Step Parenting Philosophies

Updated on August 29, 2015
S.C. asks from Oskaloosa, KS
14 answers

Hi all,
So I have been wondering something lately as I’ve read some of the responses on here, and so I thought I’d ask. (*Disclaimer – it’s a beautiful early fall Friday afternoon, I would LOVE it if we could get through this without the claws coming out! :) This is truly just a “how do you see it?” kind of question.

I feel like there are a lot of comments on here along the lines of, “It’s not your kid, that’s his father’s job.” Or “You can’t discipline him, you’re the step mom not his real mom, let his real parents handle it” etc.

Is that the common perception of what a step parent is? A bystander? A buddy? Not a “real” parent?

Maybe I’m in the minority. Granted, I have a bit of a specific circumstance as my son’s father skipped town so he doesn’t really have a “real dad” to speak of, except for a random phone call here and there. So he desperately needs that male guidance and authority of his soon-to-be-stepdad. And he’s thriving in it.

But I was very deliberate when I was dating, to pick someone that I knew would be a good co-parent with me. I didn’t want to date someone that I couldn’t trust with my son. After two years, we are now engaged and living together. And he has, I would say, about 99% of the authority that I have. Major decisions, I still make. But as far as day-to-day, normal behavioral and disciplinary stuff, we’re on the same page. He keeps him on days that he is not working and I am. He picks him up from school. He gets his teeth brushed, gets him dressed, gets his prayers said, and chores done, just like I would. If something comes up, I expect him to handle it, and he does.

I guess I’m just feeling the need to somewhat stick up for step-parents, because it always seems that they come looking for advice and are frequently told, “that’s not your place”. Maybe I’m making a mountain out of a molehill, if so, I don’t mean to. I just wondered, because I feel like I am in the minority here.

Maybe most divorced parents just have a much better relationship than my ex and me, and so the step really does have to step back a bit more. Maybe that’s all it is? Hmm. What are your thoughts?

ETA, thanks for the responses so far! Starr I think you hit it on the head - it depends on the parents. I think if my son had a great, involved, responsible dad, it would be a little different. But I still think in our house, he would need to listen to his stepdad. But I can see where that could get real complicated, real fast.

Still looking forward to other responses. I bet every situation is different. Would love to hear others' experiences!

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answers from Baton Rouge on

I am a step parent. My step kids are now grown, and when they were young, his kids did not live with us, mine did.
When his kids were here, HE was the main authority for them, and I followed HIS lead regarding HIS kids, even if I didn't necessarily agree with it.

If only he had done the same for me regarding MY kid.

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answers from Los Angeles on

I had a phenomenol stepdad.
I was mid teens when he arrived on the scene.
He was carefully screened by my mom before I ever met him.
He didn't come looking to be Lord of the Manor.
He was patient. He was supportive and encouraging. He gave advice when I asked for it.
He did not demand all of my moms time & attention.
My mom continued to be the "parent" as far as tiles, correction, etc.
So he was a lot like a very respected friend.
He didn't demand respect. He earned it.
I couldn't have loved him more.

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answers from Washington DC on

well, my claws are out. it's august! it is NOT early fall! do NOT wish away my summer!
as for step-parenting, it's not like it's all the same. i think most of the time that the advice is 'step away, it's not your place' is when a step-parent is attempting to be crack-down authoritative toward kids who have both parents still in their lives. another scenario that tends to generate that response is in blended families where the parents are on very different pages philosophically and the step-parent is trying to override the other parent.
the most common and troubling situation is people who marry (or move into together) without previously hashing out just what their philosophy is, and try to figure it out on the run, with the kids getting scrambled into hash along the way. the time to know that your new SO is a spanker when you're not is NOT after they've spanked your kid.
i grew up with a stepmon, and she had a real tightrope. my mom was dead, so no conflict there, but the oldest 3 kids (including me) were loaded for bear when it came to her asserting her authority. fortunately for our family she was a sensitive and loving soul and didn't need to have a power-over paradigm, but she really did get ground into the carpet a lot, and then my dad would come riding into town and attempt to sort it all out with an iron fist. so not ideal. but we muddled through.
so if you and your SO are on the same page, that's terrific. but too many- far too many- are not.

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answers from Phoenix on

I agree with you. I'm a step mom, my kids have a step mom and I'm married so my husband is their step dad.

I am the MOM in MY house. My kids step mom is the mom in HER house. I believe step parents can enforce the house rules just as much as the bio parent can.

They are expected to feed, love and care for the kids in their house so within reason they should also be able to set rules and enforce them as well.

It isn't realistic to expect them to just sit back and let the bio parent deal with the big issues and they have no say or actions in what needs to be done. JMO.

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answers from Lakeland on

I am a step parent and have a very good relationship with my step kids. They are really good kids (well one is grown now) and have never needed to be reprimanded. Grounded a couple of times, but I left that to their parents and only gave input when asked.

From the first time I met them I made sure they knew I wasn't taking the place of their mother and I have always made sure that it is our home, not just dads house or like they are visiting. They have always had their own rooms too.

