfamily-courtship commitment choices.
continue their relationships with stepkids?
Millions of current American stepfamilies will end in psychological
or legal re/divorce. Most
divorcing biokids and
bioparents want to, or feel they should,stay "connected"
after bioparents separate. That's often less true with average stepparents
Many factors determine if and how well stepfamily mates continue contact after they separate.In general, the higher their
and the longer they've been together, the high the odds a stepchild
and/or a stepparent will have
bonded to some degree and will want ongoing
contact after re/divorce.
Re/divorcing stepparents and their stepkids are most likely to
grow personal peace if they listen to their own hearts, rather than obey well-meant
shoulds, musts, and oughts about staying in contact. Such
advice is probably (a) someone else's agenda (b) based on biofamily and
religious traditions, not stepfamily realities.
don't choose their stepfamily roles and relationships, and may not
like, trust, respect, or
step-relatives despite ideals and sharing years
of stepfamily experience. It's
also uncommon for typical stepparents and stepkids to
love each other like healthy bioparents
and kids do. (see Q5)
many stepparents and stepchildren
unaware of key stepfamily
realities, so their roles and relationship are
often conflictual. Where
so, there is little incentive to remain in touch after co-parents split up, and relationships
decay naturally. There are exceptions!
there any specially
good resources for stepparents?
I've researched U.S. stepfamily
life as a professional specialty since 1979. From my unusual
(engineering + business + trainer + therapist) background and (stepfather + communication +
inner-wound-recovery) experience, I've grown a strong bias about (a) what typical stepparents need, and
(b) what resources
fill their needs effectively .
I feel that
the range of
electronic, and consultation resources available today to average co-parents can
fill some surface needs, but not their
primary needs (Q4).
Lesson 7 in this nonprofit Web site exists because almost all of the scores of books and articles for stepfamily adults
I've read since 1979 are superficial and sometimes misleading. None of
them provide the scope of information you'll find in these 7 online