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Key do's and don'ts for step parents



Yours, mine and ours

Everything you know about parenting changes when you become a step-parent. It can be one of the most frustrating and challenging years of your life, or the most rewarding depending on how you approach your new role.

As a father of 6 daughters and a step-father of 2 sons, I have learned a lot from both the biological side of this and the step-parent side. There have been many years doing it wrong, trying to do it different with the next oldest only finding that isn't working either.

The first thing you have to understand is that each child, like every adult is different, the way they perceive their new environment is totally unique to each child. Some children see the step-parent as that evil entity that can never love them like their estranged biological parent. There are the children who have mixed emotions and depending on the first few months can sway strongly one way or another. Then there are the ones that jump in feet first welcoming this new parent as their new best friend, with these children you must tread the lightest, one small disappointment and he or she becomes the biggest wedge in your marriage.

Over the last 11 years that I have been a step-parent, I have learned some definite Do's and Don'ts, I will start with the Don'ts because they have cost me the most literal blood, sweat and tears.


Now this first don't should be a given, but I will mention it anyhow, never under any circumstance raise your hand or otherwise physically discipline your step-child. Your significant other and their ex are the biological parents of this child, and if there is to be any butt spanking it should only be done by them. (I do not personally condone physical punishment because there is a fine line between discipline and abuse and an adult who is angered may not be able to discern the difference) Your significant other will not like hearing that you hit "their" child and this can cause issues between the two of you, they will also go out of their way to coddle this child and make things between you and that child even more difficult. Children are smarter than we think, they see everything, and they will use this situation to play the two of you against each other.

That leads me into the second don't. Don't overly compensate for punishment dealt by the step-parent when he or she is not around. (I know this is a hard one, you want to reassure you child that you are there for them). The issue here is again the child will play off this, and purposely upset the step-parent so that they will get the additional attention from their biological parent. In a child's early years they run to their mother or father and tell the tale of the evil step-parent then they ask for some small item like a toy at the store or an ice cream from the freezer. Preteens play this up even more by arguing with the stepparent after hearing their mother or father say I will talk with them later, you see the child assumes that their parent is on their side and this gives them the ammunition to defy the step-parents rules. Now teenagers really know how to use this, they will watch the step-parent walk out of the room, and they will go in and whisper to their parent and ask for something that they know the step-parent has already said no to. They do this to annoy the step-parent and plead with their mother or father to bend the rules because it's unfair.

One of the most important Don'ts when it comes to step-parenting is Don't force the child to like you. Never ask them to call you mom or dad, allow them to call you by your first name. You may be their mother or father figure, but you are not their biological parent, so don't try to be. Be yourself, if you enjoy sports then invite your step-children to join you while watching a game or attending one, if they want to they will join you. Over time just including them or inviting them to do things with you (regardless of how many times they have refused) will work to your benefit. You can not get angry or shun them if they say no thanks once or every time you ask them to do something with you, be the adult understand that this is a difficult situation for them and give them time to come around. (Understand though, they may never come around). Trying to be their best friend and keeping their secrets from your spouse will come back and haunt you in many ways. You will lose the trust of your spouse if the child tells them that you knew all along about something. Keeping a child's secret especially a teenagers can be used against you when they want something that you said no to, you get a line something like this; "I will tell you know I painted that sign if I can't go" and then the blackmailing begins.

Another large don't is do not waiver on the rules for your step-child because you want to get them to like you better. This causes issues with your biological children, they see it as unfair and though you may gain the approval of the step-child your losing ground with your own children. Resentment between the children begins to build causing higher tensions in the house and issues between the kids. Make sure that you do not have one set of rules for your children and another for your step-children. In other words, if you make your stepchild buy their own car and pay for their own insurance, then when your biological child reaches that age, you have to do the same. If you change the rules no matter how many years down the road, both your spouse and your step children will resent you for it and resentment in any relationship can be deadly.

