Meeting the Challenge of Becoming a Team

As I said in last post, parents and stepparents do have different roles. However, they do still need to become a team, supporting each other, helping each other, and working together.

Parents do need to retain the disciplinary role. Meanwhile, stepparents have input, and parents have final say. Often parents need help making firmer demands of their kids. Stepparents need help to become more understanding and empathic. Parents and stepparents will disagree often about parenting. The challenge is to talk about these things in a “collaborative cha cha” rather than a polarization polka.

Try using what I call “soft/hard/soft” to bring up issues: Start with something caring or positive: “I know you love your kids.” Make a request: ” I think they are old enough to wash their own dishes. Would you be willing to start asking them to do that?” Add something caring or empathic: “I know it’s new for them, and for you.”

How Parents can Help Stepparents

Do ask your partner to be kind, but try to be empathic (rather than defensive) when she or her feels left out or frustrated. Give extra hugs. Spend time alone with your partner (balance this with time alone with your kids).

Although you cannot ask your kids to love your new partner, you can insist that they be civil to him or her. “Civil” means, at the very least, saying hello and giving some eye contact when they are in their stepparent’s presence. Do remember that it is not easy to be polite to someone who represents a major loss and too much change.

How stepparents can help parents

If you are a stepparent, remember that all parents are extremely sensitive about their kids and their parenting. Do encourage your partner to become firmer, but try to raise issues kindly. Remember that your partner has two different, often conflicting, responsibilities to you and to his or her kids. Ask for time alone, but support your partner’s need to have time alone with his or her kids.

Published on: November 29, 2013
About the Author
Photo of Patricia Papernow

Dr. Patricia Papernow is widely recognized as one of the world's foremost experts on "blended families" and post-divorce parenting. Her groundbreaking new book, Surviving and Thriving in Stepfamily Relationships: What Works and What Doesn’t is available at amazon and on her web site,

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