Dilemmas Every Step-Parent Faces

July 5, 2018  |  
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Being a step parent is such an odd thing. On the one hand you know that your partner’s child is a massive part of his life and naturally you want to participate in that. To stay completely out of the parenting process would be to abandon your partner in a way. On the other hand, you are not the child’s actual parent and your partner was taking care of this child without your help for a long time before you came around. Furthermore, the child’s actual other parent may be in the picture, so you don’t want to overstep boundaries there. You’re in this limbo of always feeling like you aren’t doing enough while also feeling like you’ve done something you shouldn’t. I feel for step parents: there is really no handbook for how to be them. Here are dilemmas every step parent faces.

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When the child confides in you

What do you do when the child (particularly teens) confide something in you and ask you not to tell their real parent? They state they feel more comfortable discussing it with you. What if it’s something that puts the child at risk? But he has put his trust in you…

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When he treats you as a friend

Sometimes the kid treats you more like a friend than a parent. He is just more casual with you, and clearly doesn’t see you as an authority figure. It’s nice, but it also automatically makes your partner the bad cop.

Gettyimages.com/African American mother (20s) and daughter (5 years) at the park, little girl frowning.

Can you punish him?

Can a step parent punish a child? Can a step parent enforce time out, a grounding, or a no-tv rule? And if you can, what if the child doesn’t respect it anyways?

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Can you enforce rules?

Curfews, no dating before a certain age, no fast food during the week….the real parent sets these, but how does the stepparent enforce them? Tell on the child? Then that feels more like a sibling dynamic.

Gettyimages.com/Happy African American parents looking at their little son using digital tablet.

Do step parents get to make rules?

Can stepparents make rules? What if you notice something and think of a rule that could make the child behave better or set the child up for a better future. You want to say something because you care but it can come off as if you’re criticizing the real parent’s parenting.

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The child complains about the other parent

Sometimes your stepchild comes to you to complain about your partner’s ex–the other biological parent. Do you allow this? Or do you tell the child not to speak badly about his parent?

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You disagree with the other parent

Sometimes you deeply disagree with protocol or policy of the ex. But your partner says this issue is between him and the ex. It’s frustrating because sometimes you’re asked to be involved and sometimes you’re instructed to stay out of it.

Gettyimages.com/Father and son arguing on sofa

Or when you agree with the ex

This is a very tough one: when you actually take the side of your partner’s ex in a parenting issue. You just want what’s best for the kid but your partner sees you as not supporting him.

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How financially involved are you?

Are you expected to help pay for the child’s college tuition? How about simple things like giving him money for the movies or a trip with friends?

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When the child disrespects you

Sometimes the kid is downright disrespectful to you, yelling at you and saying nasty things. It’s tough because, you don’t have that built in love that helps ease the pain of these awful fights.

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When you lose your temper

Sometimes it’s going to be you who loses your temper and says mean things to the child. Again, you don’t have that biological bond or even that history that soothes things over. The kid can just see you as mean.

Gettyimages.com/Young happy family having breakfast at home.

Whose house is this?

The child and your partner may have lived here long before you moved in. But, still, you help pay the bills and take care of the property now. So who is living in whose house here?

Gettyimages.com/A mid adult father stands on his front porch with his preteen son. He gestures and frowns as they talk and lean against the railing.


When the child is rude to your partner

What happens when you witness the child disrespect his parent? You want to defend your partner, but the child will get angry at you then, saying this is none of your business.

Gettyimages.com/An African American woman standing outdoors with her 12 year old mixed race son. She is looking at him with a disapproving expression. He is looking at the camera with has arms folded, caught doing something he wasn’t supposed to do.

When you catch the child misbehaving

What happens when you catch the kid breaking a rule? Or worse: doing something you know is bad but something about which there isn’t yet a rule? Do you tell on him?

Gettyimages.com/A multi-generation African-American family outdoors, in the front yard of their home. The little boy, in his mom’s arms, is 3 years old, his mother is in her 30s, and his grandfather is a senior man in his 60s.

When the kid loves you more than his parent

Sometimes the dilemma is flattering but still tough. The child might love you more than his biological parent aka the ex. And you might think he has a point but you have to encourage him to respect his parents.

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