Why Step-Parents Have a Bad Rap!

The fairy tales featuring a wicked step-mother or a mean step-father are based somewhat on truth. A birth parent has a rosy glow surrounding their perception of their child. That rosy glow makes it easy to forgive irritations or excuse misbehaviors. Whatever consequences are needed for misdeeds are usually administered wrapped in love.

Diagram of Stepfamily bonding triangle

The relationship between a step-parent and step-child is, in the beginning, nearly always missing that softening cushion of love. The step-parent doesn’t have the hundreds of sweet moments beginning with a child’s inception and birth that create layers of positive, loving feelings. The rose colored glasses are missing in the step-relationship. A loving connection just isn’t there…

Therefore it’s easier for the step-parent to see areas where a kid may need more consistent discipline. Or, may recognize the birth-parents’ permissiveness that is not in the best long-range interests of the child. If the step-parent makes demands and/or is harsh toward the step-child, it’s a recipe for conflict and sometimes, disaster. This is why we need success tips for step-parents.

A Birth-Parent’s Expectations

If the birth-parent has been parenting on their own, or without much support from the Ex, the hope is often that with the remarriage comes parenting help. Yet, the birth-parent wants the step-parent to view this precious being through loving lenses. But the step-parent hasn’t the memory bank filled with hundreds of precious experiences such as seeing the first smile, watching this baby learn to crawl, hearing his first word, or reaching up to be hugged.

Parenting Conflicts in a Stepfamily

One of the most common sources of conflict in stepfamilies is the disagreements between the birth-parent and the step-parent about what this child needs. The step-parent wants stricter discipline and is more easily annoyed. The birth-parent argues, “No! You are too hard on her!” The child naturally gravitates toward the more lenient love of their birth-parent and resents the step-parents’ assumption of parental authority shouting, “You are not my father/mother!”

Research shows that the two most frequent causes of second marriage failures are fights over parenting and money. Navigating the issue of parenting is one of the most difficult challenges for a new step-couple. But it can be done with some simple guidelines that are proven success tips for step-parents.

The Solutions: Success Tips for Step-Parents

Author sketch of couple fighting over child
  1. The parent functions as a single parent or co-parenting with their Ex. The parent/s are in charge of all decisions regarding their birth-child or children.
  2. The step-parent is there to support the parenting decisions of the birth parent/s. Support is given even though the step-parent may not agree with the parenting strategies. Suggestions are offered privately only if the birth-parent agrees to hear them, but is not obligated to follow through with them.
  3. The birth-parent insists that the child treat the step-parent with coutesy and respect. The step-parent is also expected to treat the child with courtesy and respect.
  4. The step-parent is not obligated to love the child, but shows interest in that child’s interests in the hopes of slowly developing a caring relationship. The step-parent’s goal is to be a kindly uncle or aunt, but not in charge of parenting.
  5. The step-parent will gain the greatest acceptance from the child by supporting the child’s relationship with his or her birth-parents.

Success Tips for Step-Parents – Challenging? Definitely!

But it works! It places the success of this marriage as a higher priority than being “right” in the arguments about parenting. It also places the role between parent and birth-child as the natural, essential connection that it is designed to be. This strategy prevents a relationship triangle from being formed that creates conflict in the marriage and with the child. (A relationship triangle happens when one person is caught in a power struggle between two persons for whom they care.)

The benefits for the child is that this eliminates resentment toward a step-parent for assuming authority that isn’t rightfully, natually theirs. The step-parent benefits by not being responsible for a child that isn’t theirs and being free to focus on the health of the marriage. The birth-parent benefits by not being caught in a power struggle and also by being free to improve their parenting methods without resentment from being told what to do or not do by the step-parent.

Practical Examples of Success Tips for Step-Parents

When Kip’s step-daughter asked him if she could go see a particular movie, he answered, “Ask you mother. She’s the one in charge of you.” When Gavin and Pamela stopped criticizing each other’s parenting, the fighting immediately stopped. Their four children began enjoying each other. She reports, “There is laughter in our home again and we actually went on a romantic date!”

When my late husband Jim and I first married, we both wanted me to be the mother to his eight year old son. We had very different parenting styles. What began as a disagreement eventually morphed into daily fighting. I thought it was my job to convince Jim that he needed to change his parenting methods. It was only when I stepped away from the co-parenting role that our fights stopped. When Jim went back to single-parenting his son, we refocussed attention on our marriage, our love for each other was revived, Jim’s parenting became more consistent, and my relationship with his son improved.

Stepfamilies: an Opportunity for Personal Growth

Falling in love again after the death of a spouse or a divorce, is a blissfully happy new door opening. This new love is full of hope and wonderful expectations for a happier next phase of life. When the expectations and strategies are unrealistic, however, conflict can devour the love and create feelings of hopelessness and resentment.

Adjusting the expectations and strategies so that they are in alignment with recommendations made by dozens of stepfamily research studies, can give hope and a clear path for enjoying the happy, loving family you desire. My book, Stepping TwoGether: Building a Strong Stepfamily lists all the research outcomes for what works and what doesn’t in simple language. Seven step-couples’ stories are told that illustrate the success of these strategies. If you’re struggling with stepfamily issues, you may find the answers you need in this book.

You have my love and support,

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