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How Can I Have a Good Relationship with a Stepchild?

How Can I Have a Good Relationship with a Stepchild?

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Hi,

I am marrying a man who is divorced with a child. Although I am excited for this new stage in our lives, I am nervous about my new role of stepparent. What can you advise me? What do I need to be aware of when navigating this relationship?

Answer:

It is wonderful that you care so deeply about your husband-to-be and his child. You seem determined to make the new family work. You are certainly not the first person to go from singlehood to stepparenthood just by getting married. Not only are you denied the timeframe that pregnancy ensures, but you are entering a situation with history. Nonetheless, it has been successfully navigated, and shouldn’t be a deterrent to marrying someone with children.

In every relationship, boundaries are important. When a couple gets married, first and foremost they must ensure that there are strong, secure boundaries around their marriage: in-laws, friends, neighbors and all sorts of well-meaning people are not part of the marriage. The marriage consists of husband and wife alone. Establishing that clearly and unequivocally is of paramount importance in every marriage.

And then there are the various relationships that need to be clearly defined. The parent and his or her children have their relationship, and the stepparent has his or her own relationship with the stepchildren. These are two separate relationships. The parent should never expect the stepparent to be a biological parent. Neither should the stepparent make the mistake of defining him- or herself as the “real” parent.

A stepparent needs to be especially sensitive to the feelings of the stepchildren. Of course, every circumstance is different, and the age of the children is a huge factor in how the relationships are established. Nevertheless, if the stepparent has a basic respect for the children’s reality, it should work. It’s important that the stepparent recognize that the spouse’s children may be very ambivalent about the relationship, not knowing how to stay true to their biological parent while forging a relationship with their stepparent.

The relationships in your new family need to be developed over time. Although the marriage is a single event, the dynamics need to be developed in a process. It will require patience, determination and clearly defined goals. The proximity of space, sharing of day-to-day experiences as well as significant life events, the interaction regarding practical matters, as well as shared conversations on all subjects—all of this serves to create a relationship.

Needless to say, however simple or complex it may seem, it’s imperative that there be excellent trained professional guidance at the beginning of the relationship, and then whenever needed as the relationships are developed.

Please see our selection of articles on Second Marriages & Stepparenting.

Bronya Shaffer
for The Judaism WebsiteChabad.org

Mrs. Bronya Shaffer is a noted globetrotting lecturer on Jewish women's issues, and serves as a personal counselor and mentor for women, couples and adolescents. Mrs. Shaffer, a responder for Chabad.org’s Ask the Rabbi service, lives with her ten children in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.
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Marc NJ March 6, 2013

being a step parent Being a step father/ or mother isn't easy but the love you get is worth it and the love you return to someone else in helping to raise them can be rewarding. Never badmouth the parent that doesn't live with them, at least not in front of them, that will make them angry at you. Try to find things they like to do and do it with them if possible, teach them things, help them with home work if they ask, don't be too bossy but don't let them run over you either. If you aren't a parent ask your spouse for advice. Reply

Anonymous lusaka, zambia August 15, 2012

Marrying a woman with children when you have none Interesting read. How must I take my wife's children, I married her when the two children were 4 and 8 and now they are 18 and 22. I had two daughters aged 9 and 13. My wife does n't want us to speak about the reality of the differences in parenthood for the children. My daughters do not know that their siblings have different fathers. Is this a healthy thing to do. Now that my step children are old, I find that they have their own behaviour towards me which I am just tolerating. What is your advice? Reply

Eta Emes Brooklyn, NY December 11, 2011

Living Your Own Life Please remember that you are a very special person. You need to do things in your marriage to have pleasure with your spouse. You cannot change other people. Stop putting expectations on your husband that he should make his relationship with you something he needs to fight for. The fight is a bad energy his x is trying to create in your home. Let go of the anger. Do not discuss his X when you are in the comfort of your home. His daughters are guests in your home. They need to be respectful. What they think is irrelevant. They are only children. You got a blessing to find your soulmate, cherish it. Do not let the childish belief that what others say matter. Pray for strength. Do not be bullied out of your ability to have a peaceful home. Reply

Rebbecca NY, NY November 9, 2011

It's not so simple Realistically, blended homes of any sort are rarely successful. Adults remarry because it's what they want - not necessarily what's best for the kids and then are so caught up in their new-found happiness together that they often convince themselves the kids are just fine when they are not.

There is so much more to it than "letting the relationship develop" and "not taking the place of the parent".

The new adult is an intrusion in the child's life that the child never wanted!

I think some, if not most, step-parent/step-child relationships are going to necessarily fail just because of the unnatural nature of the relationship - not to mention there is almost always 'history' and 'baggage' all around.

I strongly believe parents should wait until their children are adults to remarry. Reply

Anonymous riverside, ca September 25, 2011

The x-wife.. I marriage into a family with 2 teenages. I have what I thought won them over by caring over them and loving thier father, filling the void in both our lives. In the one year of being marriage , many things have happen. Too many to tell. I am at the verge of walking away from it all. This women is making our life impossiabe, spearing lies about me and my huband is not standing up for me because he fears the kids will hate him. He wont even allow me to stand up for myself... Reply

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