The Stepfamily Reset


The Stepfamily Reset

“If I had only known, I may not have signed on for this stepfamily life!”

Time and again, stepparents say they had absolutely no idea just how challenging blended family life would be. Their partners feel the same way. It’s not a surprise they were caught off guard when there are so many obstacles that nuclear families never face.

It’s so hard because…

You are building new relationships while nurturing old ones. You are learning how to build a sense of “familyness’ while some family members feel like insiders and others feel like outsiders.

You are trying to nurture your marriage while navigating the needs of the kids, co-parenting with former spouses, and balancing the schedules of family members who are coming and going throughout the week.

You are working to create what you envisioned, only you are coming up against problems you have no idea how to solve.

It is important to remember that every stepfamily goes through growing pains in the process of becoming a family. Relationships can get really difficult, and sometimes it feels easier to withdraw than work through the “hard stuff.” If that is the case in your family, know that you are not alone!

I want to share a shift that may help you and your partner get through some of the typical push-pull moments in stepfamily relationships. I call it  “The Stepfamily Reset.” Think of it as taking a “time out” to reassess and adjust how you are approaching things.

The Stepfamily Reset is based on 3 words: Respect, Relax, and Redefine.

Step 1: RESPECT the relationship where it is
There is an assumption that once everyone is under the same roof there will be a little chaos and then the dust will settle. Some stepparents and stepchildren develop a level of comfort and ease with each other early on, while others barely tolerate each other in their living spaces. Whatever the situation, it is important to respect the relationship where it is and recognize that blending is a process, not a static event.

There are so many things that go into the stepparent-stepchild relationship. Taking a look at things from a 30,000 feet view from above, two overall themes typically show up:

A. Bonding Motivation
Not everyone is equally motivated to bond in a blended family. Some kids may not be open to letting a new adult into their hearts due to loyalty, attachment, or unresolved grief issues. Mix that reluctance with the eagerness of a stepparent who wants everything to be “just right,” and you’ll have a conflict of motivation to bond.

The reverse can also be true! There are kids who eagerly welcome a new adult into their lives while the stepparent is hesitant for a number of reasons.

Becoming a stepparent means taking on a role with an ambiguous definition and unclear rules. The stepparent may not have parenting experience, which creates a lack of comfort and confidence. There may be friction within the co-parenting dynamics of the birth parents and the stepparent isn’t sure of his or her place in the chaos. Whatever the source of hesitancy on the part of the stepparent, their actions can leave the stepchild feeling rejected or unwelcomed.

Of course, there could be a shifting of high and low motivation levels for each person at any given time. This is a growing and changing family dynamic. 

A conflict in bonding motivation levels is very typical in stepfamily relationships. Respecting the situation as it is and acknowledging everyone’s feelings is a great way to open the opportunity for relationship growth.

B. History
Imagine how it would feel if I handed you a mystery novel and told you to solve the crime but… you are only allowed to start reading from Chapter 7. You may not peek at chapters 1-6 to get the initial information. Your decisions can only be made from the information you gain from Chapter 7 through the end of the book. How frustrating would that be to have to make important decisions without knowing all the facts (“history”) first?

That’s how it feels for those in a stepfamily dynamic!

While many birth parents are anxious for their partner and child to bond, it is important to remember that the stepparent-stepchild relationship is much like the mystery novel example above. The stepparent and stepchild are starting from a different chapter of the child’s life span than the child does with the birth parent at day one. No one is the “bad guy” for not bonding, they just don’t have the history, the shared experiences, and the love to support their relationship (yet)!

Step 2: RELAX…Don’t force things!
Going back to the mystery novel analogy, if you are the detective you can’t force an answer to the question of “Who did it?” until you have time to gather information, interact with those involved, and build your knowledge of the situation. Forcing the answer when you don’t have the right information won’t work.

Family relationships are much the same way. You cannot force step-siblings to love each other, or even like each other for that matter! They are together because you and your partner fell in love and got married. They didn’t pick your partner or the kids that came along in the package deal.

Forcing kids to like their new stepparent is asking for trouble as well. Requiring respect is one thing, expecting a loving relationship is a whole other conversation with a multitude of obstacles in the way.

Everyone in the blended family has to get acclimated to the situation, get to know each other, and slowly build trust. Hopefully, they’ll gain enough positive bonding experiences that they’ll create a caring relationship with each other, but there is no guarantee!

For both Steps 1 & 2, my suggestion is to give the relationships time. Nurture them, be patient, and add large doses of space and grace to help them grow!

Step 3: REDEFINE your expectations
This step is incredibly challenging for many couples. Adults tend to step into the blended family situation with preconceived notions of who will fulfill what role, who will do what for the kids, and how the kids “should” act. Many of the stepcouples I coach come to me presenting a litany of complaints, many of which eventually fit within the category of “unstated expectations” once we assess the family’s dynamics.

While you may have anticipated things to be a certain way, your partner may have come into this partnership with a completely different vision of how things will be. Part of blending your family requires give-and-take and negotiations to co-create a new definition of what family life will look like, It’s not all your way or all your partner’s way…it’s a redefining of expectations to be “our” way.


If you are one of the many who have said, “If I had only known,” take heart in the fact that there is support out there. Even more important, there are strategies that can help you and your partner become a united front and strengthen your parenting partnership. When you work as a team with a game plan in place, you are on your way to creating the stepfamily life you envisioned.

Step family reset

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Amy Ambrozich
Amy grew up in NW Indiana and moved to Central Ohio after marrying her husband, Mike, 30+ years ago. Together they raised three kids, Kaytee, Nick, and Joey, all of whom have successfully launched into adulthood and careers. She is a parenting and stepfamily coach, specializing in stepcouples coaching. After many years as a stay-at-home mom, she discovered her passion for coaching and teaching parent workshops through the Worthington Schools. Amy became a dual-certified Active Parenting facilitator (K-5 & Teens) and a certified Stepfamily Help coach. To fulfill her love of coaching stepcouples she recently became a recognized SMART STEPFAMILY therapy provider. This allows her to share even more "support and strategies for your stepfamily's success!" Amy credits her parents, Joe and Elaine, for being her inspiration and role model for strong parenting partnerships and parenting with intention. It serves as the basis for all her coaching programs. She can be reached at