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Stepson Problems

Hello Mark,

First of all, thanks for being there. This is a scary and lonely time.

My problem is that my teen is a step-son- he came to live with us at 14- Bio Mom is addicted to pain meds, and was neglectful, letting him be a "free spirit" as she calls it. When we got him, he was failing at school....basically all of the issues you address. My husband WON’T follow thru with any discipline, and continues to let the tail wag the dog. My son is now 9, and I will do whatever I need to keep him off the path my step son has chosen. I have no support, voice etc with my stepson’s actions, behavior, etc. How can I minimize the damaging effects on my 9 yr old? I don’t want to leave, but also want to keep my son on the right path-- any resources for step parents who don’t get back-up?


Being a step parent has unique challenges that are not present in other family situations. To create a happily blended family, you must balance respect and love, discipline and understanding. In this article, you will learn what it takes to create a happy home environment for your blended family.

When a single woman with kids marries a single man with kids, this union should be viewed as more than the union of husband and wife—it is the joining of two different cultures. Each family is a tribe unto itself and if this union is to work, each step parent must respect the others' family dynamics. Family dynamics can be as different as night and day. This is why you must come to grips with the idea that you have two different tribes living in your house.

So how does this work in a blended family? Before I answer that, take this first bit of step parenting advice and appreciate the power of the birth family. Recognize that your spouse is probably always going to be closer to his kids than yours. Know that if you constantly criticize your spouse's kids, you are creating the beginning of the end. Blood loyalties are usually stronger than marital ties. Although this may change over time—and one day, you may feel as close to your step kids as your own—the process takes time and experience and only occurs when a supportive, loving environment has been created.

The next important bit of step parenting advice is to respect your spouse's family dynamics. For instance, you may have a rigid children-do-not-talk-back rule in your family, while your spouse may be willing to listen to what his kids have to say and open to negotiation. If you try to impose your rules on your step children, especially when they are rules they did not grow up with, they will rebel. When this happens, they may use their father's love for them to drive a wedge between you. It happens subtly at first and you may not notice what is happening, until it is too late. Although you are the adult and you have more power, never underestimate the power of a youngster. Where possible, try to compromise parenting styles, as long as you both agree to help each other act from this compromise.

If a situation escalates, allow your spouse to discipline his own kids, while you attend to yours. When he is disciplining his kids, refrain from joining in or agreeing through words or body language. Be a silent bystander, so the youngster won't feel that the adults are ganging up on him.

Sometimes, kids of divorce have been enabled by the parents because unconsciously, they feel guilty. If you have a child or children in your home who seem to be constantly angry and lash out at others, consider a learn-at-home behavioral program that has shown to help.

The next piece of step parenting advice may seem odd to you—expect your step children to hate you. When I say "expect," I don't mean that you should turn expectations into reality, but that you must understand that kids of divorce usually want nothing more than their birth parents to get back together. Regardless of how you met your spouse, on some level, your step children may hate you and blame you for her parents being apart.

The youngster may also fear that you are trying to replace her mother. Assure her that you are not. Realize that in the youngster's eyes, you may never be considered as more than an aunt. Accept this role graciously. If your step child does like you, she may also feel conflicted. She may feel that expressing love toward you is tantamount to betraying her mother.

Step parenting advice: rather than focusing on the conflicts in your home (and there will be conflicts), invest your energy in creating good times. During the good times when everyone is happy, bonded and relaxed, you can gently and positively bring up the difficulties and ask your kids, step children and spouse what each person in the family can do to help resolve the problem. In this way, you make everyone feel that they are part of the solution.

When you need something, ask for it, rather than complaining and criticizing others for not giving it to you. If you ask, people will be more receptive and responsive, than if you harp on them. This is a good piece of advice for any family, blended or not.

Perhaps the most important piece of step parenting advice is to strive to be more reflective, insightful, compassionate and humane. Focus on the areas in which you need to grow as a parent and a human being and your kids and step children will follow your lead.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

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