Step Parenting – Is There a Right or Wrong Way?

Step Parenting

My husband and I recently attended a Step parenting class through our local Kids First Program.  Which leads me to the question, Step Parenting is There a Right or Wrong Way? The class description “The Kids First Program for Step parents is designed to help people in step-families understand the normal difficulties experienced by each person in the new family, including those of their children. Participants will learn ways to ease the process so that each person will get their needs met while growing to feel comfortable in their new roles and relationships” My husband and I want to make sure we are doing everything we can to provide a comfortable environment for our children. 

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We were married 3 ½ years ago and honestly it has feels like our family has blended together so easy that we are luckier than most. Currently we have an equal split of time with my husband’s children.  My oldest daughter is married and on her own, and my younger daughter, who is 15, lives with us full-time because her father has moved out of the country. We are in the process of pursing more time with the younger children as they have requested many times to live with us. They feel like they have more of a family when they are with us. We felt that attending the class with help either reassure us that we are doing all we can, or point out areas where we could make improvements. Step parenting is a job I never expected to do, but one I love and I strive to make the best home for my family.

The Class

In our class there were 4 couples and 3 singles so it was a small enough group for good participation. The class was led by a lawyer and a psychologist to give two differing views about how issues can affect families. The first task in the class, as with most, was going around the room and introducing yourself and giving a little history to your family situation. Right from the start I felt encouraged that our family was doing better than most.  I felt horrible for several of the couples, step parenting in their home was a nightmare.  They are experiencing very aggressive exes who they are fighting with constantly, or the children are causing problems for the parents. One couple wasn’t even sure if they were going to stay together because the stress in the home is just too much. Step parenting can become a wedge in a marriage.

Step vs. Bonus

We talked about what terms are used to describe our families, such as step-family and blended family. Also, what the children call the adults in the family, some used first names, some used step mom and dad, some used mom and dad, we use bonus.

A couple of months after my husband and I married, his daughter who was 7 at the time said she wanted to call me her Bonus Mom, that she didn’t like stepmom. She said I was more than that and she loved me more than that. In that moment in time I felt like I was on cloud 9. My heart was so full, and so happy that I had built such a good bond with her that she felt that way about me.

The psychologist suggested that “bonus” was not a good term to use because some children don’t feel that way and it can pressure them into something they aren’t comfortable with.  We know this is true because when our daughter’s mother remarried she told the children “now you have a Bonus Dad” our daughter replied “no, I have a step-father” their mother was very upset about that and pointed out to the children that they call me their Bonus Mom, our daughter said he didn’t feel like a “bonus”. We reiterated to the psychologist that this was not a term that we suggested; it was a term that our daughter suggested. The kids call me “Steph” or “Stephie” but introduce me as their Bonus Mom.  I would never force a term on my kids.  My oldest daughter calls my husband “Dad” and my younger daughter calls him by his first name but refers to him as her “Bonus Dad”. I agree that they have to be comfortable.  Is it fair to say that “bonus” is wrong? I don’t think so.

Forcing Children to Visit Parents

Another topic that came up was a step-mother whose issue is her step-son asking not to visit his Dad when it’s his weekend because the biological Mom is doing something he wants to do; one example given was going to the fair. It seemed obvious to me that the biological Mom was telling the boy what she was doing in order to entice him to stay with her. My first thought was the Mom should not be telling the son what she is doing, but that is in a perfect world.  These parents have already been to the “high conflict”  parenting class because they fight over everything. The lawyer stated that the child should be told by both biological parents that it is his time with Dad and he should be forced  to go even if it upsets the child. I understood why it was recommended for this situation, the boy is 7.  I asked why I should force my child to go when they are determined not to go.  I brought up our situation as an example why I didn’t agree with that.  My ex-husband moved to Canada (about a 12 hour drive away) 1 ½ years ago. My younger daughter was given the option to go with him or stay with me.  She chose to stay here.  All of her family and friends are here and she knows no one in Canada. She has only met her step-mother twice. We have told her that if she wants to go during school vacations, Christmas break or during the summer, or even if she ever decides she wants to live with Dad we will help to make arrangements for her to go. We have made it clear that we support her decision either way.  She doesn’t want to go. The psychologist said that isn’t fair to the child to put the decision making on their shoulders. That they will have to live with consequences of their choice and that is too much guilt for a child. My daughter is 15, she understands the choice she is making and I am not going to force her to go somewhere she isn’t comfortable.  I told the lawyer and the psychologist this and asked at what point do the parents have to accept their consequences?  Her father chose to move away for love. He knew he was giving up time with his children and that he might only see them a couple of times a year and he was okay with that. If he wants to see our daughter he is capable of coming here as well.  His family still lives local so there are plenty of people for him to see in one visit.  I would look at this situation differently if she were 6 instead of 15. She would be too young to make that decision alone.  So is it wrong not to force your child to go see their parent? I think you have to look at the overall picture and handle it case by case; that you can’t say what we are doing is wrong or that all children should be forced to go.

