On Your Mind: Practical step-parenting strategies

By Paige Stephens, Ozark Guidance

PARENTING can be one of the most challenging jobs known to man — or womankind.

You are never allowed to resign or take a vacation or even a sick day. If parenting is hard, imagine yourself as a step-parent. Wow, why would anyone ever sign up for that? It’s a question that each person should ask themselves very seriously before taking this job.  The main key to being successful in this job is to go into the family with eyes wide open. Discuss in depth with your new partner strategies for integrating into the family and be willing to be very flexible in your approaches.

Strategy-Don’t Change TOO Much

Remember that change, even wonderful changes, are stressful. The entrance of a new person into the family is a significant change and will unbalance the previous equilibrium of the family. Think of a Teeter Totter.

As children play, they learn to compensate for the differences in size and weight. Each child may have to push harder on the ground to help the other or even bounce up and down to help the teeter totter to come down. If you added another person to the game, what happens? The Teeter totter hits the ground flat, no movement.

Each person in the game must figure out how to re-establish balance in order to continue. A new step-parent could be much like adding a new person to the teeter-totter game. The very presence of the step-parent will make the game difficult. Each person will have to re-establish how to play the game and be successful.

For the step-parent, it’s important not to encourage many changes initially. Maintain family schedules and routines. By incorporating yourself into this family culture, you are respecting the family balance.

Strategy-Expect your Step-Child Not to Like You

This may be difficult, but very important to realize. Your step-child is very likely struggling with several issues. These issues could range from losing their previous role in the family to guilt at the possibility that they may like you, which could represent betrayal to their other parent. It is important that you provide unconditional acceptance of these emotions.

Strategy-Becoming Involved

Begin to integrate yourself into the daily routine of the family. The best way to become an accepted part of any group is to become an active and needed part of that group. Take on chores in the home. Attempt to incorporate the step-child’s wants for meals or activities. Be genuine in your interactions. Children are human barometers and they will quickly be able to tell if your interactions are real or a misguided way to earn their trust.


Discipline is often one of the most difficult areas in step-parenting.  It’s strongly encouraged that parents discuss discipline in detail prior to practicing in the family. Often there are very different opinions about the best way to discipline children.

Also, deep resentments can occur between parents if the discipline methods are far apart from the other. As in all parenting it is important that parents are together in their presentation to the children. It is recommended here that the biological parent be the primary disciplinarian in the family, with the step-parent as the support.

Strategy-The Other Biological Parent

It is always best if the step-parent and the other biological parent have a respectful relationship. This is not always possible given the issues that are present for both parties. It is very important that the step-parent not share any negative feelings or thoughts with the children regarding their other biological parent. While all the negative feelings and thoughts may be true, the children are not equipped to handle this information and what it might mean about their other parent.

No matter how difficult it may be for the step-parent, you must remember that the children did not sign up for this, you did! You must place your conflictual feelings or thoughts in places other than the children.

Follow these strategies and you’ll be a step ahead in helping to re-define the family to include a step-parent.