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Parenting Coach Katie Malinski LCSW coaches a mother of a step-child what to do when his biological mother doesn’t treat him well.

Here’s a common scenario: you’re a single parent of an older child or teenager. You fall in love with a wonderful person, the two of you get married (or not), and Wonderful Person moves in with you. But your child is not on board. What can you do to smooth things over between them?

The first thing to remember is that acceptance is not something you can make happen. Assuming that Wonderful Person is making an honest effort to be lovable to your child, here are some guidelines that should make things at least tolerable for everyone.

1. Never refer to Wonderful Person as your child’s “step father” or “step mother.”  This is a term of honor and something only your child can bestow. At the same time, Wonderful Person should not refer to your child as a “step son” or “step daughter.” Instead, each should refer to the other by first names or by their relationship to you (“my mom’s husband” or “my husband’s son”).  Relationships are built, not legislated. And while you might be able to encourage the “step-” stuff with a young child, it just won’t fly with your preteen or teen.

2. Wonderful Person should avoid telling your child what to do or giving any sort of unsolicited advice. Just as Wonderful Person would not think of telling your best friend or your next-door neighbor how to live her life or make decisions, WP should afford your child the same respect and courtesy.

3. Instead… Wonderful Person should find a way to ask your child’s advice or help. Wonderful Person’s questions have to be sincere and not contrived. But asking a teen’s opinion on a purchase of some sort or asking if the teen can help with a home rehab project that needs another set of hands… these will go over well. Again, the point is that Wonderful Person must treat your child as an equal not a child. This is adult to adult, not parent to child. Remember, Wonderful Person is not your child’s parent.

4. Wonderful Person should leave any sort of discipline to you.

The relationship your Wonderful Person wants to have with your child is something that has to develop over time. From your child’s perspective, the two of you have been doing just fine without Wonderful Person. If anything, Wonderful Person is a distraction to the relationship you and your child have enjoyed. Your child will naturally be protective of you and skeptical of the value of Wonderful Person. Slow and gentle is the way to build the new relationship between Wonderful Person and your child. It may never be terrific. It may take a decade to develop. But trying to force things will backfire.

Now… your own role. Actions speak louder than words and nothing you can say will convince your child that Wonderful Person is a valuable addition to the family. Let your child see that you are happy. Let Wonderful Person demonstrate respect and care for you and your child. Teens and preteens are working out how relationships work and are super sensitive to injustice, disrespect, and falseness. Show through actions what good relationships between adults, and  good relationships between adults and adult-children, look like. With sensitivity and respect you all can achieve a happy family life.

Congratulations on finding a new love. But when you already have children and your new love has children too, and you’ll be throwing all the kids together into one big, happy household, well, it’s natural to be nervous. Can children who began their lives in different families come together in a new, blended family without much difficulty? Sure they can. Is it easy? No.

There’s a lot going on when adults who have children from previous relationships combine their households.

So add to all that the new siblings. This can be a delightful experience, like a perpetual sleepover, or it can be a source of continuous sniping. Children are naturally on the lookout for favoritism, unshared privileges, and seemingly intentional slights. They naturally seek to capture their birth parent’s attention. A child may try to sabotage the relationship between her own parent and a step-sibling or even with the step-parent. Things can get really ugly really fast.

Keep in mind that even in biological families, there are personality clashes, difficult moments, and unhappiness. Avoid blaming the past or a non-custodial birth parent. Resist blaming the kids. Raising a blended family takes some finesse and some sweetness, the same as every family needs. To help your family make the transition, here are some tips:

  1. Accept that this won’t be easy for anyone and will take time. Don’t rush to create “the perfect family.”
  2. Listen. Hear what’s being said for the information it conveys and not as criticism. When a child says, “I hate this,” she’s saying she’s unhappy. She needs support, not an angry response.
  3. Be consistent without being rigid. Base decisions on a consistent framework or value system so that it’s not difficult for kids to anticipate what you might agree to. Be on the same page with your new spouse.
  4. Recognize that children have a special bond with their birth parents, including the non-custodial parent. Make room for this. Adding a step-parent shouldn’t mean losing one’s biological parents.
  5. Avoid playing favorites or making comparisons between the children or even appearing to do so. Be fair. Don’t say what you’re thinking if you’re thinking of making a comparison.
  6. Understand your position. You are not your step-children’s “mom” or “dad” and it’s unwise to insist that they call you that, especially if their biological parent is still living. Many children call their step-parent by that person’s first name, especially if the kids are older. Work out something agreeable to everyone.
  7. Be flexible about holidays and other traditions. The ways you and your children have celebrated birthdays and holidays aren’t the only ways. In fact, “your” holidays aren’t the only holidays there are! Be open-minded about celebrations and special days and concentrate on adding – dates and traditions and even religions – instead of insisting only on yours. The more the merrier!
  8. Model the behavior you want to see. Be cheerful, compassionate, patient, and accepting. If you’re not, who else can be? If you are, others will learn from you.

Realize that blending a family is not automatic. It will take some effort on your part and it will take some time. The waters may never be entirely smooth.

But the happiness of all the children is essential to the success of your relationship with your new spouse. So take the time to make this work.


© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Look for free downloads on Dr. Anderson’s website at