Step Family

By Vanessa Rasmussen, © 2004, All rights reserved.

Approximately half of all Americans are currently involved in some form of step relationship. By the year 2000, according to the Census Bureau, more Americans will be living in step families than in nuclear families. With the high incidence of divorce and changing patterns of families in the United States, there are increasing numbers of stepfamilies. As with any achievement, developing good stepfamily relationships requires a lot of effort. Stepfamily members have each experienced losses and face complicated adjustments to the new family situation.

Stepfamilies come together when people marry again or live with a new partner. This may be after the death of one parent, separation or divorce. It can also mean that children from different families end up living together for all or part of the time. Some children are very happy, but for others, coping with stepparents, stepbrothers and stepsisters can be a difficult and lonely experience. Settling into a new family situation can always be difficult for the children involved, but this usually resolves itself with time. However, for other children problems can arise in relation to how well they do at school and their general health and wellbeing.

Following are some tips to help you and your children cope in a blended or step family:

  • Remember that the stepfamily will not and can not function as does a natural family. It has its own dynamics and expectations.
  • Acknowledge the hard fact that your step-children will come close to being your own children but never be your own children. It will be difficult and even impossible for a child to accept the position of the step parent as the real father or mother. Do not try too hard to be the real parent.
  • However, children of all age need love and care. Do not deny your step children love and nurturing.
  • Don't be a strict disciplinarian with your step children. Sit down with your spouse and decide on ground rules, general etiquette and conduct policies. Let the biological parent deal with tasks of disciplining the children. However, be supportive and interested in such matters. Indifferent behavior will only increase the gap between the step children and step parents.
  • Ex-spouse does not mean ex-parent. Handle your ex-spouse reasonably. Let the child interact with his/her biological parent often unless forbidden by law.
  • Step fathers should take active interest in issues such as money, discipline, academics, the prior spouse, legal rights, custody, etc.
  • Build and maintain couple strength. Work together with your partner. Discussion is okay, but arguments are not.

If a child exhibits strong feelings of being alone dealing with the losses, finds himself torn between two families, feels uncomfortable with any member of the natural family or step family, consider getting professional help. Also, if a child has any of the following symptoms such as prolonged depression or sadness, anger and aggression, poor academic performance, long-drawn-out sense of discomfort with stepparents and step-siblings, then seek psychiatric evaluation for the child or step family.

Copyright 2001, 2004. All rights reserved. Any reproduction of this article in whole or in part without written or verbal permission is strictly prohibited. For information about reprinting this article, contact the copyright owner: Vanessa Rasmussen, Ph.D, Starting a Day Care Center,