When someone with a child from a previous marriage gets married to a new spouse, each person involved must go through a transition period in which the stepparent gets acclimated to their new role.  During this period, it may be difficult for the child or even the parent to accept their new spouse as an important part of their child’s life.  The parent or child may also say or do things to remind the new spouse that they are not the parent.

It is commonly assumed that the stepparent is solely responsible for carving out their role and establishing a relationship with the stepchild.  However, the biological parents must work with the stepparents to establish roles and boundaries and help them bond with the stepchild.  Blended families work best when the biological parents and stepparents are united and establish roles that are complementary and play to each other’s strengths.

In this guide, we discuss the role of the biological parent in helping to establish the role of their new spouse as a stepparent in their child’s life.  We also included tips for stepparents on how to approach their new role.

Family - Kids and Parents

Supporting Their Role as a Step-Parent

Sometimes parents may say things to their new spouse regarding their children such as, “You aren’t their real parent,” but these kinds of statements can be very offensive to a stepparent.  Stepparents value their relationships with their new spouse’s children just as they value their relationship with their spouse.  It is important for the parent to help their spouse establish a relationship with the children and play an integral role in their lives.  When a parent does or says things to remind the spouse that they are not the real parent, it can be detrimental to their relationship with the spouse as well as their relationship with the children.

The best way for a parent to establish this relationship with their new spouse and children is to openly communicate with the spouse about their role as stepparent.  If a parent and their spouse are having trouble communicating, a family therapist can help them confront the issue to better establish their roles.

Set Realistic Expectations

When an adult with a child remarries, they and their new spouse may have an ideal vision of everyone getting along as a family unit.  While parents want their children to be accepting of their new spouse and desire a close relationship with them, the child may not always feel this way.

Studies have shown that the role parents and stepparents envision in the lives of the child generally do not line up with what the child envisions.  Parents and stepparents tend to believe that stepparents should take on a more parental role while the children tend to prefer the stepparent to take on more of a friendship role.

It is very important for parents and their new spouse to understand that the vision they have for the relationship between the child and new stepparent is more than likely not the same of that as the child.  Both the parent and stepparent need to set realistic expectations that consider the feelings and viewpoint of the child and allow them to have some say in the development of this relationship.

Let the Child Set the Pace

The biological parent and stepparent should do their best to avoid trying to dictate the pace of the relationship or force it onto the child.  The number one rule of stepparenting is to let the child dictate the pace of the relationship.  It is possible that the child is still affected by the divorce of their parents and introducing a stepparent is another major change for them to process.  Attempting to dictate the pace of the relationship can make them feel like they are being forced to accept it which breeds resentment.

Stepparents should follow these tips to allow the child to set the pace of the relationship:

  • Show affection if the child welcomes or seeks your affection.
  • If the child is distant but cordial, respect their right to be this way.
  • You can assert your authority if the child is following your rules.
  • You should consult with the biological parent if the child is challenging your authority.

Have Patience

A stepparent and stepchild rarely bond as quickly and easily as the adults may hope.  It takes time for the bond between stepparent and stepchild to strengthen to the point that they experience the closeness and authenticity of a family relationship.  On average, it takes about seven years for stepfamilies to truly bond.  Some families can achieve this in as little as four years while other families may take nine or ten years to reach this level in their relationship.

Biological parents and their new spouse must understand that the development of the stepparent – stepchild relationship will take time.  Stepparents should not put too many expectations on themselves, or they will likely become frustrated and disappointed.  The biological parent must resist the urge to intervene too much and allow the stepparent and child to forge their own relationship.

There will be victories and setbacks along the way and celebrating the victories can encourage the parent and stepparent and help them enjoy the process of building this relationship.

Tips for Stepparents

As we have explained in the above section, it is the responsibility of the biological parent and stepparent to help define the role of the stepparent and establish the relationship between the stepparent and child.  While the biological parent should be involved, it is still largely the stepparent’s responsibility to take the steps to create and foster the relationship.  The following are tips for stepparents to help develop their relationship with their stepchild:

  • Take it easy: Stepparents must understand that they will not create an instant bond with the child. It is best to take it easy and be themselves to bond naturally with the child.  Trying too hard by buying them gifts or acting as the cool parent will likely not work as kids can see through this.
  • Work with your spouse and their ex: Stepparents are part of a parenting team with the biological parents of the child. They should be on the same page as both biological parents when it comes to parenting methods such as punishments, rewards, etc.
  • Encourage one-on-one time with biological parents: It is very important for children to have one-on-one time with each biological parent to maintain these relationships. When stepparents encourage this, they are sending the message that they are not in competition with the biological parents.
  • Listen to the child: It is important to allow the child to voice their viewpoint and concerns which can help stepparents improve the situation.
  • Don’t overstep your bounds: A common mistake is when stepparents try too hard to discipline the stepchild which often causes resentment from the child. It is best to let the biological parent handle the discipline in most situations.
  • Be ready to hear the truth: One of the things stepchildren do to take power away from the stepparent is to tell them, “You’re not my real mom/dad.” The best way to respond is to remind them that while that is true, you still care about them as if they are your biological child.
  • Plan activities with stepchild: Planning some one-on-one time for fun activities with the stepchild can help build the relationship.
  • Don’t take things personally: The stepchild may likely still be processing feelings regarding their parent’s divorce and may be holding out hope that their parents will get back together. When a stepparent becomes involved, the child then must process their feelings knowing their parents will never get back together.  Stepparents should not take it personal if a child acts out and instead give them time to process their feelings.

Work with a Divorce Attorney

Dealing with the effects of a divorce and the appearance of a stepparent is not easy for anyone involved, including the children.  Parents with children who remarry must understand that they are also responsible for establishing the role of a stepparent and helping the stepparent foster a relationship with their stepchild.  However, it is important to take a delicate approach that considers the feelings of the child to help establish a solid familial relationship.

The attorneys at Allen Gabe Law, P.C. have expertise in matters dealing with family law and can provide legal assistance for divorceschild custody, domestic violence, alimony support, and pre- and post-nuptial agreements among other areas concerning family law.  We are dedicated to handling each family law case with the utmost sensitivity and ensuring the best possible outcome, especially when children are involved.

Contact Allen Gabe Law, P.C. at 847-241-5000, ext. 121 for legal guidance concerning family law.


CategoryFamily Law

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