Now this don't is by far the most difficult to follow, but is also the most important. Don't under any circumstance have any type of conflict in front of your children and step children with your spouses ex. Regardless of how much this person bates you, do not stoop to that level. Do not talk poorly in front of the children about the ex, no child wants to hear you call their parent a loser, even if they are. A child especially a preteen or a teenager will always side with their biological parent when two adults are yelling and screaming at each other. If this yelling and screaming match ends in your favor the child when with their biological parent in order to try to get them to feel better, will tell every little dirty secret they know about you or they will fabricate stories, which we know doesn't make the parent feel better, it adds fuel to the fire and this can rage out of control. Both the biological and the step parent regardless of which one fits you, need to be civil to each other, especially in front of the children. You plan on being married to your spouse for ever, which means this other person will always be a part of your life, whether you like it or not.

I am going to call this the last don't for now, though I know there are many other don'ts that I could share, if you want any advise about this subject, contact me, I will gladly share my experiences with you. Now the last don't - Don't bite your tongue with your spouse if you feel they are treating your child their step child unfairly. You will regret not speaking up for your child and regardless the outcome at least you spoke your mind. Do not argue or disagree with each other in front of the children, you do not want them to hear you discuss your disagreement or your views, they will learn to use them against you both. Do not ever tell your child regardless of how mature you think they are that the other parent is wrong, but your not arguing with them about it any more so "sorry I tried". That will tell your child that you gave up on them and let the other parent win, you never want your child to think you gave up on them. This final don't brings us to the first Do.


The first do comes from the final don't and that is, Do show a united front with your spouse when explaining to your child that they can not do something, whether you agree or not, once the discussion with your spouse is done, and a decision has been made, the only thing that child (regardless of age) needs to see and hear is that the two of you have discussed it and agree on the decision. Having your discussions behind closed doors and away from the children and then returning in agreement with each other will remove the ability of both biological and step-children to play you against each other. NOTE: There has to be a lot of give and take during these discussions, if one parent always gets their way, there is a communication issue between the adults, fix this, it's not healthy for a relationship if one person always gets their way.

Communication brings me to the next do, do discuss with your spouse your feelings on the "big things" like when can a teenage girl date, are we buying their first car, how are you going to handle finding out one of your children smoke or are experimenting with drugs, do you believe in spanking, does your spouse, when can a teenage boy date, who gives who the sex talk....and all the other "big things" in a child's life and yours. If the two of you wait until one of those situations arise, you will find more often than not, you have different views on how to handle these situations. Being proactive in these situations rather than reactive will always benefit everyone involved.

Now back to the ex, yes there is a definite do when it comes to them. First, if the ex is at all civil, make sure you let them know when you have grounded or punished the child and why, this way the child can not fabricate stories and hopefully the ex will continue with the punishment during their visitation time, showing the child that all of the adults in their lives are working together. Do include the biological parent in the child's milestones. If the ex is in a relationship, you probably don't have to invite them to birthday parties and other functions in your home, they probably already have plans to celebrate the occasion with their side of the family. If they are still single, and not a complete jerk, invite them and the child's other grand parents, it's the right thing to do, plus you were part of their family once. Your spouse should understand and if they don't, have a heart to heart with them. Let the biological parent know if the child is involved in any sports or extra curricular activities, they may want to attend, and they should be there to support their child. Now, my ex and my spouse are civil with each other, but it is very apparent at least to me, that they are definitely not fond of each other, on the other hand my spouses ex and I get along great, we shoot hoops together, have worked together and even helped get the other one a job where we work. Regardless of how civil you are to the ex, there will be times where you feel you are a much better parent than they ever could have been, and when your step child puts that ex up on a pedestal, it hurts your feelings. You find yourself wanting to tell that child all the facts about their parent so that they can see them for who they really are. My suggestion for handling those situations is, suck it up you big baby, continue to bite your tongue and let the child learn for themselves who that other parent truly is. They will respect you for it as they get older and you will find your relationship with your adult step child to be just as rewarding as you expected it would be when they were younger.

