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?


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