Protect Your Marriage by Becoming a Good Step-Parent

Coming into an existing family dynamic can be extremely tough – as you surely know if you’ve gone through it. Becoming a step-parent, or having your spouse become the step-parent of your children, isn’t as simple as just getting married – it takes time and effort to develop a relationship with your spouse’s kids, and vice-versa.

In fact, developing a solid relationship with stepchildren is critical to the success and strength of your marriage. Parents are obviously going to feel a strong bond with their biological children, and if those kids and a new step-parent aren’t able to get along, it’s going to be an ongoing point of stress for that spouse/parent “stuck in the middle.”

It’s also important, especially if the kids are young, that both parent and step-parent can be seen as respected authority figures of some kind, able to effectively offer both support and discipline.

The end goal is to develop a relationship that at least resembles that of a biological parent. You’re not out to replace anyone, but building a strong relationship with your spouse’s children (or, in turn, helping your children and spouse develop a relationship with one another) is going to have a long-term impact on the dynamic of your marriage.

Protect Your Marriage by Becoming a Good Step-Parent.
Protect Your Marriage by Becoming a Good Step-Parent.

So… How do you do it?

Every family is going to be a little bit different, but here are a few key points for becoming a good step-parent – and strengthening your marriage in the process:

1. Time

First and foremost, understand that this is going to take time. This means that you’re in it for the long haul (as you should be), and that you can’t expect overnight transformations.

You can think about the growing relationship in stages to help you better understand the kind of “authority” you have:

1. Babysitter – Early in the marriage, you’re more like a babysitter than a step- parent. Just like someone you’d hire, your only real “authority” is that given by the kids’ biological parent. You’re in charge – but it’s only while mom or dad is away.

2. Aunt/Uncle – As time goes on, you’ll get to know the kids better (and they’ll know you as well). Once you’ve really started to develop a rapport, you move into a role similar to an aunt or uncle – where there’s a bond that feels familial, but definitely isn’t the same as the parent-child connection.

This role carries some innate authority and is built on a real relationship – not just temporary “power” like that bestowed on a babysitter.

There may still be some resistance from the kids, or some hesitation on the part of the step-parent, but this is progress!

3. Parent/Step-Parent – It’s only after time and experience has passed that you’ll transition from that “aunt/uncle” role into a step-parent. You might not even be able to mark the moment of change, but once it happens, you’ll know!

The difference is authority simply because of the nature of your relationship to the child. You’ve been around long enough. You’ve proven yourself trustworthy. You’ve shared enough scenarios in the previous two roles to become a regular, ongoing part of the children’s lives.

2. Trust

To become a good step-parent, the kids need to trust you. For that to happen, you need to be an active part of their lives!

Now, don’t overdo it in the beginning, because as we all know, small children can be finicky, and if you press them too hard about being buddy-buddy… They may just recoil. A big part of building this connection is simply being there! If they engage you, talk to them!

You have to remember that you’re the “new” person for them, and they may be skeptical. You can be warm and friendly, but it’s usually not a good idea to jump directly into parenting in a disciplinary or authoritative way.

Like the stages mentioned above, trust takes time and ongoing interaction to develop. Be kind and present, and the relationship will grow.

3. Empathize With The Kids

One factor many new step-parents overlook is how hard the whole scenario is on the kids. They may have lost a parent, been through a divorce, changed schools, or any number of situations that can accompany (or be a precursor to) their parent getting married/remarried.

With this in mind, understand that you, as the “new” person, might have to deal with resentment, mistrust, or just projected feelings of disruption and frustration. Kids suffer heavy emotional stress as the family dynamic changes, and you owe it to them to be sensitive to this difficult transition.

Leave it up to them whether or not they want to talk about it directly – and if they do, don’t shy away! Let them know how much you love their parent and how important it is to build a family. Let them know that you’re there for them if they need you, but don’t force your “help” upon them.

Again, this is a very difficult transition for them as well (probably even more than it is for you). Don’t lose sight of their struggle if you’re feeling frustrated with how the blended family is coming together.

4. Focus On The Marriage

One of the best things you can do for the kids is to have a happy, healthy, strong marriage full of love and trust. The stability this creates at home (as well as the lessons it teaches them about how to interact with people respectfully and affectionately) is truly invaluable.

The unfortunate reality is that when problems arise, blended families tend to split along biological lines. People often “take the side” of their blood relative first, and this can get messy with step-kids – especially if you BOTH are now a biological parent and a step-parent.

And because this can be a stressful time for the kids, they are going to demand a good amount of parental attention – but don’t let this keep you apart! Of course give the kids the attention and support they need, but also make time for each other.

It might seem like a lot to juggle, but with the right attitude, it’s all just a natural part of the day to day!

Think about how important the family unit is for everyone involved, and spend the effort to make it the best it can be – whether that’s connecting with your new step-kids, helping your own children get comfortable with their new step-parent, or making sure that your marriage stays strong throughout the process… It all counts!

For more advice on how to strengthen your marriage, check out the StrongMarriageNow System today!
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Dr. Dana Fillmore and Amy Barnhart, co-Founders, StrongMarriageNow.com

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4 comments

connie 6 years ago

Married almost a year and living with my 15 year old son every other month. My husband is really jealous with everyone, including my son. I did not see the signs before we got married. He got along well with my son and he had everything I wanted in a man. We were both in a good place in our carreers, he has been divorced for over 18 years, me a little over a year. So after dating for 6 months we got married (I highly advise against this now).

connie 6 years ago

Married almost a year and living with my 15 year old son every other month. My husband is really jealous with everyone, including my son. I did not see the signs before we got married. He got along well with my son and he had everything I wanted in a man. We were both in a good place in our carreers, he has been divorced for over 18 years, me a little over a year. So after dating for 6 months we got married (I highly advise against this now).

stephenc03 6 years ago

I am a divorced father of 2 kids (14D & 10S) who live with me during the school year and with their mom (who lives in another state) in the summer. I've been dating a great woman who also has 2 girls who are each 1yr younger than mine. They get along great the majority of the time. We're not married but we spend a lot of time together that it could be seen as a "blended family". I ran into an issue yesterday that I'm afraid I've made worse. My GF does not like that my son can be rude or argumentative with her at times (especially if I'm not within ear shot). And I replied that my son is responsible for his actions. However, I then made the comment that it's very possible that he's acting that way towards her because her youngest daughter (9yrs old) is disrespectful and argumentative the majority of the time with her mom in front of him. Yup, oops on my part.

stephenc03 6 years ago

I am a divorced father of 2 kids (14D & 10S) who live with me during the school year and with their mom (who lives in another state) in the summer. I've been dating a great woman who also has 2 girls who are each 1yr younger than mine. They get along great the majority of the time. We're not married but we spend a lot of time together that it could be seen as a "blended family". I ran into an issue yesterday that I'm afraid I've made worse. My GF does not like that my son can be rude or argumentative with her at times (especially if I'm not within ear shot). And I replied that my son is responsible for his actions. However, I then made the comment that it's very possible that he's acting that way towards her because her youngest daughter (9yrs old) is disrespectful and argumentative the majority of the time with her mom in front of him. Yup, oops on my part.