Discipline

The third topic that threw me off was disciplining stepchildren. The psychologist stated that a stepparent should never discipline a stepchild they should tell the child we will discuss this when your parent comes home as to avoid any aggravation between the two. It avoids the “you aren’t my parent you can’t tell me what to do” remarks. In our home we have “house” rules, these are the basic rules that all of the children know and understand such as, don’t run in the house, use indoor voices, you don’t hit anybody, we speak with respect, we respect each other’s privacy, etc.  Step parenting is a hard enough job in some families, If our children break a rule that we all know, you bet I’m doing to discipline them. I discipline his kids, he disciplines mine. Now if a situation comes up that we have never dealt with before my husband and I talk it out together to decide what the appropriate punishment should be. I never discipline the children in any way other that what we have discussed in the past and neither does he. We make communication a priority; it was lacking in our previous marriages and is what makes this marriage strong. It has been made very clear in our home that we are a family and whichever parent is here is in charge and is to be respected.  I have never had a problem with any of our children on this matter.  Honestly, I don’t have to discipline for much. They really are very well behaved.  Again, we are blessed. Step parenting does not make you any less of an authority figure in a home.

Other “Step” Issues

Some of the families were having issues between siblings. Not us. Our children bonded very well. In fact, our younger two daughters are two peas in a pod, inseparable. Some families had problems with the step-children being disrespectful. That doesn’t fly in our house. If my husband’s children were ever disrespectful to me they would have major punishments, same with mine. Step parenting is no different in a need for respect then you should have with a parent.

Step Parenting

What We Learned

What we learned out of this class is that a lot of the issues the families in this class were having (and this is not a blanket statement for all stepparents) was a lack of communication between parent to parent, parent to ex, or parent to child. There are not good house rules that are expected to be followed. That the biological parent isn’t standing up and backing the stepparent letting the children know their behavior is unacceptable. That the biological parent isn’t standing up to the other biological parent and enforcing visitation times, rules and boundaries.. I do think communication is so important.  Parents need to talk and be on the same team when dealing with their blended family

We also learned that we are doing much better than a lot of blended families. That we have a strong family bond in our home and there is a level of respect between all of us. A child can never have too many people in their lives that love them.

I truly feel that each family is a completely different entity and cannot be all covered by “blanket rules” Blended families are made up of so many parts coming together that you really need to explore your own and decide together what is going to work best for you .Some families have two parents bringing children with them, in some its one parent. Families can have biological parents that get along, some fight like cats and dogs. Some families blend with children that they adopted. Some children have a blended family with both of their biological parents, some have one. The variables are almost too numerous to mention.

So is what you are doing for your Blended Family wrong? I don’t think so. I don’t think anyone can tell you what is right or wrong for you. Suggestions and advice are always good, but they are just that, take them or leave them. So going back to the question Step Parenting is There a Right or Wrong Way? I believe the answer is no.

I feel blessed and so fortunate that our Blended family came together as easily as it did and that step parenting for me has not been difficult.. I like to think it is because we really put good effort into communication on all levels and that we treat each child like they are our own. The only steps in this house lead to the upstairs. We are a bonus family. My Blended Life Makes Me a Very Happy Wife.

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Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing your article at #overthemoon. Pinned and tweeted! Have a great day.

    1. admin says:

      thank you so much. Thank you for having me

  2. What an absolutely amazing article. My fiance and I also have a blended family. Our girls (my 3 and his 2) also bonded immediately, they all call each other their sisters, never step. My youngest daughter who is now 8 has been calling him dad for about a year, my 9 year calls him either Chuck or dad, whichever comes out and my oldest who is 11 calls him Chuck. Both of his daughters call me Connie, which I am fine with. My daughters father sees them about twice a month, even though he lives about a mile away. This is just such a great article about being a step parent. I have so much more I would love to say but this is already to long lol 💓

    1. admin says:

      Thank you for your kind comments. Sounds like we are both very blessed

      1. Connie says:

        We certainly are, looking forward to following you on your journey. I’ll be taking notes lol

        1. admin says:

          Thank you so much

  3. Maggie says:

    This sounds like a fantastic class and you are very lucky. I am also a a stepmom and we blended amazingly well. For about the first 4 years. And then we flipped a switch, which our counselor explained is apparently very common. Thanks for sharing your story. Being a step mom is amazing, hard, and definitely not for the faint of heart.

