As any stepparent would know, the stepparenting struggle is real. They go into the role hoping for the best, but what they often find is that it’s not exactly rainbows and butterflies.
Here’s the thing, though: stepparents are incredible. It’s as the saying goes: “A stepparent is so much more than just a parent; they made the choice to love when they didn’t have to.”
They welcome into their hearts children who didn’t come from their seed or soil. They have to learn to find their place in the family dynamics. And they put up with far more from their partner’s ex than they really should.
If you’re in the role, about to be in it, or considering it, here’s a go-to guide for you to explore:
- What Is Stepparenting?
- 3 Common Challenges for Stepparents
- Stepparenting Advice: 7 Tips From Experts at Mindvalley
For sure, being a stepparent can be a daunting and sometimes overwhelming experience. But when you learn how to navigate the complexities of being a stepparent, you may just find that this unique parenting role is a lot more rewarding than you could ever imagine.
What Is Stepparenting?
Stepparents are married to a person who has a child (or children) with their previous partner. They assume the parental responsibilities for that child, who is not biologically theirs.
While the role may seem unconventional, a 2011 Pew Research Center survey reported that “more than four-in-ten American adults have at least one step-relative in their family.” It’s only gotten more common since then.
The unfortunate reality is, family dynamics and expectations (often unrealistic) barely scratch the surface of what many stepparents experience in their role. They’re often left feeling like they’re walking a tightrope.
Plus, Disney didn’t do stepparenting much justice either. In fact, they painted it as the opposite—stepparents (more specifically, stepmothers) are evil.
Whether you’re a seasoned stepparent or new to the game, you’re not as dramatic and wicked as Disney would have everyone believe. As a matter of fact, there is the possibility of having great relationships with your stepchildren, your partner’s ex, and their families.
It does require a certain unique set of parenting skills, though, which requires effort on your part. And patience. Lots and lots of patience.
3 Common Challenges of Stepparents
If you have a stepchild (or stepchildren), you already know it’s not exactly like the Brady Bunch. You may have even questioned, “Why is stepparenting so hard?” And, unlike traditional parenting, being a bonus parent frequently requires you to show up on a completely different energy level.
Here are a few common challenges you may encounter during your stepparenting journey:
1. Building a relationship with your stepchildren
There’s one major factor that differentiates you, the stepparent, from your partner, the biological one: you don’t have a pre-existing relationship with your stepchildren. What’s more, the children can be wary of you, especially if they have negative feelings towards their parents’ divorce or separation.
It’s what Christina Rasmussen, a crisis intervention counselor and one of the trainers in Mindvalley’s Little Humans program, calls “invisible loss.” This is when a person loses something—in the case of a stepchild, their traditional family unit—and it affects how they perceive themselves and how they feel others perceive them.
Without a doubt, divorce or separation can be so impactful on a child. In fact, a landmark 25-year study by Judith Wallerstein found that after divorce, 41% of children do poorly, are worried, are underachieving, are deprecating, and are often angry.
They may, then, express their emotions in a hurtful manner. And it’s oftentimes at the expense of you, the stepparent.
2. Learning to navigate complex family dynamics
Being a part of a blended family can be beautiful. However, it can also be challenging when there are many sets of adults with different ideas and values on how to be a functional family.
Here are a few factors that can contribute to this challenge:
- Co-parenting conflicts: You may find yourself in a difficult position when your partner is having a co-parenting conflict with their ex. For example, their former partner may have an authoritarian approach to parenting, while you and your partner prefer an authoritative one.
- Blended family roles: You, as the stepparent, have parental responsibilities, but yet, there’s another adult who’s not your partner having a voice in how to raise the children of the family. It can leave you feeling unsure about your role in such a unique situation.
- Communication difficulties: With so many personalities in one family, you may discover that communication breakdowns happen more often than you may like. It can happen between your partner and their ex, between you and your stepchildren, and between your stepchildren and their own biological parents.
Such challenges can have an adverse effect on your mind. One study, in fact, reported that stepparents themselves are “more at risk of having poor mental health than their counterparts in first families.”
This is especially true if you don’t have a support network, feel like an outsider, or aren’t fully accepted by your stepchildren or your partner’s family.
3. Dealing with stereotypes
Disney seriously did some damage when it came to the perception of stepmothers. It’s no better with stepfathers being portrayed as abusive in films like Stepfather and This Boy’s Life.
While the sad reality is that there are those who are the poster children for neglectful parenting, not all stepparents are “evil.” And unfortunately, they may even find themselves misjudged (no thanks to those who contribute to the negative perception).
What’s more, a study by Elizabeth Marquardt, the author of Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce, shows children of divorce often grow up feeling torn between two households. They may feel like a ping-pong ball, so to speak, between their parents.
When a stepparent comes into the picture, there’s a likelihood that the biological parents will be suspicious of them. This can absolutely contribute to the unfortunate negative stereotype of stepmothers and stepfathers.
“Know that people are always the biggest judges of what they know nothing about,” explains Christina Nelson, a licensed clinical social worker and host of the Radical Stepmoms Podcast. “If you find yourself among people who are only criticizing or judging you without offering actual support, you’re hanging around the wrong people; go find some stepparent friends.”
Stepparenting Advice: 7 Tips From Experts at Mindvalley
Stepparenting is about building relationships, establishing trust, and finding your place in an already-existing family dynamic. This requires a delicate balance of respect, understanding, and patience on your end.