Respect is the basis of the next do. Do treat your step child respect, especially if they are between the age of 12 and 18. Respect is a two way street, just as that child has to earn your respect, you have to earn theirs. Just because you are an adult does not mean that a child has to respect you. If you only yell and scream at that child and jump up and down and stomp your feet constantly saying "because I said so", "because I'm the parent and your the child", "while living in my house you will follow my rules" or " I said no!!!! end of discussion" without listening to their reasoning, how are you ever going to learn how the child perceives things? If you listen, you may find that you change your mind and can learn to trust your step child's decision making skills, you are shaping and teaching this child to be an independent adult and a functioning member of society aren't you? I think there are enough people in this world who live within their own little box not seeing anything or anyone around them, they are rude, inconsiderate and think the world revolves around them. Do not raise your step child to be one of these people, let them express themselves when they are young, teach them respect by showing them respect.

Wow almost went off on a tantrum there, decided to write that down for the topic of another Hub. Well let me step down of that soap box and compose myself for the next do.

Okay back to the subject at hand the next do. Do always participate in your children's and step children's lives equally. Go to every football game, band concert, ballet recital, baseball or softball game, choir concert etc.... You have to do your best to attend all functions, do not use the excuse that you had to work when your son or daughter had a concert so you aren't going to your step child's function, go to it and just make sure you do what you have to to make it up to your biological child by NOT working during their next function. Know your children step, biological, adopted or otherwise, be involved, make a Facebook page, get on Twitter, find out who your children are talking to, who their friends are, what they really do when they are not at home, you are supposed to protect your children and you can not do that if you do not know who they are. Getting involved does not mean stalking, enjoy time with them, be the house that all the neighborhood kids come to, you will find that you are more relaxed when you trust and know your children.

I am going to give you just one more do as a step parent, as with the don'ts there are many other do's I have found to work over the years so if you would like this old man's advice on being a step parent, just contact me, I am happy to share my experiences. Now a great do to end on. Do with all of your being, with all that you can and with all your heart love that child. Even when they tell you "your not my parent I don't have to listen to you" or the dreaded "I hate you". The only real duty you have as a step parent is the same one you have as a parent and that is to love and protect your child, educate and shape them to be a respectful contributor to society. Love comes in many forms and has many definitions, but not when it comes to a parents love for their child, the way you feel for your biological child has to be the way you feel for your step child and you need to let them know you love them. They honestly don't know you do if you don't tell them, they know you love their mother or father because you expressed it by marrying them, but what tells them you love them too, nothing tells them but you, so get off your butt and quit reading hubs, find your step child and simply say "you know I love you right" then go back to whatever you were doing. Regardless of your relationship with that child and regardless of their age, that simple statement will get them thinking and whether you realized it or not, it brought a smile to your face.

Let me leave you with this, No matter where your from or who you are, no matter what you do or where you've been, we all share this space with each other, we all have goals and inspirations and we all want the best for ourselves and our children, please take this with you when you have an opportunity to do something nice for someone you don't know, it can make a world of difference.

Something fun to do with your Step children


The Scorgie from Washington, UK on May 10, 2018:

A brilliant read and very refreshing to see that I am not as different to everyone else as I thought! Thanks for sharing!

Gray3232 on November 01, 2015:

I have recently moved in with my partner and her 8 year old son and im finding my new role challenging. I would like to thank you for your post, i have found it very useful to open my eyes to a few things. I wish you and your family well.

Nicole Austin on September 14, 2015:

This article is very well written, thank you for sharing. I am a part of a blended family and we sometimes have our struggles but we go to family counseling consistently and keep our communication open and it has helped us to grow considerably.

Morgan on August 17, 2015:

I am the step-parent of a 16 year old boy. My husband raised his son on his own with help from his mother. His son does what he wants when he wants. For the most part unless it's costing US money or involving our 16month old I try to bite my tongue to avoid arguing or hearing "just wait until our son is his age, you'll see!". But I fear that he is going to cause more serious problems with our relationship if my husband doesn't start putting his foot down. For example, this morning I noticed that my stepson used the printer (to print something he was told NOT to by his father) and yet he did it anyway. I said something to my husband. Told him he has to do something because he has used $30 with of printer ink in less than a week. He says he will "talk" to him when he gets home from work, but I know he won't.

My 16 year old stepson does NOTHING, but play video games all day everyday no chores, no responsibilities, nada. I'm sick of cleaning up his messes. What do I do now?? Help!?

