Becoming a Step Parent – What Exactly is Your Role?

One of the hardest things to do in this situation is to figure out what exactly your role should be as the step parent. Here are some tips from one step parent to another...

by Joy Burgess

happy mom with her step daughterBecoming a step parent can be a very difficult transition. One of the hardest things to do in this situation is to figure out what exactly your role should be as the step parent. Do you play the part of a "stand in" parent or are you more of a supportive confidant? It can all be difficult to figure out. Of course it is important that in the beginning you and your spouse take the time to sit down and talk about the relationship with the kids and about what the role should be. However, if you still find yourself floundering around trying to find your feet as a step parent, here are some important ideas that can help you figure out your specific role in the family.

Should Your Role Include Discipline? First of all, when you become a step parent, one confusing thing is whether or not your role should include discipline. Usually unless you have been a part of the family since the children were quite young, then it may be difficult for you to take on the role of disciplinarian. While all situations are going to be different, often if you take on this role and begin to discipline the children, this could cause resentment from your spouse as well as the children. Of course you do need to be supportive of your spouse when it comes to discipline and together come up with rules for the household.

Maintaining Boundaries and Respect

While you may not have the direct role of disciplinarian with your step children, your role should maintain boundaries and respect. Although you may not directly be disciplining your children, you still must keep the boundaries in place that need to be between a child and an adult. It’s important that you support discipline decisions of your spouse, but you also need to have the role of an authority figure. Just because you are not the main one doing the discipline doesn’t mean that you don’t have authority in the home. You need to keep that authority or you will have big problems in the future.

Don’t Expect to Take on the Role of "Parent"

When you become a new step parent, don’t expect to take on the role of "parent." Even if you get along great with your step children, don’t force them into choosing you as a parent. This time is confusing enough for children as it is. They may not want to call you "mom" or "dad." That is totally fine. If they want to, that’s great, but if not, don’t try to force yourself into that role. It will only build up resentment.

Become an Ally and Supporter

Instead of trying to take the role of parent riht away, take on the role of an ally and supporter. No, this doesn’t mean become the child’s ally against your spouse. However, there are many ways that you can support your step child and show you care. Find ways to show you trust them and use common ground to build up a solid relationship with your step child.

Keep Your Expectations Realistic

Make sure that you keep your expectations realistic. No one expects you to suddenly take on the role of loving mother or father. Don’t expect to suddenly love them because they are your step children. Sure, if love does come along the way that is great. However, you should be aiming for respect. If you keep your expectations realistic, you’ll not be as easily hurt and you’ll be better able to hand the role of a step parent. Remember, your step children probably have been through quite a bit of rejection and loss themselves. So, it can take some time for trust, respect, and love to develop.

Your Legal Role as a Step Parent

Last of all, you may be wondering about your legal role as a step parent. Well, usually step parents don’t have much legal responsibility. However, in some cases your spouse may decide to give you legal permission over the children, especially if there is an emergency. Usually your legal role will only go as far as you and your spouse decide to take it. So, this is something to discuss so you know where you stand and what exactly your role is legally. 

Joy Burgess is 28 year old wife and step mom, currently living in Arizona. Her family includes her husband, step son, step daughter, and dog, Chewy. Along with being a full time step mom, Joy also works full time as a writer and musician. Hobbies and interests include scrapbooking, gardening, playing the piano, cooking, and finding a few spare moments of quiet time alone. 

No part of this article may be copied or reproduced in any form without the express permission of More4Kids Inc © 2009 All Rights Reserved 


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  • I think you have some useful things to say in this article. I don’t know that I completely agree with EVERYTHING you said, but I appreciate you taking the time to address this very sensitive issue. I’m looking at the prospect of becoming a step-parent and I’m taking the time to do some home work.

    I grew up in a household of strict adherence to my elders wishes. I wasn’t able to use slang, manners will drilled into me, and service was a value that was deeply ingrained in my character. When I consider the the importance of these traits/qualities, my wish is to take the things I thought “worked” from my childhood, and leave the things that didn’t.

    In your article you talk about the folly in making a step-child call you “Mom or Dad.” I don’t know that I agree with that. When I was growing up, the thought of calling my parents or any elder by their first name just wasn’t acceptable behavior – and I agree with that. If I don’t want my step-child calling me by my first name, what alternative do I have??? Any ideas?

    I appreciate your time and effort!


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