Saturday, October 14, 2006

Ask the Faithful Readers #10: Step-Parenting Advice

Dear Faithful Reader,

One of the questions posed in my recent interview with Basil was: What pitfalls should couples with children from previous relationships be wary of?

And here was my response:

That sounds like a good candidate for an "Ask the Faithful Readers" question. The folks who have been there, done that would certainly be able to provide plenty of valuable advice based on experience. Here are a couple of ideas that come to mind:

1) Beware of trying to become an "instant parent" to your partner's children. It takes time to gain their trust and respect.

2) A step-parent will not always achieve exactly the same role in a child's life as the natural parent. For example, some children are older when their parent re-marries. It often works best if kids in this situation are disciplined by the natural parent. On the other hand, plenty of folks consider their step-parents simply as "Mom" or "Dad." It depends on the circumstances.

Are you or your spouse a step-parent? Do you have a friend or family member who has lived through the challenges (and the joys)? What advice would you offer to someone who is about to become a step-parent?

I will post my personal favorite comment next Saturday with a link to the respondent's blog.

Signed, The Inquiring Advice Guy


  1. I was a step parent for almost 10 years and helped raise 2 kids from the age of 7 to 16.
    They called me by my first name and they knew I was their mother’s boyfriend not father.
    What we did and it was understood by all of us including their father whom I got alone well with that that even though I wasn’t their father, what I said carried the same weight.
    This didn’t mean I had to be a tyrant, this meant that if they wanted to go some where and their mother wasn’t around I had the right to decide.
    I went to teacher parent meetings when their parents were to busy to take a day off and then school staff knew to call me when there was a problem because I worked out of the house and was able to leave anytime.
    Outside of one shoplifting incident, I had no problems with them and that incident showed how much they respected me because my step daughter was more worried of how disappointed I would be with her rather than what her punishment would be.
    I think what matters the most here is respect and trust by all those involved.
    I also had my two girls in the mix as well and they were all treated equally with no favouritism and they all considered themselves siblings.
    The boy had a problem trying to fight for washroom rights with three young females but they all stood up for each other.
    If the relationship with your partner is a loving one it only filters down tow the whole household and step kids.
    I know someone who started treating his step daughter like a stranger when his wife gave birth to a child he fathered and on one occasion told the girl she wasn’t his daughter and meant nothing.
    He treated her like a leper and made her life miserable.
    This man doesn’t deserve to have kids in my book.
    I also believe that anyone who doesn’t trust their partner to make decisions with their kids is only dooming the relationship because you can’t tie someone’s hands in his/her own house.
    Like I said trust and respect is needed when it comes down to step kids or wait until they grow up and leave before you get into another relationship if you have problems with that.

  2. Anonymous4:00 PM

    I am a stepmother to a 27 year old, from the time he was 2. I was fortunate that his mother and I have the same values and morals. I can't imagian being in this role when the basics don't even come close to jivving. When I met my husbands former wife I liked her. I thought if she worked with me I would enjoy having lunch with her. I made it a point not have our son feel as if I were trying to be "his mom". When he was young I would help him make his mothers day cards. I never insisted that he call me mom. We worked well together-the four parents. No matter of how hard you try to do the right thing, there will always be pain for the children. When our son was about 19 we were talking and he confided in me that it was very difficult for him to see the four of us get along. When we would drop him off after a weekend it wasn't uncommon for us to visit for awhile. Sometimes have a beer. He told me that when he was 12 he didn't understand. That if his mom and dad could sit together at the table why couldn't they be together as a family unit. The obvious to this 12 year old was that it was his fault.

  3. I was a step child, and I now am in a relationship where my Hubby is a step dad.
    My girls love my Hubby, and think of him simply as dad, although most of the time they call him by hi s1st name.
    They respect him as well as they do me (which isn't much, somedays!), and his word carries the same weight as mine.
    Our daughters don't see their bio fathers, and maye that makes it easier.
    I was a step kid for 20 years. My Dad worked so hard at NOT favouring me over the new sibs that in the end, I was the one that was sometimes left out.
    My step mom treated her kids better than me, always. She made their lunches, bought them clothes, gave them treats. They were allowed cookies in their lunches, I wasn't. If something were stolen, lost, or missing, it must've been me. My Dad could never see this in his wife, she was usually different around him. I knew that when my Dad died, I would be forgotten. They no longer speak to me (2 brothers,a sister, my step mom)and my girls have been forgotten as well. It breaks my heart and makes furious at the same time. I am so grateful that it seems to be working out better for me and my family. Step families CAN work. It just takes love and patience.

