Let's Talk Stepparenting

The Challenges of Being a Stepparent

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

Parenting, as rewarding as it is, can be a tough job. There are a lot of demands and pressures that go with raising kids, but they are often offset by the enormous fulfillment that comes from raising children.

Stepparenting is even harder.

Stepparents often do all the things parents do – providing emotional and financial support for the kids, participating in and encouraging the child’s success, and putting their own needs aside to meet those of the children. You do the work of a parent, in most cases, either full time or part time, but get none of the recognition. You raise the children, love the children, financially support the children, and guide them through life, mostly from an unseen and under-appreciated place. Stepparents do not even get a line on the family tree!

It’s not about recognition, of course, but it’s never easy to make efforts that are not recognized or appreciated. It’s no surprise that some stepparents end up feeling as though the efforts are not worth it. More than once I’ve worked with a stepmom who is so overwhelmed by playing the role of mom while being treated like the unwelcome intruder that she is ready to give up. It’s really, really hard to be still in the building phase of a new marriage while having extra people to care for whose needs and wants are complicated by their insecurity about the changes that are happening in their lives.

No wonder so many end up divorcing again. Stepparenting is HARD.

There are no easy answers. Successful blended families happen because the biological parent supports the stepparent, because the adults act like adults, because the families embrace open communication and mutual respect, because of deep commitment and a willingness to persist, and because of luck. Most of all, though, successful stepparenting comes from being willing to put your heart out there, even when it might get stomped on a bit.

Let's Talk Teens and Tweens

Inheriting Teenage Stepchildren

When you marry into a family and inherit teenage stepchildren, you will encounter a different set of challenges than if you marry into a family with younger children. Older children, particularly tweens and teens, are already struggling to establish an identity of their own and establish a place within the family that is more concrete and individual. When you come along as stepparent and rock the boat, it can cause a great deal of stress for the teen.

One thing to realize when becoming a stepparent to a teenager is that the more you can respect him or her as an individual and the better you are able to treat him or her like a person separate from the biological parent you have married, the more likely you will be to gain his or her respect.

Talk to and treat your teen stepchild the way you wish to be treated and talked to. Teens, biological and step alike, are notorious for being experts at making adults lose their otherwise even tempers, but the better you are able to remain calm or even walk away when you have to, the easier you will be able to manage a real relationship with your teen stepchild.

You have a real opportunity with your step children to develop the relationship that will take them into adulthood. Teens struggle with so many things — peer pressure, future life, self-esteem, school — that another positive role model in their lives can be very helpful. However, most teens will initially feel threatened by your presence, so be straight with them. Let them know that you respect them and aren’t there to interfere, that you want to be a part of their lives but that you don’t expect them to think of you as Mom or Dad.

Don’t try to win their admiration by being the “cool” parent who provides alcohol or lets them get away with everything. Be clear about supporting the expectations of the household, but be there, too. Be patient and allow the relationship to build slowly. Step parents are often the “safest” people teens have to talk to — and they may turn to you for advice on everything from relationships to school problems if you give them the chance.


The Value of Stepparents

What challenges we stepfamilies face! Not only are we adjusting to a new relationship, a new marriage, and perhaps a new home, but we’re doing it with extra people in the mix who also have needs, demands, and insecurities about the changes life has brought them. It’s no wonder so many of us give up, throw our hands in the air and decide it is too hard. No wonder so many of us end up divorcing again, leaving remnants of yet another broken family in our path.

Stepparenting is difficult. You do all the work of a parent, in most cases, either full time or part time, but get none of the recognition. You raise the children, love the children, financially support the children, and guide them through life, mostly from an unseen and under-appreciated place in the family tree – not that there is even a line for you there!

Throughout the time that Dave and I have been raising our kids, we’ve had our share of challenges. The kids went to one school that refuses to grant me the right to even sign permission slips for my stepkids, even though I was the one who handled all the day-to-day “stuff,” without having a form signed by my husband allowing it. When we wanted to obtain guardianship of our son when he turned 18, because he has Down Syndrome and we still care for him, we had to have his biological mother sign off on it. Step parents are often undervalued and underappreciated.

This month, we celebrate National Stepfamily Day. Stepfamily Day is celebrated every year on September 16. It is worth celebrating; more than 33% of us in the United States are involved in a step relationship and 1300 new stepfamilies are formed nearly each day in our country. The definition of “family” is definitely changing.

With that change needs to come, perhaps, a change in attitude and perception concerning stepparents.  It is time to recognize the larger role stepparents play in the lives of children. Stepmothers are not wicked; stepchildren are not to be led into the forest and fed to the witch who lives there or denied their shot at the prince. Stepparents fulfill a key role and fill a gap in a child’s life and heart that might otherwise go empty. It’s time that the meaning of family is updated to recognize all of those people who contribute to the happiness of a child.

Get Shadra’ s book, Stories From a StepMom, available on Amazon Kindle.

