Successful Step Parenting: Do You Know What It Takes?

Posted at 17:21pm on 26th November 2008

I’ve been asked by BBC Radio 5 Live if I would take part in a debate, arguing the case for the premiss Can A Step Parent Take The Place Of A Real Parent? The e-mail was from one of their producers, who said he’d found my book, Stepfamilies on a Google search. During the telephone conversation that ensued, he asked me if I knew of anyone who might argue the case against. I’ve had to say that I don’t.


My book was based on personal experience, but also included a number of case studies: people my second husband and I interviewed for the book. Some of them were step parents coping with step children; others were the biological parent; and yet others the stepkids themselves. Not one of them could say that they were a stepfamily without problems. But what all of them could vouch for was that they had worked through their difficulties – and were prepared to continue doing so.


So the BBC5 invitation has prompted me to start a series which I hope will offer step parenting help to those stepfamilies encountering problems. And because I don’t want to pre-empt the radio programme, I’m going to begin with some step parenting advice for those who’ve not yet taken the plunge. In other words, those who are still thinking about becoming a stepfamily.

The first thing I'd say is: Understand where you’re coming from. What emotional baggage you’ll be taking with you. And how you can deal with it to get where you want to be.

  • A stepfamily is the result of remarriage after either a divorce or a death. Both are traumatic experiences which affect every member of the family
  • Both involve dealing with the loss of a loved one: spouse or parent
  • Both may involve similar emotions: denial, rejection, failure, sorrow, guilt and regret, anger and depression – not just for you, but for your children, too. Some of the points I’ve made in my posts on bereavement, are relevant to those who are divorced.
  • If you’ve found a new love, you may think that you’re over your emotional upheaval – and expect your children to be, too.
  • The fact is, trying to blend two families together can be like trying to renovate a ruin, whils living in it at the same time!

Understanding that this is where you and your children are coming from and the emotional baggage you’re taking with you are crucial to developing the skills needed when it comes to understanding how you can deal with the upsets which, inevitably, will arise in the stepfamily. In my Stepfamily book, I identified the following points: three F's


Fear of the unknown is very real for all members of a stepfamily. Will it work? Will he/she walk out on me? Will my mum/dad stop loving me? The thing to remember is that fear can only flourish in the absence of love.

  • Develop an atmosphere of love - before you even become a stepfamily.
  • Love means trusting one another; being open and honest as a family; making yourself vulnerable.
  • Communication is key. Vocal. And physical. Never let anything become off-topic. Talk openly about the past with your children. And about what will be happening in the future.
  • Encourage them to talk about their own fears. What if . . .
  • Show them lots of affection.
  • Never run your children’s absent parent down – particularly in front of their soon-to-be step parent.
  • Help your children to understand that even though you’re going to become a stepfamily, you are utterly committed to them.
  • Teach them that love does not mean allowing yourself to be manipulated.
  • Love means that they will be disciplined when they behave badly.
  • Above all, help them to understand that love is not finite, like a cake divided into slices with only so much to go round. Love grows as you give it away.


This is another topic I’ve written about previously. See the art of forgiveness and healing and forgiveness . The point I’d like to stress above all is that the only person who suffers because of unforgiveness, is the victim who has been wronged. Why punish yourself twice? Forgiving helps you, and your children, to be free to take on new relationships unencumbered. Here’s what you all need to know:

  • Forgiveness is an act of will, not emotion.
  • It doesn’t mean condoning the bad behaviour of an adulterous ex-partner.
  • It doesn’t mean that you are to blame.
  • It’s a journey. Today’s forgiveness will almost certainly have to be repeated tomorrow. And the next day. And the next.
  • Learn to admit it if you are in the wrong. And teach your children. ‘I am sorry’ are said to be the hardest three words in the world. But they’re also liberating.
  • Learn to forgive yourself. And teach your children to do likewise.


If you’ve been hurt, you can wrap yourself up and refuse ever to trust anyone again. But living is loving. Do you really want to die on your feet?

If you are a person of faith, exercise it when it comes to new relationships. We only live once. Don’t let hurt and mistrust deny you some happiness in life. You may be hurt again, in a new relationship. No one can guarantee that you won’t. Take heart. Remember the old saying ‘Better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.’

Do let me know if you've had problems in your stepfamily - and the way you've overcome them. Or not!

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5th January 2009
at 8:37pm

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Related Posts

Posts on related themes:
» Bereavement
» Family & Parenting
» Forgiveness
» Self Help
» Stepfamilies

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