  4. i was a step-parent

    and the most important thing i did was to take step-parenting classes

    and this is what i learned:

    1. discipline only my children and he would discipline his child

    this is a great web site:

  5. i am recenly a step parent to a 7 year old. and he is likewise to my 3 year old and 5 month old. I have stepped in and refused to try to act like her mom. The first step is to gain her trust. it takes a little time..... be patient. I don't go out and buy stuff to impress her, or take her special places or anything like that, i am myself around her. That is sooo important, you can't be super sweet just to get on the child's good side, they can see right thru you. You must be yourself. I treat her just like I treat my own children. And he does the same with my children. The discipline falls equal, we both take turns when appropraite.

  6. Only because you have asked. I'd say avoid step children relationships if at all possible. The worse and most often scenario in the long run, the child will come first - before you.

    My past situation was a bit different. My ex-husband knocked up the next door neighbor's 19 year old babysitter after our first seven years together.

    ENTER: "Stepdaughter" (Sweet, innocent, infant with big blue eyes step-daughter."

    Whom despite my compassion looked upon as a stray dog with a bad case of the mange.

    ENTER: Ultimatum. Wife or Daughter? Can't have both.

    His answer was "Wife" but his heart felt "daughter". Evident five years afterwards when I thought it was all behind us.

    ENTER: Divorce!

    Love can build a bridge and Love can burn a bridge.

  7. Having been a custodial step-mother as well as a non-custodial step-mother I can say that I take my role as parent very seriously. While my step-son is in my care I am just like any other mom. I nurture, teach, comfort, and love him. Should require discipline I do that too. I don't think that children should be given "power" over their step-parents simply be/c the "step" status. Children need to be parented and with discipline it should be done on the spot no matter the "step" status.

    This is my short answer w/o getting into the particulars of my own family dynamics I can say that this approach was very successful to my own step-mother. She parents with an even hand her bio-children and her step-children. The tag "step" is not ever used as I just see her as my mother and my step-siblings as my siblings.

    My parents divorce when I was 14 and my father re-married when I was 15. She moved into her role as mother to us with ease. I don't understand how there can be any other way. My step-son came to me when he was 6 and he's been back and forth (join custody) 3 times and is 13 now. I am his step-mom and he treats me with the respect I deserve and demand.

    I will say this, I was crushed when my step-son chose to move back in with his mother. His reason were that I was stern. I am sure that is true but that had in no way to do with our "step" status. I was raised to have certain ethics and morals and sadly his mother was not.

    No, there is no instant family but I took our family very seriously and I will continue to do so. My adivce is that House Rules be written up, read and agreed on by the family, and posted where they can be seen. Our biggest trouble was that we got, "My mom didn't..." or "My mom let's me..." So, we did this and that issue was dealt with easily. I love my step-son and I wish he'd stayed. I understand that since he had a choice he took the easier parent. I love him dealy and I know that though he was only with us for 2 years he benifited from his time here. We call him weekly, send photos monthly, and he will visit us at least twice a year.

  8. Anonymous3:01 PM

    Hi, I've been searching the net for some info on Behavior problems with children. I checked out this site on Behavior problems with children but it wasn't quite what I was looking for. Then, somewhow, I stumbled into your site. Cool blog! Kept me distracted for a good while! (always nice to get a bit of distraciton from the real work!) Like most parents I often wonder if I am going about things the right way, so it is nice to get other people's perspectives on things. Not sure I agreed with everything you said, but it got me thinking anyway. So, thanks for giving my brain a bit of a workout! Jane

  9. im currently 21 n like any other traditional fiji-indian family we have strict rules.that includes living with parents until u get married.iv been living with ma step mom and her son from her previous marriage for 14 years now. I have two real siblings(a brother and a sister) and a half sister(ma step moms and dads child).
    i absolutly pity ma step mom.. shes done sooo much stuff to me.. there was a point in time wea i was soo terified of pissing her off that i started to withdraw myself.i was a realy happy child but i started talking less and less to ma dad and there would be nights where id just lie in bed n wait for moring to come. if i was realy tired, i used to cry myslef to sleep..n its been the same for 14 years.. n thats not where it ends. i used to sleep walk and cut ma hands to numb the pain.
    i recall an incidence wen i was 9 years old. i was eatin dinner infront of the tv and ma dad was in a meeting so it was just me and ma step mom. i wasn't paying any attention to the food(ofcourse m a kid n was watchin tv)and ma plate toppled over and fell onto the rug..n i gt sooo scared.i looked up shakely at ma step mom and told her. she didn't blink an eye. then she calmly turned to me and said that there is no food left as the dad had yet to i ate the food off the rug infront of her.
    thats just one incident and i am that sort of person that will never hurt her because i guess i have ethics, i have values n if i stoop down to her level then there would be no difference between me and herr.
    m not sayin i can b God n forgive her. Hell no.. i will never forgive her coz this is just one incident.. thers soo much where that came from but these are my lessons for life.and she will go thru some pain that will make her realise that shes been nothing but a bitch to me.God help herr then