Stress Management


Two years ago, my family and I loaded up a big moving truck, packed our van with suitcases, snacks, and maps, and headed from Boise, Idaho to Bath, New York. It was the second time we’d made the trip. Dave and I met and married in Boise. Our son was born there. We moved to New York in 2001, added a daughter, and thought we were done moving. We hadn’t really planned to return to the West after our first move to New York, but my mom was diagnosed with Leukemia, and the annual trips home weren’t enough, so we moved to Reno so that I could go to grad school. We thought Reno would be close enough, but when I started flying from Reno to Boise every week to help care for her, we knew we had to be back in Boise.

Boise had been home for a long time. Two of my stepchildren and one of my birth children had been born there (the middle three were born in Boise – our oldest had been born in Germany while his parents were stationed there with the Air Force; our youngest was born in New York). I had graduated from high school in Boise and had been raised there for most of my life.

Being there to care for my mom was necessary and we were grateful to have a short amount of time with her before she passed away.  Returning to New York didn’t seem to be in the cards – I was working in the corporate world, my husband was finishing his undergrad program, and the twins were in high school and did NOT want to move again.  My stepdaughter even thought, since her biological mother had moved back to the area as well, that there might be a chance she could further her relationship with her mom.

When we left two years ago, however, there was no looking back. No regrets. I miss my mom, but staying in Boise to visit her niche at the crematorium wasn’t appealing. Unfortunately, there was no looking back for my stepdaughter, Kira, either. Where she once felt guilty leaving her biological mom behind, she now only feels sadness at what could have been.  She once blamed herself for everything that didn’t work with her biological mother; she now feels pity for a woman who has demonstrated an ongoing incapacity for being a mom to her own children.

Kira is embarking on her own adventure. She is going to college, dating, building a life for herself. She had hopes of having built a relationship with her mom before she left, but all of her efforts were rebuffed. She goes forward, knowing she has the support of her dad and me, but just as I carry a pain in my heart over the loss of my mom, Kira is grieving the reality of the loss of hers as well.


Blending Families So Kids Aren’t Casualties

Unfortunately, no matter how hard we try, our blended families may not always blend the way we’d like them to.  It is extremely difficult to take so many varied personalities and throw them together – sometimes for only a few days at a time – and expect them to click perfectly, but you can make a difference by always treating the children with respect, never expecting more from them than they are capable of giving, and by not using them as pawns in an emotional adult game of manipulation.

While adult stepchildren are a different matter altogether, minor children need to be handled – literally – with kid gloves.  Biological parents should communicate with their children about impending changes in their lives, future stepparents should be introduced slowly and cautiously. Stepparents should be exceedingly patient, not forcing acceptance before the children are ready.  Keep your expectations minimal.

In the beginning, we were all strangers living in the same house.  We shared meals, went to movies together, and had one thing in common: we all loved him. Would it be enough?  Would this one man who brought us all together be the glue that turned us from strangers living as roommates to a family?

This is an excerpt from Shadra’ s book, Stories From a StepMom, available on Amazon Kindle. Read more or request a review copy.



Disrespectful Stepchildren

by Shadra Bruce

There are certain parts of step parenting that do not come into the light as often as they probably should. While most blended families have struggles or issues – and some blended families have more than their share of additional stresses – it’s not often that people talk about what happens when step mom or step dad is being mistreated or manipulated. You may find it very difficult to tell the man or woman you love that his or her child is causing you pain or has a part of their personality that is sometimes only visible to you. While I always, through my articles and in my life, advocate giving the step child the benefit of the doubt, what I may not be stating clearly enough (and therefore will do so now) is that no matter what the child has experienced at the hands of divorce, you, as the step parent, deserve to be treated with respect.

I have been lucky, for the most part, in my step parenting experience; my step kids have been respectful and have allowed me a large role in their lives. I have seen, however, both within my own family and within other blended families, the divisiveness that occurs when a step child manipulates a situation.

Parents believe the best about their children – how else would we learn to tolerate the terrible twos, the even-worse threes, and the challenges of raising teenagers? We see the best in our kids, and we give them the benefit of the doubt. We sometimes even go so far as to make excuses for them or their behavior. We do it out of love.

There are times, though, when a step child discovers a way to make life miserable for the step parent. This is an excerpt from Shadra’ s book, Stories From a StepMom, available on Amazon Kindle. Read more or request a review copy.


Managing Discipline in Blended Families

Discipline can be difficult in a blended family. Children are used to whatever style of discipline their parents have employed. When you introduce a new authority figure into the mix, it can cause frustration, misunderstanding, and downright rebellion.

Especially difficult to balance is how you treat step kids versus how you treat your birth children. It is a rare person who is capable of absolute equality. We are, by nature, inclined to believe and protect our own.

This becomes exceedingly difficult when it is the children (a biological child and a stepchild) who are fighting with each other and you are forced to intervene. The step child will be expecting the worst – and your biological child will be expecting you to take their side. How do you balance it?

This is an excerpt from Shadra’ s book, Stories From a StepMom, available on Amazon Kindle. Read more or request a review copy.