Parenting is a tough gig, no matter which way you look at it, but why is stepparenting so hard? (Dare we say harder than biological parenting?) There are many reasons why stepparenting can be challenging, especially if you step into the role after having children of your own. Here are 10 reasons why you might find it challenging.
1. You’re used to running your family a certain way
You probably like to do things your way, and that’s not necessarily how your partner does things. Parenting styles may need to be adjusted on both sides. Sometimes stepparents will have difficulty dealing with these changes because it feels like all their past parenting experience is being disregarded— and that can feel really frustrating.
To cope with this, step into the stepparenting role slowly. Be prepared to work together with your partner and be open to merging parenting styles where possible. It’s unrealistic to expect to make all the changes straight away, and perhaps some areas will be non-negotiable. The more time you spend getting to know each other’s children, the easier the process will be.
2. Your stepchildren may have a relationship with their biological parents
If they do, then try not to interfere. Expect that they will still have an ongoing bond with their biological parent even if they now live with you full time. Respect this relationship and never badmouth this parent in front of your stepchild. This relationship with their parent is likely to provide a feeling of security which is imperative to a child’s emotional & mental health.
3. You may feel like you never measure up
Your stepchild’s birth parent may be someone who is highly respected and admired by your stepchild. This can often make stepparents feel inadequate you might feel that you’re at a disadvantage because you simply can’t live up to your stepchild’s expectations.
How you can cope with this: It’s important to remember stepparenting is not a competition. Your step child doesn’t care about how amazing their biological parents are, they only want to be loved and accepted by you. Furthermore, remember that blending families is challenging for stepchildren too! Work on building a good relationship first, and not so much on trying to be a “parent figure” right off the bat.
4. You feel insecure about your relationship with your partner
Have you sometimes wondered if they love their biological children more than they love you? Or does their co-parenting relationship with their ex make you feel insecure? Your feelings are normal! This can even be more predominant in the beginning.
Focus more on developing a good co-parenting relationship all together so stepparenting is about all of you working together as one cohesive unit. Everyone is one big team here, and the goal is harmony.
5. You find your stepchildren challenging
You’ve noticed some behavioral challenges with your stepchildren and you’re simply stumped about how to handle them. What now? When children behave in a challenging way, there is always a reason why. Sometimes it will be a developmental leap, which is very normal in younger children, or the transition to the teenage years with all the accompanying hormones. Perhaps they’re frustrated or confused by the new family situation, or something at school is bothering them. Other times it might be something more serious; your stepchild may be struggling in some way or experiencing stress. Discuss any issues with your partner and see how they want to handle the challenges. If it’s an ongoing issue that concerns you both you may want to consider turning to play therapy (for younger children) or counseling.
6. You feel left out sometimes
As the stepparent, you may feel left out or even excluded at times. You might feel that stepchildren favor your partner (their biological parent) over you, or listen to them more. This can lead to feelings of disappointment. Try not to take things personally. It’s normal that your stepchildren will feel more secure with their biological parent than they do with you initially, and that may change over time, or it may not. They too are trying to find their place in the new family dynamic.
7) Sometimes stepparenting is just really hard and tiring
You might find yourself tired of hearing “I miss my mom/dad…” or “Why don’t I live with them?” Your stepchild may bring up challenging topics about their biological parent (family law issues, finances, etc.). Dealing with this can be exhausting! Maybe you’re thinking, “I kinda wish you lived with them too!” and feeling guilty about that.
Know that you don’t always have to solve the problem. Sometimes, it helps just to lend a listening ear. And if you’re feeling frustrated and tired, it’s ok to give yourself a break and step away for an evening. Better to invest in some me-time and come back feeling calmer and happier, than to say something or behave in a way that you later regret.
9. You probably won’t have any legal rights over your stepchild
Unless you have adopted your stepchild, you likely have no legal rights. When it comes to making decisions about their education it’s the biological parents who have the say. If your stepchild is in an accident or seriously ill, doctors will need to seek consent from their biological parent/s before administering any kind of treatment. Watching your partner make decisions alone, or in consultation with their ex can be hard. Offer your opinions if you have them, but legally the decisions are not yours to make. Make sure you and your partner have discussed guardianship in your estate planning too.
10. Stepparenting can be confusing for all parties
Adjusting to the new family dynamic takes time. It might be confusing that members of the family have different last names, or maybe they’re not sure how to introduce you or their stepsiblings to someone. You might be avoiding the ‘step’ label, but still feel the need to explain why you suddenly have an 8-year-old child.
Don’t overthink this one! Nobody needs an explanation. Your family is unique and beautiful no matter what everyone’s names are. If you notice any awkward moments, ask your stepchild about it—they may be too embarrassed on confused to bring it up. It’s better to get these things out in the open early, to defuse any awkwardness and let them know the family is a team.
Stepparenting is so hard but so rewarding
Most stepparents will find their stepparenting journey one of the most challenging relationships they will ever experience. It does take a lot of patience and by no means should be approached with a negative attitude. Keep your eyes open for any signs of tension and slowly work towards defusing these, slowly but surely!
It’s not easy, but the rewards are amazing. It’s an extraordinary feeling when your stepchildren start to look up to you as someone who can solve problems and offer advice—and most of all, make them feel safe and secure.