A Stepdad’s Journey


I recently met a father to two grown boys and the stepdad to 2 young girls (ages 9 and 13). Let’s call him Joe, his wife Karen, and his stepdaughters Jenna and Kiera. Joe adores his stepdaughters and they get along “just fine.” Joe’s struggle? He feels like an outsider in his own home. This is the beginning of one stepdad’s journey.
Stepdad's journey

This is not an unfamiliar story for stepparents. The stepchild-stepparent relationship can be a journey filled with hills and valleys. There are so many issues that come into play for this relationship.

For example, kids may feel resentful of the new adult in their life and stepparents feel the need to step into an authority role as soon as they are all under one roof. (By the way, if you are a stepparent my first piece of advice is DO NOT do that!) This is just the tip of the iceberg for the stepparent-stepchild challenge.

A Stepdad’s Journey: The Marriage

After talking with Joe and his wife Karen, I could tell their marriage was feeling the strain of this dilemma as well. Karen felt as if she was a full-time solo parent, even though Joe was present in the home. Joe was tip-toeing around trying to figure out when to step in and help and when to step back so he wouldn’t interfere with Karen’s role as the mom.

This is a typical challenge for most blended families. It takes time and open communication for everyone involved in “the blend” to discover their role. One of the “hot topics” I talk about is role expectations. It became clear that they each assumed the other knew their expectations, but they never sat down to really discuss it.

A Stepdad’s Journey: The Kids

Joe truly enjoyed his stepdaughters. After having raised two athletic boys, being around the girls was a new thing for him. He was learning so much just by sitting back and observing, but he also wanted to feel a part of this all-female unit who had now become his family.
I reminded him that he had already taken the first steps on the path to bonding with the girls. When Joe and Karen moved in together, he carefully took the role of a supportive adult instead of a disciplinarian. He helped with homework and drove the girls to dance and soccer practices. He even stayed to watch!

A Stepdad’s Journey: Building the Bonds

The next step I suggested was to begin getting to know them better through one-on-one activities. The younger stepdaughter, Jenna, loved being out on her bike, so he invited her to go bike riding with him on a bigger trail along the river near their home. She was hesitant at first, having only spent time doing activities with Joe and her mom or sister present. Joe made a point of making it “our time” by packing her favorite snacks and not pushing the conversation. They talked about the things they saw as they rode and about other possible trails they could try.

The older daughter, Kiera, really didn’t want much to do with Joe. He was patient with her and kept things surface-level, paying attention to the things that brought her out of her shell. He discovered her interest in baking, and that was his “in” with her. While his experience in baking was heating up a piece of pie in the microwave oven, he was definitely willing to get out of his comfort zone in order to take down a few bricks from the wall between them.

Using Karen’s birthday as the launch for conversation, Joe asked Kiera to help him make a carrot cake from scratch. He mentioned how she was great at baking with her mom and that he’d really appreciate her help to surprise Karen. That day they were both on their “best behavior” but after additional kitchen sessions, they felt more relaxed together.

Seeing Changes

The one-on-one sessions with his step-daughters were a win-win situation for Joe in his quest to find his place within the family, and for the girls to begin allowing him into their lives more. The bonus? It strengthened his marriage as well. Karen felt more relaxed knowing Joe was building his relationship with her girls. The time he was spending with the girls was allowing him to step further into a “leadership” role in the family, taking some pressure off of Karen.

By using caution and patience, Joe slowly opened up the door for a better relationship with each of the girls. He didn’t push and he allowed the girls to have their time to slowly learn they could trust him.

Most importantly, he never tried to take over the role of “dad” in their lives. In fact, he was careful to make sure they had a smooth transition to their dad’s home and then back into his and Karen’s home.

Some Tips for Sucess

1. Understand the child’s perspective

Kids shifting into a Kids shifting into a blended family situation may still feel hurt or confused by the changes they’ve gone through. There may be unresolved emotional issues that could prevent the child from feeling safe to trust another adult.

2. Be patient

You can’t force a bond to happen between people who are blood relatives, so you certainly can’t force positive emotions between a child and the adult their parent selected to partner with. Strong, healthy relationships take time to develop. Small steps towards getting to know each other will help improve relationships. It should be said that there are different levels of bonding. Some stepparents and stepchildren get very close while others have contentious relationships that never improve. There are many factors at play within each of these pairings. 

3. Demonstrate how love can multiply

Children in a stepfamily situation may feel disloyal to their birth parent by opening their hearts to a stepparent. This is a great opportunity to show how you can care for many people at once. You’re not trying to replace their parent, you’re actually acting as another caring adult.

It’s common for stepparents to feel overwhelmed while they figure out their “place” within the new family. It’s important to remember that everyone in the blended family is trying to define their role in the new family unit. Patience, compassion, and understanding will go a long way in helping the dust settle down and relationships to grow.
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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 www.daretoparent.com.