While most parenting advice is geared towards biological parents, there are platforms you can turn to for guidance. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, listening to podcasts like Radical Stepmoms Podcast, finding a counselor who specializes in stepparenting like at Remarried With Children, or even joining Reddit stepparenting support groups are great places to start.
But first, here are seven top tips from parenting experts in Mindvalley’s Little Humans program to help you navigate through this complex (yet fulfilling) role.
1. Heal your inner child
Parenting of any kind, whether it’s biological parenting or stepparenting, is about your inner child, not the actual child. That’s the basis of conscious parenting, an avant-garde approach by clinical psychologist Dr. Shefali Tsabary.
“We, parents, are the masters of projection,” she explains in her Conscious Parenting Mastery Quest on Mindvalley (she’s also featured in the Little Humans program). “We ad-lib, willy-nilly, put onto our children all our own ideations, our ideologies, our belief systems, and our emotions.”
So to show up for your stepchildren as the best version of you that you can be, it’s time to make peace with the layers of baggage you acquired during your childhood.
Find out more about conscious parenting with Dr. Shefali:
2. Develop self-awareness
One critical piece of stepparenting advice you should highly consider adopting is being self-aware. It’s part of emotional intelligence, which, according to Rhea Lalla, CEO of Build Great Minds, is “the ability to recognize, understand, and influence your own emotions and to be able to do that for others as well.”
An example she gives in Mindvalley’s Little Humans program is about jealousy. With self-awareness, you’re able to be conscious of that feeling and why it has arisen. Additionally, you’re able to “climb in and see what are the feelings of somebody else” as well as “soothe yourself, so that you can calm your feelings down.”
This conscious effort on your part can help you improve communication with your stepchildren and other family members. What’s more, because you’re self-aware, you can better set up boundaries where and when they’re needed.
3. Get rid of damaging beliefs and reinforce positive ones
Let’s circle back to the question, “Why is stepparenting so hard?” It really comes down to your mindset.
Imagine if your daily vernacular includes statements like, “I can’t do it,” “Life’s too hard,” or “I’m a failure.” These are your limiting beliefs, and they can ripple down to your stepchildren.
“A belief is a statement about reality that we believe is the truth, and most of our beliefs are unconscious,” explains Shelly Lefkoe, co-founder of the Lefkoe Institute and one of the trainers on the Little Humans program. “We don’t even know that we have them. But they totally determine our behavior, our emotions, and even our reality.”
The purpose of being any kind of parent is “to raise kids who know what it means to be a contributing adult,” as she puts it. So in order to help your stepchildren step into their own greatness, it’s important that you start with your own inner work.
Learn more on how to remove your limiting beliefs:
4. Turn conflict into connection
With so many people involved in a blended family, there are bound to be power struggles. It could occur any which way—you and your partner, you and your stepchildren, you and your partner’s ex, and so on and so forth.
Renee Airya, the co-host of the Little Humans program, shared a metastudy that showed parents, on average, argue with their children six times a day. That works out to roughly over 2,100 arguments a year!
Even as a stepparent, no matter if your parenting style is strict or permissive, how do you deal with conflicts like that with your stepchildren?
According to Debbie Godfrey, a parenting educator and one of the trainers on Mindvalley’s Little Humans, it’s a matter of taking the time to listen and understand. She emphasizes the importance of paying attention to their needs and reminding yourself of the long-term vision of your parental role.
And while she’s talking specifically about a parent-child connection, her advice can also be applicable to your connection with others in the family.
5. Discover your own parenting style
There are a number of parenting methods out there, from parallel parenting to helicoptering. Certain ones work for some people, while others choose a different approach. But the most important thing to remember is that it comes down to who your child is and how to best raise them.
Millennial entrepreneurs Preston Smiles and Alexi Panos take on a more conscious parenting approach. They’re raising their children without forcing them to meet their expectations, and that allows their children to show them who they really are inside.
This takes some work, of course. As Preston explains in the Little Humans program, “setting [the children] up for the future is being willing to be the pioneers, the ones that step out on the ledge, on the skinny branches, and put ourselves out there and hold space and be seen in it.”
Love Knows No Bounds
Here’s the thing about stepparenting that those who aren’t stepparents don’t fully comprehend: you found the love of your life, who comes with a child (or more) AND an ex. As Christina Nelson from the Radical Stepmoms Podcast posted on her Instagram: “Sure, it’s a package deal, but it’s also like wanting a koala and getting the whole zoo—it’s a lot.”
While it can be overwhelming at times, stepparenting is a role that can also be deeply fulfilling. After all, everything happens for a reason—and you’re here, as a stepparent, for a reason.
If you need help, advice, or guidance on how to be better at your role, Mindvalley’s got your back. The Little Humans program is filled with a panel of experts to teach you everything from creating play spaces to breaking unhealthy food habits to edupreneurship to disciplining without the drama.
You see, stepparents are made, not born. So if you feel like you’re struggling with stepparenting, know that you’re not alone. There’s a whole community of stepparents out there, even at Mindvalley, who can resonate with your efforts.
And while the Little Humans program is only available for Members, you can be a part of the Mindvalley community when you sign up for a free account. Additionally, it’ll also give you access to sample various quest lessons (like Dr. Shefali Tsabary’s Conscious Parenting Mastery Quest).
“Stepparents are awesome,” as the saying goes, “because their love is a choice.” Always, always, always remember that.