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Tips for Parenting in Stepfamilies

Written by: Janet Fluker, M.Ed., M.S.
Tips for Parenting in Stepfamilies

Newly married couples with children from a previous marriage are often surprised at the challenges they face as a stepfamily. For many children, adjusting to divorce is easier than becoming a stepfamily. Depending on the age of the children, it may take two to four years for a new stepfamily to adjust to living together. The following research by Patricia Papernow, a leading expert on stepfamilies, can help parents in their journey toward becoming a healthy stepfamily.

  1. Stepfamilies are generally easier for children eight and under, and easier for boys than for girls, especially young teen girls.
  2. Stepparents are often invested in having more limits and boundaries with their stepchildren while the parents want the stepparent to be more loving and understanding.
  3. Authoritative parenting works best on every measure. Authoritative parents are both loving and firm. They are warm and empathetic towards the child and able to calmly set firm limits that are age-appropriate.
  4. Discipline should be left to the parent, not the stepparent. After several years, if the stepparent has established a caring relationship, they may be able to move into an authoritative role. The guideline for stepparents is “connection before correction”.
  5. Authoritarian parenting by stepparents creates damage in the family – it is firm and hard and often negative.
  6. Step-couples can work as a team with the stepparent having input and the parent having the final say about their own children.
  7. Successful step-couples communicate well and discuss their differences. Working with a licensed counselor can help the process go more smoothly!


Making stepfamilies work (