For Couples Who Are Step Parents

Step parents - AdobeStock_127115716The following is a list of “lessons learned” based on personal experience and research. It is written for couples who are step parents.

For Step Parents:

1. Become knowledgeable about the stages of stepfamily formation, stepfamily myths, and challenges as soon as possible.

This helps couples to recognize that they are not the only ones experiencing the chaos. Know that it takes 3-5 years for a stepfamily to bond, so there is no such thing as an “instant family.”

2. The biological parent should discipline his/her own children.

It takes young children about 3+ years to bond with a new stepparent. During that time, the role of the stepparent is simply to develop a relationship with the new stepchild. The stepparent can also assist his/her spouse by supporting and reinforcing the biological parent’s rules.

3. Be aware of the double-digit rule:

Children over 10 years old may or may not bond with a new stepparent. Therefore, stepparents must be realistic about the type of relationship they expect to have with their new stepchildren.

4. The step-couple must quickly learn to tolerate ambiguity.

Everything is ambiguous and uncertain in the first 3-5 years. The couple must also have good adaptive skills or make it a point to learn them.

Additional Tips for Step Parents:

5. Learn to balance the needs of the kids and the needs of the marriage (couple bonding).

Obviously, the children’s needs come first. But you can get so busy putting out fires with the kids that you have no energy left for building a relationship with your spouse. So, set a date night each week or so and go out and have fun. Make it a point not to talk about the kids or the problems at home. This is couple time.

6. It is important to seek counseling early.

It is so helpful to have a third party to assist you in resolving disputes over parenting styles or children issues.

7. ‘Different’ does not mean ‘wrong.’

Although we had very different parenting styles, we both wanted the same things for our children. We often argued about whose method was right. Experience eventually taught us that there is more than one way to raise children who become responsible and loving adults. The key is to respect each parent’s approach and to recognize that it is unfair to the children to demand that one parent’s approach should change immediately after the remarriage occurs.

Please note, though, that we continue to add to our list of lessons even now that our children are young adults.

This article was written by Dr Jeff and Judi Parziale wrote this list. They each brought three children into their marriage. The challenges of working through the issues of remarriage and stepfamily life led them to start InStep Ministries.

InStep Ministries is a faith-based nonprofit organization dedicated to serving the community by providing practical, Biblical resources, support and counsel to single, divorced and remarried individuals, their families and the churches who minister to them. InStep is pro-marriage not pro-divorce. They subscribe to the position on marriage and divorce espoused by Fresh Start Ministries. Their vision is to connect every single, divorced and remarried person to a community of faith. You can visit their web site at:

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6 responses to “For Couples Who Are Step Parents

  1. (SOUTH AFRICA)  My husband and I have been married for three years now. We have 2 children and he has 5 other children from his previous relationships. Three of his 5 children are adults and do not live with us. As a step mother I alway try to go the extra mile to make sure that all the childrens needs are met.

    I recently experienced what it really means to be a step parent to adult children. I now will go into details as to what happend as I need a clear and objective opinion as to the way I reacted to this situation. This is what happened: Last weekend I was busy preparing for my husbands Graduation Party, while I was running errands his first born saw the puppy dogs that we have in the house and he said that he is taking one of them. I did not agree with that as one of the puppies belongs to our neighbour, this would mean that we will have no dogs if he took the other one. To cut the long story short, on their way back to their house he (my step son) decided that he’s gonna take the puppy anyway and I completely refused.

    His father did not understand my reaction to the whole situation. I felt left out in the cold. We always try to resolve whatever issues before we go to bed. But this time that did not happen. For almost 2 days we were not really speaking to each other. The situation is better but I just want to understand and know what to do, should a similar situation occur.

    1. Celiwe, Find a time soon, to talk about what to do the next time you have a disagreement. Make sure that you don’t do it during a time when you should H.A.L.T. — which would be a time when either of you is Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. There’s more vulnerability to be less agreeable during those times. Try to discern when would be the best time to talk with your husband about this matter. Tell him that you are disturbed because there was tension between both of you for so long. Try to see if he will agree to not let that happen again, but to talk things out before bed, so the disagreement won’t drag on, like this one did.

      I need to point out though, that sometimes my husband and I will wait until the next morning to talk about some things, because we need more time to process the matter and to pray about it. But we agree not to go to bed angry and we agree to talk it through the next day to get it resolved or at least to agree to disagree about it, without carrying on about it.

      We started the practice of praying together every morning before work. We know that we can’t pray together and still be mad. So we know that at the very least, we have to resolve it by the next morning (so usually we do it before going to bed). That has helped us a lot through the years– resolving matters quicker AND praying together every morning. I hope this helps.

  2. (UNITED STATES) Isn’t putting the kids first unbiblical? The order is suppose to be God-Spouse-Children, yes? We are a struggling family with my husband in the process of a step parent adoption. We have been married 2.5 years and are BOTH struggling with the discipline of my VERY difficult 5 year old daughter. I would put off the adoption a little, but my daughter’s bio father is pushing for the completion of the adoption.