I do think that every situation is different, just as every family is different. I think the best thing for step parents is to try and understand the feelings of the children involved and to treat them as family, it is a package deal when you marry someone with children.

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answers from Minneapolis on

This can be a real bone of contention in any relationship - where does the step parents authority/responsibility begin and end. I know that it was difficult in my case having a very involved ex-husband (who ALWAYS knew better than either myself or my husband did about pretty much everything).

My husband and I struggled for years - arguing about how much authority show he have (he wanted more) and with the kids as to how much authority did step dad have (they wanted him to have none). We finally decided that for everyone involved, it would be best if my husband really had almost no say over any kind of punishment or decisions. If he was home with them, it was "wait until your mom gets home." If a decision needed to be made, it was "let's call your mom and see what she says." If I did need to hand out discipline, I always talked to the kids' dad first, rather than my husband.

It really was a sucky deal for my husband. He got none of the say, but all of the responsibility (he makes more than I do, carries the insurance, and has more sick days so often was the one who had to stay home with a sick kid to take them to a dr. appt. if their dad or I could not). Plus, with an ex who did not take his child support responsibility very seriously, my husband always had to pick up the slack.

I was pretty clear when we met many years ago, that although I am a "package deal" with kids and all, the package also included my ex-husband. He is their dad, he loves them just as much as I do, and he is entitled to make or be a part of every decision that is made for the kids. Period. 3rd wheels need not apply.

I can say from the other side where my ex-husband allowed HIS wife to be a large part of the kids' discipline process, it really sucked. She was not a very nice person and favored her own children over mine (which I can say would be tough for anyone not to do). Plus, in my opinion, she wasn't a very good parent - she lost one of her kids to foster care, and the other two were addicts. I always felt that she really wasn't qualified in many ways to "co-parent" our kids.

Fast forward to now - my husband has an EXCELLENT relationship with my girls. However, my ex-husband and his wife have little contact with them (mostly because the girls cannot get over how his wife treated them and that their dad allowed it).

If I were to hand out advice on this? If the dad is involved, then he has MORE rights than the step-parent. Not the same, not less. I can see like in your case, where the parent is absent, it would be a totally different story. However, for those who have a situation more like mine, it really would be "not your place".

Good question! I will be interested to see how others respond and if it is based on personal experience or observation.

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answers from San Francisco on

It depends upon the situation. There is a big difference, for instance, between a stepparent who has been in the picture for most of a child's life, when the child's bio parent is largely absent; and a stepparent who comes on the scene later in the life of a child with two active parents.

In the former scenario, it is appropriate for the stepparent to take on the role of a parent. In the latter scenario, it is not usually a good idea for the stepparent to adopt a particularly parental role. There are other variations, obviously.

In what I believe was the most recent question on this topic, both parents were active, the stepmother entered the child's life during the teens, and stepmother and bio-dad were disagreeing on how to parent the child. In that case, the best tactic for stepmom to take is to allow husband to parent his child, and to assume a friend/mentor role vs. a parent role.

But can and should stepparents often take on the role of a parent? Most definitely.

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answers from Washington DC on

Firstly, everyone's family is nuances that are just theirs. What applies to one may not apply to another. In my case, my husband had primary physical custody during the year, and EOWE in the summer. What that meant to me was that I was right there doing HW, schlepping the kids, hosting sleepovers, making lunches, reminding them to clean their rooms. But DH always was the major disciplinarian. HE grounded them. HE met out the big consequences. If it came down to something that I didn't agree with, I spoke my piece, but ultimately I was not their legal parent. I could be overruled by BM and DH. Also, legally, I couldn't sign medical forms and I made him sign all school permission slips. I couldn't get them out of school without his permission. Legally, I was a stranger. If anything happened to DH, custody would go FT to their mother. I would have to fight for any visitation I received. Also, they were 8 and 13 when we married. I came to the game very late with SS in particular. All the more reason for DH to take the lead on the big things. And sometimes it's not "my place". When SD needed a bra - she has an involved mother, no matter what I thought of her. Bras and periods and growing up - that was something her mom and dad covered and while I was there, it wasn't my place to step in where her mother already was. She didn't need me to. To do so would have been taking a moment from her mother unfairly. Why cause drama?

There are times when I've been totally hogtied regarding the sks. Or times when they've pushed me away or their mother is angry that I breathe air. Sometimes it is very very very hard. I had a lot of ideas when we married and the reality of 12+ years...yeah, I'm a little jaded. Stepparenting is nothing like parenting in my experience. There are so many little minefields, and not everyone is going to be one big happy and that's OK.

I consider myself lucky. They're decent people. They're grown now, and the issues we have are few. Still working through things and already thinking about how to handle events like college graduation when everyone has to get along for one day.

IMO, it may be easier in some regards with your fiance because he's filling an empty slot and your son is receptive. That is not always the case. If someone comes on here with an angry 15 yr old whose stepparent has only been in the picture a year? I'm going to suggest the stepparent give that some space. It rarely works to be the heavy when you weren't there for 14 years and the kid will only be home for 3 more.