    1. admin says:

      Thank you so much. You are correct it is a challenging situation. 🙂

  4. maria criselda maquiling says:

    first of all, your parenting skills are amazing! I have a non-blended family with only one child and I still feel overwhelmed and unadjusted! I kind of agree more with you than the points of the lawyer from the parenting seminar. His advices sounds good on theory but doesn’t sound so applicable to reality

    1. admin says:

      Thank you so much for saying that. I think your right and the lawyers point were definatelt valid for some

  5. Jennifer says:

    Thank you for sharing what you learned. This is great advice! So glad your family has adjusted.

    1. admin says:

      Thank you so very much

  6. April Walker says:

    Great article! I’m so glad that you’ve found what works for your family. Way to go, mama!

    1. admin says:

      Thank you so very much

  7. Tina says:

    Every time you mentioned the way you handle situations in your house I was like, wow, that makes so much sense. Then to hear the people running the class wanted to tell you you’re doing it wrong, when everyone in your family seems to do great with it – I was a little annoyed for you. Especially the part about discipline in the house. Step children are not just your kid’s friend over to play, that you have to tell not to jump on your furniture, but you can’t ground them for it. Members of the household follow the rules, or there will be discipline carried out that has already been decided by both parents. Seems simple enough until professionals try to tell you you’re doing it wrong. Sounds to probably anybody reading this that you’re doing great!

    1. admin says:

      Thank you so much, your comment is so supportive. Sometimes I think back and wonder if I was just being over sensitive or too proud of my families success, but then I hear comments like yours and think. Yeah…there aren’t blanket statements that cover all families we are all different and need to be managed different

  8. sabrina says:

    A big pat on the back for being such a great mother, step mother/bonus mother! It’s no wonder you’re family has such a strong bond. All the best xo

    1. admin says:

      Thank you, your comment is beyond sweet and so touching

  9. Loved this! I’ve never been a fan of the word “step Mom” or “step Dad” and I think the term “Bonus Mom” is amazing and embodies so many positive aspects of forming a blended family full of love. I agree with you, there isn’t wrong or right in step-parenting because every family is different and unique. Thanks for sharing this! 🙂

    1. admin says:

      Thank you for you sweet comment. Best wishes to your blended family

    2. admin says:

      Thank you for your sweet comments. Best wishes to your blended family

  10. Stephanie,
    Been there, done that, got the t-shirt and more! What a GREAT article on the subject. Very honest, thoughtful and insightful. You did a good thing here. 🙂

    1. admin says:

      Thank you that is so kind of you to say <3

  11. This is so interesting. I never considered the discipline factor before.

    1. admin says:

      Neither had we. It just seems natural when we are a “family” in a home that both “parents” participate in all aspects of caring for the children.

  12. Katie says:

    Having those pre-established house rules is key to keeping order. Great idea.

    1. admin says:

      Thank you. It does make life a lot easier

  13. Emily says:

    My parents divorced when I was 10, but me and my brother stayed with my mom who never remarried in NY and my dad moved to Florida where he remarried. So we only had to deal with stepmom and step siblings once a year.

    1. admin says:

      Thank you for your comment. It is both easy and hard when a parent lives so far away. Easy if you want them out of your hair, and hard if you want them there. My daughters have decided it is easier having their father away

  14. It’s awesome that you’ve found what works for your family!

    1. admin says:

      Thank you. It is a good feeling

  15. Well even if you didn’t learn much new at the seminar, at least you got some validation, always nice too

    1. admin says:

      absolutely. I feel like I learned that we are doing a good job with our family

  16. Ayana says:

    Very interesting topics in the class!! I’m sure it can be very tough but i’m glad your ‘bonus kids’ ;p love you so much!

    1. admin says:

      thank you . I’m so blessed all of our children are so loving

  17. Rachel says:

    You sound like a very strong and lucky family. My parents divorced when I was young, and my mum got remarried a few years ago…he’s a lovely man but it feels too strange calling him my step-dad. To me he is simply my mum’s husband, but to my son he is a Grandad.

    1. admin says:

      My husband’s family divorced and both remarried when he was very young. He calls both Mom’s “Mom” , but Dad is Dad and his step-dad he calls by name. I think it just really has to feel right and come from the kids. You cant force them to feel something they don’t. my younger daughter wants to call my husband Dad, when she is referring to him in conversation sometimes she references him that way, but I think she doesn’t want to offend her Father so she doesn’t. But my daughter and husband have such an incredible bond that he doesn’t need her to call him Dad to know how much she loves him and he loves her.

  18. Tricia says:

    Wow, I’ve never thought about how many issues there are to navigate in a blended family situation. It sounds like your family is doing a great job handling what could potentially be a very challenging dynamic!

    1. admin says:

      I never knew either because no one in my family was divorced prior to me. We are doing very good. I truly think it has to do with the good communication. It is key to everything

  19. Alex says:

    It seems like you and your family have done well with a potentially challenging situation! I’m sure it took a lot of effort from everyone. 🙂

    1. admin says:

      Thank you so much. We work at it everyday.

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