  3. (SOUTH AFRICA) My husband and I are married for 2.5 years, been together for 10 years. My husband is British and I am South African. We have very different cultures and ways of doing things. We are both divorced with adult children. I’m his 4th wife and he’s my second husband. He is also 20 years my senior. He is white and I am coloured (not that this makes any difference but in SA we still have people giving us “the look”) but we have managed to look beyond.

    My two eldest kids have moved on their own (in my husband’s culture, they should leave as soon as they become financially independent). This was very difficult for me at first, as in my culture it’s different. My 16 year old school-going son is still with us and last year especially, we went through real tough times dealing with low school grades, rude behaviour, peer pressure, marijuana. This year it’s a lot better. He made the choice to be a better person, so he goes to the gym, takes part in athletics, manages a dance group at school etc. But my husband feels he needs to give more time to school work as the schools use you for their own benefit “they need to look good” when it comes to competing etc. I feel it is important to have some extramural activities. It also keeps him from getting out of mischief.

    My daughter is 22 yrs and we had her engagement party at home on Saturday. Both my husband and I are not happy about her fiance (he called to ask for our blessing and only spoke to me, we feel this is not the right way to approach your future in-laws) but did not say anything to him. My daughter asked if they could host the party at our place as it is very big. We agreed. My husband told them they are not to stay over later than 7 pm. They agreed that if there was an after party it would take place at their place. Family who we had not seen in a while were there and overstayed their welcome, chatting and cathing up. He is not impressed with this and will not have another family function here.

    As their mom I sometimes feel I have not been fair to my kids, divorced their dad when the youngest was 5 and the oldest 11 years and moved them out of the house to live firstly with my current husband. Then after a number of years, we married. We have our own business “Guesthouse” and they had to live in conditions that are not comfortable with for growing kids, could not make a noise for fear of disturbing guests, could not be seen running around or have any friends over etc. I have never earned a salary since the guesthouse, as we do not make a big enough income. This has been hard on me as I have always been the breadwinner in my previous marriage and could pay school fees, school camps, spending for trips (I never spoiled my kids with money). Now I feel terrible to ask my husband for money for toiletries for my son etc. because I know we are having financial difficulty but when we were ok financially, he did provide.

    I also feel very much like a single parent most of the time, as my husband would have a go at me if he feels unhappy about something and will not take the initiative to talk to my child/children. It becomes difficult trying to talk/reason to a teenager when he says “but why don’t we have money when we always have guests”? Why can’t I come back at 2 am after the party, parties only start around 12 am? My husband wants his authority to be respected but cannot talk to the kids if it not via me. I have always put it down to the fact that with years of travelling he has not been around much with his kids growing up (2 from his second marraige and 2 from third).

    I sometimes just feel like telling my two eldest not to come home to visit. I will visit them for fear of starting an unnecessary argument. My husband can also be very sweet and loving, but moody. The kids have learned to live with that after 10 years now. Initially, he was extremely jealous of the kids and would demand my attention all the time. This put me under extreme pressure as the kids were in their growing years and needed one parent (they visited their dad once a year). Even if I sat with them in the room to discuss their day at school etc. it would be an issue.

    It’s not that way anymore. I just need help on how to cope with so many issues relating to step-parenting. I love my children and they still need my guidance etc. I feel a lot of the time that this home is his and not ours. He feels his authority is being undermined as the head of the home. But sometimes his demands are just selfish. They enjoy coming home and spending time with us and in my culture “Big Families”, family is very important. PLEASE HELP!

    1. Carol, Is there a way that you can get at least a part time job so you are able to bring in enough income to help with yours and your children’s needs? I say this because I’m thinking that this would at least give you some independence in being able to feel freer in spending money on their needs and yours.

      It appears that your choices in your lifestyle has brought you to the point where you are a type of “single parent.” That’s sad, but it appears to be a reality. Your husband wants what he wants and your children do not appear to be a part of the world he is building for himself. I’m not trying to split you and your husband up, but rather, am stating what seems to be the fact. As such, I would do a lot of praying as to how to juggle both worlds –your world with your husband and your world as the mother of your children. This is not easy, to say the least. But it is what it is and all you can do is the best you can do, given the circumstances. I encourage you to continually pray for wisdom and ways to bring peace into your home and the lives of your children… and do as the Lord directs. This may seem like a simplistic answer, but I believe it is Truth.

      Scripture that comes to me for you to pray is, “I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Psalm 27:13). I pray it is so, as you look to the Lord for guidance in this very complicated situation. May God help you!

  4. Dear Cindy, I have been dating a Catholic widower for 5 years. I am a Christian. He is a busy family man with 2 grown up university going children, a boy and a girl. Only laterly, I am able to speak a few words with the boy. The girl continues to ignore me. I assure my bf that I will never take him away from his children, if they object to our relationship – the game is over!

    In May 2014, my bf and his boy and I went for dinner together. After dinner, we did some shopping. He was busy chatting with his boy all the way, I was left alone to myself walking behind them. I felt left out and alone – second fiddle! I decided to text him and said I will be doing my own shopping. For this, he finds me OVERBEARING.

    This is such a difficult relationship.