Maria Littleton, Vitality of the Mind, Step Parenting


Maria Littleton, Vitality of the Mind, Step Parenting

The hardest part about step-parenting is the fact that there is no clear cut guide how to do it. Parenting is hard enough as it is. Step-parenting adds a whole new level to the dynamics. In this article I will discuss 5 tips to help a step-parent maneuver with compassion through the thicket of step-parenting. These tips come from a collaboration of research, informal and formal observations, stories shared with me, and some of my own personal experience.

I am a mother and a step-parent. I became a step-parent before I became a mother. Let me clarify, I was a single, childless woman who married a divorced man with children from his previous marriage before my husband and I had our son. This is a common occurrence nowadays. Whether it’s a divorced woman with children from a previous marriage getting into a relationship with a single man with no children. Or a divorced man with children from a previous marriage getting together with a divorced woman with children from a previous marriage. I can keep listing the different combinations, but you get the point. Step-parenting is a common occurrence; however maneuvering through the experience seems to have varying support.

If someone were to research stepparenting on the web one might find the first five top links would direct the reader to articles that talk mostly about boundaries, relationship building, and validating or normalizing the challenging experience of stepparenting. Recent academic research published identified three influences that impact modern blended families: honoring the past, marking the present, and investing in the future (Pylyser, Buysse, & Loeys, 2017). But what does all this mean and how do you maneuver through this information?

Before I continue further, I want to acknowledge that this insight that I share with you also includes taking into consideration situations where the ex-party (wife or husband or partner) can be on extremes in both directions: ideal co-parent or nightmare co-parent. Believe me when I share with you that I’ve heard, seen and or experienced it all. For example, the ex-husband who doesn’t answer any calls and refuses to help with child support. Or the ex-wife who incessantly calls your husband and tells him whatever about the kids to get his attention just to talk to him. Or the ex who tells the kids stories to alienate the children from your partner and you because they are jealous. With further ado, here are the five tips to help you, the step-parent, maneuver through the challenges of step-parenting.


  1. Set up a “You” space. Setting up a “you” space is so important. It is challenging, no doubt, to be a stepparent. Which is why it is critical that you have a sacred space for yourself. This includes having someone you can talk to about your experiences. Your partner doesn’t count because it is not a free forum. That forum comes with influences simply based on the relationship. The “you” space should be somewhere safe you can explore your raw and uninhibited feelings about your step-parenting experience. This is needed because when you are not able to express your feelings and you bottle it up instead you place yourself and your family at risk for exposure to these raw feelings in indirect ways.
  2. Role-up. Exploring, creating and establishing your role is an important part of creating boundaries. Exploring what it important to you and developing the fundamentals of your role in your family dynamics will help you to stick to your boundaries and not get suck up in the drama.
  3. Co-parent. It’s always more beneficial to work together, but sometimes our ideals are not possible. So, sometimes co-parenting is having a general idea that both households practice kindness, structure, and support for the success of the children. No household looks exactly the same, and contrast is okay. Children in blended families have a variety of opportunities simply because of their situation. Two homes equals more ground to learn from.
  4. Develop the relationships. This is one of my favorite of the tips. This fundamental step supports you having a unique relationship with your stepchild. This is simply just recommending to spend time nurturing a relationship with your stepkids. Like other relationships you invest in, this too is an investment.
  5. Honor your relationships. Honoring your marriage is just as important as honoring your unique and special relationship with your stepchildren. Nurturing your marriage will also nurture your relationship with your stepchildren. It is creating the dynamics of a healthy and loving home.


Step-parenting is no easy task. There is always something to consider and the dynamics are always changing. But you don’t have to get sucked up in the tornado when the storm chooses to pass through your house. Using these tips will help you create a foundation you can stand on, even when the tornado touches down, these elements provide a structure for you to rebuild upon.

*Disclaimer – These tips are not interventions, nor do they propose to treat/cure anyone or any situation, but are for informational purposes.



Pylyser, C., Buysse, A., & Loeys, T. (2017) Stepfamilies doing family: A meta-ethnography. Viewed: on September 10, 2018.

Duncan, L.G., Coatsworth, J.D. & Greenberg, M.T. Clin Child Fam Psychol Rev (2009) 12: 255

A model of mindful parenting: implications for parent-child relationships and prevention research.

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