12 Realities of Becoming a Stepparent

By: Henry Gornbein
Last Update: October 21, 2016

One of the reasons why second marriages often fail is due to stepchildren. Is there any truth to the fairy tales and myths regarding the wicked stepmother or stepfather?

In first marriages, we usually have no children at the beginning of the marriage and the children we are raising, for better or worse, are ours. When the marriage ends, whether through divorce or death, they are still our children.

Enter from stage right the new significant other. Children do not want their parents to divorce no matter what. They always have the fantasy or belief that, in time, their parents will get back together and the family can be reunited. Once there is a new husband or wife, that dream is over. But is it? Stepchildren still want to bring back the past. In many cases, they will do everything possible to sabotage that new marriage.

In addition, stepparents have many burdens but few rights. Stepparents have no legal rights regarding their stepchildren. This can be frustrating, especially as you watch from the sidelines while your new spouse does everything wrong in raising his or her children. On the other hand, your new spouse may feel the same about your child rearing abilities.

Here are some key points and realities of becoming a stepparent:

  1. Stepparents have no rights under the legal system.

  2. Sometimes the best thing is to step back, grit your teeth, and somehow persevere.

  3. Don’t ask to be called mom or dad. This is for the natural parents, and can cause a lot of friction in many marriages.

  4. Be loving and supportive, but remember that you cannot replace the natural parent.

  5. Do not be the go between with regard to communication with your new spouse’s ex. This happens too frequently and is a recipe for disaster.

  6. Be a sounding board when asked by your new husband or wife. By all means stay out of arguments with regard to parenting time, sporting events, and other extracurricular activities, as well as regarding school and academic issues.

  7. Try to love your stepchildren, even though that may be easier said than done. You are the intruder and dream breaker regarding the goal of the original family reuniting.

  8. Try to be a voice of reason with your new spouse.

  9. Step back and count to 10 before you say anything.

  10. It is important for you and your new spouse to be united because there will be tremendous pressure to turn one of you against the other by former spouses, former in-laws, your children, and stepchildren.

  11. Remember, when you try to unite two sets of children into a new blended family that it is difficult. The Brady Bunch is far from reality.

  12. Last, but not least, when dealing with stepchildren, keep your mouth closed and your wallet open.

Over the years, I have seen many ugly situations where stepparents became enmeshed and often pawns in the post-judgment battles regarding parenting time, custody, school issues, health, and the countless other things that come up when former spouses want to keep their war going long after the divorce is final. As stepparents, you are often in a no-win situation, so try to stay out of the fray but also be supportive of your new spouse.

These are some of my thoughts on these sticky issues. Please share yours with me. 

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