Jen Alexander on August 16, 2015:

I have been married for two years he has a12 yr old son and 9yr old daughter that he has weekend visitation every other weekend I have a 12 yr old son that doesn't live with me because of behavioral issues and a 9yr old that I have 100% of the time. The issue is with step daughter and dad. She has already stated that her dad will let her do whatever she wants and honestly she's right he will, even if it's household rules that no one not even me is allowed to break. She will say if she can't do something or whatever it is she wants that she won't come for the weekend. When I confronted my husband about the issue he says it not up for discussion or that we see it differently cause I don't believe she should be treated any differently than the boys. Yes I understand something's are ok to treat her differently like if make boys go outside and play and she stays inside.. I am literally beside myself because of her I feel like I do not matter at all that she is his everything and I'm just there to be the maid. I'm ready to walk away I'm so tired of the hurting not just for myself but the other kids cause they see how he is with her.

Misty on August 13, 2015:

Thank you for the article, very good insight on how a blended family conducts their household. :)

anweshablogs on January 15, 2015:

It is an awesome article, live with real life incidents and vibrant with true emotions and realizations.

josey on September 24, 2014:

I am a stepmom with 3 step kids. My husband and I have been married for 2 years. My problem is this, my husband ex acts as if she's in charge.

I have read your article above, and I must confess, I have done alot of the donts. I have tried to be nice to their biological mom, but she's just get me mad. I called her name, and talked about her in front of her kids. The kids tell her back, then she tells my.husband to make me stop talking about her infront of the kids. Should I confront the kids about this? I can't say anything in my own house without them taking it back to her.

Shawn Gallagher from St. Louis on September 10, 2014:

I have a daughter from a previous marriage and a stepdaughter from my current marriage and my marriage is on the verge of divorce. My wife says my daughter constantly undermines her by doing things that frustrate her. One example would be whispering about something she wants and knows step mom would say no to. She has also accused my wife of things to her mom of being mistreated. My wife is also concerned because she overheard her talk about how she rules her house at her moms and also eats poorly at her moms. Lastly she is worried about her because when she was 7 years old, 3 years ago she harmed her hamster and recently pushed our dog off the couch which hurt our dogs toe. I said I figured it was an accident with the dog and my wife said the look on my daughters face was horrifying. Anyway I decided I am going to talk to her mom about picking my daughter up once each weekend for a few hours instead of having her every other weekend. Atleast, for long enough to resolve issues. I was also going to see if her mom would have any problem with me an my daughter talking with a councilor. Please give me some good advice on how to approach her mom about all of this. I also have found her mom, my ex talks poorly about my wife within ear shot distance of my daughter.

amy on August 30, 2014:

This is such a difficult topic. So many step parents are different. I am starting to feel that the step father tends to want a good relationship more than a step mother. I have been seeing more mean step mother's lately. Why is that? My husband (step father) is amazing with my children. Even my ex husband praises his effort. But my ex husband won't let his new wife (step mother) near our kids because of how mean she is with them. What advice do you have in a situation like this? She is so kind with my ex husband and her son, but my kids turn her into a mad woman. My kids are not bad. Her craziness starts before they are even in sight. I want us all to get along. Any advise?

Michelle on August 09, 2014:

I have been remarried for one difficult year. I have 4 kids that are not his . He has 3 of his own I have a question. He makes 3000.00 a week and I have 2 pt jobs that Pay pennies. When we buy food or have family day we pay for our kids and I pay for myself. This really bothers me I don't feel married. I'm I wrong for having these feelings? How do I fix it?

michelle on August 03, 2014:

I'm a step mom but I'm married to my step daughter dad we have conflicts getting along as a family when she comes around my husband treats me different I find it unfair it gives me second thoughts about our marriage cause we have a baby boy together what do I do? Or how do I overcome this situation ?

Dino4U (author) from Ohio on July 28, 2014:


Thank You

Foresight on July 22, 2014:

A great piece from a large heart. Thanks

marie6262 on April 23, 2014:


Ok, I am going to go out on a limb here because I am desperately trying to find my way thru a tangled mess involved within my blended family. What I am about to express will not be easy to take in, but please try to understand before giving your advice. I appreciate your time and consideration on the matter...

