What do I need to do to get it right? [Courtesy, Freepik]

Hi Chris,

I’m about to become a stepmother. And all I can think about are the endless stories about how difficult that is.

Is it really? What do I need to do to get it right?

Soon a Stepmum

Hi Soon Stepmum!

Step relationships indeed have a bad reputation. That’s not because stepparents are any different from anyone else. It’s just that the parenting relationship is so one-sided. Parents give and children receive. Parents are wired to make those sacrifices. No one else is.

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So it’s the endless patience of parents that’s special, while we behave towards stepchildren as we would towards anyone else. 

But most stepfamilies do live together successfully, though it takes a lot of work! Because although you love your new husband, you don’t automatically love his children. And they won’t automatically love you. And it hurts when you want a relationship with someone who doesn’t want a relationship in return.

So plan to be more like a friend than a parent. Assume that the feelings between you will develop slowly. Don’t insist that your stepchildren call you mum. They might choose to, but it’s far more likely they won’t. Instead, agree on something that you’re all okay with. It’s also best if their father takes all the responsibility for discipline. Children truly resent parental control from a non-parent. 

Stepchildren of both sexes also tend to prefer affection to be verbal, such as praise or compliments, rather than something physical like hugs and kisses. The younger children will probably adjust to you more easily, but they can easily get upset if they start thinking their father’s devoting more time to you than to them.

It’s children between ten and 14 who usually cause most of the trouble. Older teens tend to want less parenting, resist getting involved in stepfamily life, and generally start easing out of the family early, which can be both hurtful and also a relief.

So you’ll need sensitivity, tact, and the hide of a rhinoceros to survive! But with luck, you could also be forming some very rewarding friendships.

All the best,

Chris