It’s Tough being a Stepparent

               It’s Tough being a Stepparent

A woman recently confessed she didn’t like her 10-year-old stepdaughter.

“When I first met Jennifer,” Samantha said, “we seemed to hit it off and I thought we would become good friends. She and I seemed to have a lot in common —  including love for her father.”

However, once Samantha was married, she and Jennifer no longer seemed to have so much in common. Jennifer seemed to change. She acted resentful of Samantha, was demanding, ungrateful, and jealous of her father’s attention.

“Her behavior was so obnoxious,” Samantha said, “that I began resenting having her around. And she acted like I was in the way, too.”

Mark, a stepparent to 13-year-old Thomas, also saw problems once Mark married Thomas’ mother.

Thomas became disrespectful towards both Mark and his mother. He seemed angry most of the time and didn’t want to be around either Mark or his own mother.

“We got along great in the beginning,” Mark said recently. “He seemed to need a man in his life and I thought we would have this relationship where he and I could hang out together.”

Mark went on to say that he and Thomas’ mother have a exceptional relationship and they are still deeply in love. However, Thomas’ behavior has put a damper on the marriage and family togetherness.

“I wonder sometimes if I should leave,” Mark said. “Thomas doesn’t like me and I don’t see how we can have the kind of marriage I want when Thomas seems to hate me so much.”

A great many remarried couples have problems related to a stepchild’s behavior. Contrary to what many stepparents and biological parents think, it is older children —  particularly teenagers — who have the most difficulty adjusting to a stepparent entering the family.

There are various reasons for this, but often the older child or teen has great difficulty accepting that their parent has remarried and that there is a stepparent in their life. Younger children may be grateful for the love and kindness of a stepparent, but an older child’s adjustment is frequently complicated by feelings of being disloyal to the other parent of they like, or even love, the new stepparent.

Furthermore, adolescents who are dealing with their own sexuality are often forced to deal with the sexuality of their parent who has remarried. When their parent is dating, they may be able to deny their mother or father is having a sexual relationship. When their mother or father gets married, though, and they see more of the love and affection between them, they can no longer deny the sexuality and the feelings they’re struggling with inside themselves.

Furthermore, frequently both biological parents and stepparents have expectations that once they get married, the children will love the stepparent as much as the biological parent loves that person. And both may expect that they will all just become a happy, blended family.

But, it may take years for an older stepchild to come to accept a stepparent. All of the typical feelings stepchildren have need to be resolved at the very same time these kids are trying to cope with all of the aspects of adolescence.

Stepparents usually need very tough skin in order to deal with some of the adjustment problems teens have. If a stepparent holds on to the romantic notion that the stepchild is going to respect and love them  right away, that makes it more difficult for that stepparent to detach and not take things personally.

And that relates to one of the first recommendations for stepparents: Don’t take your stepchild’s adjustment problems personally. It’s not your fault they can’t accept you. Frequently they will act like they hate you and that has to be kept in perspective. It’s not you; it would be the same no matter who their stepparent was.

Sometimes it helps for the family to be involved in counseling. Of course, it may be the stepchild who might need this most in order to learn to adjust to the new family arrangement. But, both biological parents and stepparents often need to be talking to someone who knows and understands the child in order to learn how to better cope with the child’s feelings and behavior.

How Should a Stepfather Handle his Defiant Stepdaughter?

How Should a Stepfather Handle his Defiant Stepdaughter?


John has a 12-year-old stepdaughter. But John is concerned that his stepdaughter, Olivia, has recently become defiant with him and talks back when he asks her to do things.

“For instance, when I tell Olivia it’s time to go to bed or that the dishes need to be put in the dishwasher,” John said, “ she will straight up tell me no.”

John said that because he and his wife work different shifts, he and Olivia are home alone frequently and he has to make her do things.

“But I don’t believe in spanking a child of her age and I will not physically force her to do things — like drag her to her room for bedtime,” John said.  “What should I do?  I don’t want her to feel she gets away with things, but at the same time I would like for her and me to get along.”

He wonders if it would be easier to just ignore Olivia and let her do what she wants instead of arguing.

John has never had children of his own, although he has helped raise Olivia since she was seven. What he doesn’t understand is that as many children move into adolescence they become more sassy, defiant, and oppositional. This may be especially true with a stepparent who tries to use discipline.

However, since he spends so much time with his stepdaughter, there are bound to be some clashes. It is important that he accept that it is inevitable in any relationship with a teen that there will be conflicts. Even if John were Olivia’s biological father, the same conflicts could be taking place.

It is also important for John – and for you if you are a stepparent in a similar situation — to avoid power struggles with Olivia. You can’t force any teen to do what they choose not to do. Therefore, it’s important to win their cooperation. Establishing a better relationship and winning their cooperation relies on the absence of power struggles.

Often to avoid these battles of wills, you may need to alter how you ask a teen to do things. Furthermore, you should also find alternative ways to respond to their defiance, sassiness, and flippancy.

For example, when it is time for your stepdaughter to go to bed, you could say, “I need you to go to bed soon.” In other words, when you want her to do something, instead of giving an order (“Go to bed”), tell her what you need or what you’d like (“I’d like you to go to bed”). And don’t put a time limit on it. Don’t say, “Go to bed now” or “You have to be in bed at nine o’clock.” Giving an order or a command simply sets up rebellion and defiance.

Also, when she says no or tells you, “I’m not doing that,” you need to be able to either ignore that or to say something which avoids the power struggle. For instance, if she says, “I’m not going to bed; it’s too early,” you can respond, “I know you don’t want to go to bed because it’s too early, but that’s what I want you to do.”

This kind of response indicates you understand her position and you are not really telling her what to do. Instead, you’re letting her know what you’d like her to do. That gives her an out. She still might refuse, but it puts the conversation on a different level if she is responding to something you’d like versus something you are telling her she must do.

If like John, you spend a great deal of time with a stepson or stepdaughter who is now an adolescent, you will be responsible for some of their life and you must provide some guidance. Therefore, you can’t just let them do what they want in order to avoid conflict. At the same time, it’s not about forcing them to do things. As kids become teenager, compromise and negotiation take on a greater role.