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Our Stepparenting Experts

Jeannette Lofas

Jeannette Lofas

Founder of the Stepfamily Foundation

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Sally Bjornsen

Sally Bjornsen

Creator of the Sassy Stepmother web site and author of The...

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Dr. Carl Pickhardt

Dr. Carl Pickhardt

Psychologist and author of Keys to Successful Stepfathering

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Top 5 Things to Do

Does the idea of being a stepparent to a resistant child make you itch? You don’t have to step into the role blindly. Here are five things you can do to make your transition into stepparenting that much easier.

1. Determine your role.

You’re the stepparent—a murky, undefined role somewhere between a parent and a friend. Have a conversation with your spouse about how you see yourself fitting into the family dynamic. Will you be the primary caregiver to your stepchild while your spouse is working, or will you be more of a friend? Your role may change, but it’s good to have defined boundaries to start so you don’t hurt anyone’s feelings.

2. Work on bonding

Developing a connection with your stepchild requires a courting period like any other relationship. Spend time alone with your stepchild and engage in activates that he or she enjoys—like playing a sport or a game—which takes the pressure off the conversation. Try not to be discouraged or angry if your stepchild isn’t ready to accept you right away. It takes time.

3. Define the rules

Children need structure, and you can probably use some too. Set limits and house rules with your spouse to maintain a sense of order and manage everyone’s expectations. Address the household responsibilities (carpooling, cooking, cleaning), the children’s duties, school and activity schedule, curfews, family-meal dates, etc. Let your spouse handle any disciplinary issues, but don’t be afraid to speak up if you have a suggestion.

4. Embrace the ex

If the ex is still in the picture, make him or her your ally. Contact the ex and explain your intention to build a happy blended family. Once you feel comfortable, invite him or her over to visit with the children and discuss the situation. Offering an olive branch will only make it easier for your stepchild, and may make it easier for you to ask favors down the line (i.e., change the schedule). Also, don’t talk about the ex in front of the children, no matter how you really feel.

5. Keep your cool

You’re going to feel frustrated, inadequate, angry, tired and more by your transition into being a spouse and stepparent at the same time. When you feel like you’re reaching your breaking point, do whatever you can to keep your cool. If your stepchild yells at you or you unknowingly overstep your bounds, take a deep breath and step back. Leave the room or do something else until you calm down. Don’t let your stepchild see your breaking point.

Posted: 2/14/08