I have been involved in my stepdaughters life since she was 4. She is 12 now. Her mom is very loyal to her, although, not very good at teaching her well. Obviously, you already understand very well the many difficulties and threats that can wreak havoc on the stepfamily, especially, the new husband and wife...and children involved, bio and step.

I just read an article, at first I was taken back and in a bit of shock, but than as I simmered on the info I started to understand. Maybe this woman is on to something?

Basically, after 6 years of tending to her SD, she finally decided a new approach that allowed her household to better maintain a sense of tranquility and peace. Her husband is to conduct his visitation outside of their home. Stepmother and stepdaughter have little to no contact. The hubauthor wrote that it is a win/win for everyone. She said the children are already dealing with a struggle since their bio-parents separated. Than they are forced into a "blended" she refers to as "tangled" family that they don't really want to be apart of, there is more stress on the kids. This cause the bio dad/mom, stepmom/dad, and stepkids to die a little bit inside because everyone is unhappy and in a tense environment. She said her new approach has saved her marriage, and the stepchild also wins because she can have one on one time with her dad.

This seems to be a it of taboo, what do you think?

She said it is unfair for people to say "you knew he had kids when you married" and label her/stepmoms as the selfish ones. She argued if parents were so unselfish than why didn't they save their marriage/relationship for the sake of the kids. Why didn't they stay single instead of finding happiness in a new-found relationship. She stated as a stepmom, she was simply trying to achieve happiness with the man she loves. She isn't taking the child away from the parent, she said her techniques allows for dad to preserve his relationship with his daughter. Just not in her home.

What do you think?

Rich on November 25, 2013:

i am a step father and its difficult for me, me and my wife have been married for two years the biological father wasn't in the picture after we moved and started living together he decided he wanted to be in his son's life. my issue is he doesn't do anything at all. all he does is pay child support he doesn't even visit the child, i would like to cut all ties with him but my wife is telling me its up to my step son at this point I'm frustrated and cannot understand what role is the biological suppose to play please give me some advice.

SUMMER 12 on October 22, 2013:

I learned a lots from this post

Your size does not fit all on June 18, 2013:

God, I want to puke. Really! I do. I feel it in my stomach as I read this. Waaaaaaaaaay to Brady Bunch bullshit. Not even close. Your size does not fit all. Especially when the step kids have a very selfish, destructive bio father. NOT! NOT MEDICNE from you pal!!!

Dino4U (author) from Ohio on September 10, 2012:


It depends, do you live with your step dad? If so, did you break a rule in that household?

As a step parent, I find it difficult to take anything from my step children, it is not my property and I did not give it to them, however, if nothing else seems to get them to follow the rules, what other choice has the step child left them. If losing your phone, gives you initiative to do better and "earn" your phone back, then your step father has done his job.

However taking your phone should have been discussed in advance with you, your mother, and your biological father, this way everyone understands that regardless of who gives you something, it can be taken from you as punishment if you break a rule.

This is also the case for something that you buy yourself with your own money, if you are a minor (under the age of 18) and you do not follow the rules of the household, you can lose it. Not forever, a good parent or step parent should only take if the intent is to teach a lesson. If they take just to take, then there is a whole other problem that needs dealt with.

The fact of the matter is, no one likes having their stuff taken, however your parents including step parents are ultimately responsible for you, financially and criminally. They set the rules for a reason, whether you agree with the rules or not, is not the issue here, everyone has to follow rules, and trust me no one likes every rule, but if you break one, you pay the consequences.

I hope this helps and I hope you find a way to earn your phone back. Keep your head up, it is just a phone.

jake on September 09, 2012:

Can step parents take you're belongings?

Say like my dad bought me a phone and my step dad takes it, is that allowed?

Simone Haruko Smith from San Francisco on July 18, 2011:

This is some great advice- and it's much needed! Seems like nearly everyone is a step parent these days. Thanks for sharing your personal insights!

nikkiraeink from So. Cal. on July 17, 2011:

As a child of divorced parents that both remarried someone with children, I would recommend a very important don't. Don't compare your child to your step-children. It just makes them resent you and your children, not to mention the way it makes them feel about themselves.

Great topic. Voted up!