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answers from Boston on

A big factor is how old the kids are when the step-parent joins the family. There is guidance that the time it takes to "blend" is the child's age at the joining point. So if a child is 3 years old when a step-parent joins the family, she will feel "blended" when she's around 6. If a kids is 8, that would be age 16. So you can see how with older children, the step-parent shouldn't wield the same authority that the biological parent does, because the relationship between the child and step-parent takes a really, really long time to gel.

My husband and I met when our bio kids were 3 and 2 (they are 4 months apart in age) and we got married when they were both 5. She lived with her mother until she was 13 so I was always the S. fiddle parent for her at my house, as it should be. She had two parents, and I wasn't one of them. In a similar vein, as my son got older and became more of a complex person with thought and opinions and feelings (vs. just being a cute little kid) he and my husband started to clash more and more and frankly, he didn't have enough of a parental bond with my son to be able to discipline him. So we established house rules, and could enforce those rules with each others' kids, but if something came up that didn't fit a pre-defined rule and consequence, he had final say over how to handle his daughter and I had final say over how to handle my son.

FWIW we have 2 kids together, and my SD has had no contact with her mom for almost 5 years and my son never met his dad. So we don't have to deal with other parents but if we did, that would complicate things further.

My husband and I are in the process of splitting up and if he ends up in a serious relationship with someone else in the future, it would work best if his future partner understands that she is not and will not be in a primary parenting role to my younger sons.

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answers from Muncie on

I grew up with a "step-sister", my mother was the "step-parent". In my family, my mother was just as much "parent" as my father was to my sister, so much so that I rarely use the term "step-sister" in reference to my sister, she'd just always been my sister (maybe "HALF-sister" if I was mad at her). Our mom was "mom" or "mommy" to her, her mother was "mother". That was how we differentiated the two. As a child I was not involved in my parent's decision on parenting, of course, but I never saw a difference in the way she was treated and the way I was treated, aside from the obvious, Ex: my sister is 9 year older then I am, obviously certain rules were different .

My sister's mother gave my father full parental rights, she completely bowed out of the picture. In fact I can only recall 2 times in my life when my sister's mother came to see her. She cleaned my room both times and I couldn't find things for weeks because she'd put them away. (Ha!)

I think my mom and dad, as a couple, made the decision that they were both parents, equally, together. He backed her, she backed him. They came up with the "house rules" and the consequences for misconduct together and enforced them together.

I know not everyone is so lucky as to find their perfect S. chance right away, but I think that it helped in my family. Mom wasn't just another "girlfriend", she was the onIy woman my father dated after his divorce and I think because my sister was still very young she adapted easily.

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answers from New York on

There are huge differences in family situations-- how old the children are, how involved the biological parent is

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answers from Dover on

I'm with you on this one. There are times when the step-parent has to step back but if they aren't willing to step up then they shouldn't be with the parent in the first place. Just my two cents.

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answers from Los Angeles on

While it depends upon the parents, still.....your boyfriend needs to have boundaries. You have ultimate say. He can help in some ways. Don't let him
parent your child. He can say "don't do that if he is throwing a ball in the house or doing something dangerous. But you need to have ultiamte say.
I know you don't have his father in the picture to contend with but you are still
the biological parent so you set the boundaries. You can say "thank you for your help, for your support for you accepting my child as yours but sometimes I will need to make the ultimate decision. " The reason is "you're
his parent".

He can help, be kind, help support, be loving but ultimately you are his biological parent & will have his best interests at heart. My husband made the mistake of letting me do EVERYTHING then when it was convenient for him & his all blew up in my face when we had our child. He can lisent to his stepdad when he says "don't run with scissors", "can you please close the back door", "please put away your plate".
Don't give him too much control. You're his biological parent.
It's wonderful that he helps watch & take care of him but be sure to draw

Include your mate but you call all the shots.
You determine what's best for your child.
Even if he helps take care of your child a lot while you are work. you decide what he's responsible for, what he can do.

You be the one to hand out consequences.
Check in with your child when he watches him just to ensure all is well.

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answers from Williamsport on

I'm with you and your situation is common too. The posts pointing out the step parent isn't important are usually for situations where there is dysfunction, which causes the trouble which cause the question. When a question is all like, "My boyfriend and I met 6 months ago and we live together and he is mean to my kid." it's like... Sigh.

I'm a single mom of three and I would never have a serious boyfriend who was not potential father material. I've already stopped seeing two really nice men who just would not have been up to that task. Once we were married, he'd be the full fledged dad, and I believe men are sort of the head of the house in some traditional ways so I have no desire to run around saying, "They're MY kids, you just sit over there and be quiet." And again, he'd have to earn his "dad" status way before it was granted.

But not every situation is like that. Plus I notice women who marry men with teens and that's hairy. Who knows, that could happen to me. My new husband could have teens who hate me...and in that case I would feel like I should not lord over anyone or try to be the mom. Although I wouldn't put up wit being trampled by the dad either...yeah, so many different scenarios..

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