Frequently Asked Questions About Step-families, Being a Step-mom, Being a Step-dad

Stepfamily FAQ: What You Need to Know About Stepfamilies

The Stepfamily FAQ answers some of the most common questions people have about stepfamilies.

What is a stepfamily?

A family in which at least one of the adults has biological (or adopted) children from previous relationships.

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Should stepparents discipline their stepchildren?

A stepparent needs to nurture a bond with a stepchild and build trust, before being able to co-discipline effectively. Such a relationship tends to take about 18 months to develop.

However, it is preferable for the biological parent to stay the primary disciplinarian.

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Why is co-parenting between biological parents necessary?

It is important for both parents to stay engaged in their childrens’ lives because their children need to know that the parents divorced each other, not their child. Children feel emotionally abandoned when a parent disconnects from their lives.

Two parents may each individually have different notions of the best way to raise children. When children see that some things are okay in one household, but not the other, they often grow to feel that one home is wrong and the other right. Put in that position, children are forced to choose which parent to believe, which can lead to feeling divided loyalties. Children feel like they’re an extension of their parents. So, if they feel like something is wrong with the parent, they feel by extension that something is wrong with themselves.

When parents unify their parenting styles, the children feel safer and more secure in their environments. With clear, consistent boundaries, transitioning between households becomes much easier, preventing unnecessary stress.

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Why do so many former spouses stay angry at their exes?

Unfinished emotional divorce is one of the main causes of lingering anger. Emotional divorce is the grieving process that needs to take place at the end of a relationship. It involves the same stages as a grieving process over the death of a loved one. Unfortunately, many people get stuck in the anger stage.

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Why do so many stepfamilies struggle staying together?

There are three main reasons:

1: Unrealistic Expectations

Single parents that remarry often have some unrealistic expectations about how the newly formed family will integrate. These expectations lead to disappointment and to tension. Here is a side-by-side comparison of common, unrealistic expectations and some more realistic ones.

Stepfamily Expectations
Unrealistic Realistic
My children and spouse will instantly love each other. Stepparents and stepchildren develop a relationship gradually. Love may never grow. That’s okay; there’s nothing wrong with that. Stepparents can embrace their stepchildren into the family even if they don’t love them.
We will be just like a biological family. Stepfamilies function differently from biological families—not better, not worse. They are born out of past losses and the children are members of at least two households. Parenting is done with a biological parent who lives in a different household. Lots of flexibility, sensitivity, and patience are required from both the adults involved and the children.
My new spouse should help me discipline our kids, right away. Stepparents need about 18 months to establish a relationship with the stepchildren before they can participate in the discipline. Also the children need some time to develop trust that the stepparent is committed to the family and is not going to abandon them at the sight of conflict.
My spouse should not discipline my kids. Biological parents need to be the main disciplinarians. However, as a bare minimum, a stepparent needs to be able to enforce a biological parents’ disciplinary guidelines in the biological parent’s absence.
My ex will be happy for me and our children. A former spouse’s remarriage may reactivate the grieving process over the loss of the marriage in the other spouse. People report being angry and resentful when they hear of an ex’s remarriage. It is a milestone in people’s lives that stirs up emotions that were otherwise buried deep down, thought to have subsided. Therefore it is best not to flaunt one’s newly found partner in front of a former spouse. Be humble.
My new spouse will erase or compensate for my past hurt. New spouses can help you feel better, but can’t heal your past hurts. You and only you can bring about the desired healing and peace you need, By completing your emotional divorce through resolving the grieving process.

2: Unresolved Grief Over Past Losses

People ending relationships experience an intense sense of loss. They go through a similar process of grief as people who mourn the death of a loved one. It is important to grieve, because it’s an essential part of healing. The main stages of the grieving process are: shock, denial, anger, guilt, forgiveness and acceptance. Only after grieving can one be emotionally available for a new relationship. Unresolved emotional divorce is incomplete grief. Resolution is a prerequisite for your emotional and mental wellness.

3: Exes’ Interference

Some exes feel terribly threatened by a former spouse’s remarriage. They are afraid that their parental role will be challenged and that they may be rendered useless and irrelevant in their children’s lives. In their anxiety and insecurity, they forbid their children to develop a relationship with their stepparent. Additionally they demand that the children dislike the stepparent. Children may resultantly resist developing a relationship with their stepparents. They may express it through rudeness, refusal to participate in family activities/celebrations, and become withdrawn, sabotaging attempts at integrating the family. Children experience divided loyalties when asked to take sides.

Please consider what is in the best interest of the children. They need to know that both of their biological parents are there for them. Liking and having a positive relationship with a stepparent can only enrich your children’s lives and help them be more adaptable to change.

Exes may also attempt to disrupt their remarried ex’s life by taking them back to court for more child support, custody changes, and by harassing the new spouse over the phone, in person and online.

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How do you help stepfamilies?

I teach them about the stepfamily process. I help them identify the obstacles to developing cohesiveness in their family. I also teach them how to communicate their differences in a positive way.

I do so through the following services, which you can read about in greater detail on my services services:

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