Step-Parenting: The Forgotten Parent

Step ChildWhen you marry someone who has children, you marry their children as well.  But, that does not mean it is a match made in heaven.  There is a reason that second marriages end in divorce 60% of the time.  Step parenting is not easy and often times the stepparent feels like the forgotten parent.  It is important to realize that some times the kids run the show, but the trick is to not let it get to you.

How do you overcome being the forgotten parent?  There is no easy or quick answer for this question.  You have to have the patience of Job and the heart of a warrior and love your new spouse on par with Romeo and Juliet.  Sounds like a tall order, and often times it is, but if you can persevere, then you are in for the best bonus of all, which is more kids to love that will eventually love you.

As nice as that sounds, when you are in the thick of it, it is not easy to keep a smile pasted to your face as you navigate hateful words and disdain from stepchildren.  It is important that your spouse has your back, and even more important that you are open and honest with them about how you are feeling.  This is a key element in forging a relationship with children that don’t want you around.

Children learn from their parents.  If your spouse is not taking your side, which shows a lack of respect, then why should the children respect you?  They won’t.  If the other bio parent is not showing you respect it is possible to counter balance that with some fancy footwork by your spouse, but it does make things tougher.

I have been on both sides of this fence, and neither is easy.  Although my children love their stepfather, it has often been a difficult road and the lines have to be drawn as to what his responsibilities are with the kids and also with the kids on how they will treat him and talk to him.  We have been married for almost three years, but the children have known him for longer than that, and we still have moments when we go to dinner and the kids want to sit next to me and not next to him.  Or, when the kids will tell him he isn’t their father.

It isn’t easy, and often I find myself playing the middleman and the peacekeeper while still trying to maintain my own sanity.  What I have found works though is to put them all in a room and let them hammer it out themselves.  I have learned to step back from the step situation and let my children and my husband forge their own unique relationship.  One that doesn’t have anything to do with me; this is what will make them bond and feel like a family.

During my second marriage, I wasn’t so lucky.  I had stepchildren that were barely civil on a good day and they had a mother that encouraged them to be disrespectful and rude.  Add to that a husband who did not stand up for me, and it was a miserable existence.

When you are in this situation, there isn’t much you can do.  But, here are some pointers to get you through it:

  1. Don’t stoop to the children’s or the biological divorced parents level.  Remember, you are the adult, act like it at all times.
  2. Keep smiling.  As tough as it is, if you can keep the smile pasted on your face, you will eventually be noticed.
  3. Talk to your spouse.  The bottom line? It is up to your spouse to make sure that you are not the forgotten parent.  Talk to them and then talk to them some more.  If you can’t get through to them, then that says something about how they feel about you, and gives you something to think about.

Being a stepparent does not mean you are always the forgotten parent, but even in the best of blended families, it can happen.  So, if you are faced with being the forgotten parent in the step family equation, take heart that what is worth it often takes time to develop.  Have patience and trust that it will work out the way it is supposed to work out.

Lee Brochstein About Lee Brochstein

Lee Brochstein is a certified professional divorce coach, blogger, a well-known author and a nationally known expert from her appearances on television and radio talk shows. She enjoys alliteration, Mad Men, Big Bang, mixed breeds, vanilla lattes, red wine and her kids when they aren’t killing each other. Follow her on twitter and Facebook.

  • Real Dad

    This may provoke some angry comments, but I am one “bio father” who does not and will never encourage my children to respect, trust, or be close to the new guy in their mom’s life. He is a former supposed “friend” who was cheating with my wife behind the backs of myself and his wife. Now they’re living together and my kids hate his guts. I never speak unkindly or disrespectfully about my ex — she is, after all, their mother, and someone who I loved and will always love to some extent — but I don’t feel I owe this intruder any such courtesy. To my children, he will always represent an unwanted intruder who helped destroy the family they loved and were happy in. And I will never encourage my children to feel otherwise about him. “Step-father” is a societal term that I refuse to recognize. My kids already have a father, and one whom they love. They don’t want or need another. Especially one who had no regard for their family as it was.

    • LeeBlock

      I understand how you can feel that way because of your circumstances.  I am wondering how your children know “he” was the reason for the break up of your marriage?  You see, even if you do not speak poorly of your ex wife, but you let your children know the reasons for the divorce, ie cheating, that is the same thing as speaking about her in a negative way. 

      • Real Dad

        Thanks for understanding. I know I’m upset about it. My oldest child figured it out on his own and asked me point-blank if that was the case, to which I answered “yes.” Not divulging unnecessary details too complex for the kids to handle is one thing; lying is another. As we all know, kids are perceptive and I think they put two + two together pretty quickly… hmm… dad’s by himself and seems sad but focused on us when we’re together; mom’s suddenly got a recently-divorced guy living with her, doesn’t have as much time for us, and is frequently acting out-of-character.

        • LeeBlock

          Real Dad, I happen to agree in never lying to children.  They don’t need to know all the details, but certainly when asked a point blank question, tell the truth.  Just be sure that your anger towards the new man will not be mistaken for anger towards the mother.  You don’t want the kids to feed off of that.  If you ever need anything….drop me an email and keep your chin up.  It does get better….

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    I am dating a divorcee and it’s been almost 3 years of serious relationship. He has not introduced me to his kids or ex wife and I feel he is hiding me. It is very embarrassing to feel him compartmentalizing the people he calls family and me the one who supports him on the daily. It’s like being in the closet. I have been understanding and now his oldest is 18 and other daughter 13. I put my foot down and broke it off due to feeling he is hiding me and he took A step to say to his kids “I’m dating” I was relieved and now that was 2 months ago and he is adamant that he will not be pressured to go any faster than he wants. What to do?

    • LeeBlock

       Well, having this experience myself, I can tell you it won’t turn out well. It gets to a point that you can’t fit into his family with his children, and it’s not he’s hiding you or that he’s embarrassed, but that he feels like he has to protect either them or his ex.  Either way, you are dealing with a man who won’t commit to meshing his two lives into one, and that is something that if it hasn’t happened after three years, you need to ask yourself if it will happen.  He has to value you enough to include you and you have to value yourself enough to realize that this might not be the right relationship for you.

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