What to expect when you’re raising your partner’s child as a step-parent
Helping your partner to raise their child in your blended family or extended family can be a positive experience for everyone.
As a step-parent, it gives you the chance to play a central role in a child’s life. And it gives your partner’s child the opportunity to build a strong relationship with another adult. It also gives you and your partner the opportunity to strengthen your relationship by raising a child as a team.
To start with, your partner’s child might feel shy or even uncomfortable around you. That’s OK. It might take a while for you and your partner’s child to find ways to relate that feel right to both of you.
At times, you might also have to deal with negative reactions from the child’s other parent. This could affect how your partner’s child’s feels and behaves towards you.
Also, you and your partner might have different ideas about raising children, guiding children’s behaviour, balancing work and family and so on.
There’s no one right way to be a step-parent. Over time you’ll find ways to help with raising your partner’s child that suit you and your family.
Building a relationship with your partner’s child as a step-parent
Sensitivity, respect, flexibility and time can help you gradually build a relationship with your partner’s child and navigate challenges along the way.
Reflect on your own expectations
It’s a good idea to think about what level of involvement you want with your partner’s child and what feels comfortable to you.
Talk with your partner
Clear and open communication with your partner about your relationship with their child is key. Questions like these can help you start a conversation:
- What role do you want me to play with your child?
- What should I do? What shouldn’t I do?
- How will we know if it’s going well?
- How will we give each other feedback without taking it too personally?
Get to know the child
Get to know your partner’s child before you live together if you can. Here are some ideas:
- Go on outings or do activities together like walking the dog, making a meal or watching a movie.
- Do practical things like helping the child with their homework or driving them to meet friends.
- Ask your partner about their child’s particular needs, likes and dislikes.
- Take an interest in something the child likes. For example, you could ask the child if you can watch while they play a video game. After a while, they might be happy to play with you.
Focus on positives
Try to be accepting and positive towards your partner’s child. For example, you could praise the child when they cooperate, or you could celebrate when the child does well at something.
Take things slowly
Take things at a pace that suits your partner’s child. Don’t expect instant love or even like between you. Early on, settle for respect.
In the first 1-2 years, it often works well to be someone your partner’s child can depend on for the same things each week, like always taking them to sport on Saturdays. This can be better than trying to take on an active role in guiding the child’s behaviour, for example. That’s because it gives the child the chance to get to know and trust you.
Once you and your partner’s child are comfortable with each other, you can take on more of a parenting role if that’s what you, your partner and your partner’s child want. This will also depend on the age of the child.
Think about the child’s other parent
The child’s other parent might need time to adjust to your role in their child’s life. It can be easier if you don’t have much involvement with this person, at least at first.
It usually works best if the child’s parents talk with each other about child care and other arrangements, especially in the early years. But if the child’s other parent is happy to discuss things with you, and you and your partner feel OK with that, that’s fine too.
Over time you might get to know and like the child’s other parent and feel comfortable enough to share events like children’s birthdays or graduation celebrations.
Look after yourself
It’s also important to look after yourself. Spend time doing things that make you feel good and are good for you – for example, exercising, eating well, seeing friends and keeping up with your own interests.
And be kind to yourself – you’re doing the best you can.
Invent your own definition of what a stepmum or stepdad does. When my partner argues with his kids I leave the room because that works best in our family. Don’t be afraid to make up your own rules so it works for you.
– Millicent, 40, in a blended family
Raising children for the first time
If you haven’t had much or any experience of raising children, these ideas can help:
- Read about the developmental ages and stages of your partner’s children.
- Learn about positive parenting strategies like active listening, using routines to manage behaviour and using attention to improve behaviour. You and your partner could go to a positive parenting class together.
- Ask your partner about their child’s normal routines and have a plan for the day, especially if you’re looking after your partner’s child while your partner isn’t around.
All parents need support sometimes. Talking with other people in similar situations to yours can be a great way to get support. You can connect by joining a face-to-face or online support group.