You’re in love, you’re getting married. Life looks good and beautiful. There’s only one minor hitch—besides becoming a new husband or wife you’re going to become an instant Dad or Mom.

The job becomes even more difficult if this is your first foray into parenthood. If you’ve never had the responsibility of being a mom or dad, the prospect of becoming one as a step-parent can be overwhelming.

Having a baby, a little bundle who will grow along with us as we perfect our new parenting skills is one thing. But becoming an instant parent of an older child brings not only our never used parenting skills into question but our status as a member of the family. The child was there first and we can be made to feel like an interloper in an established family unit.

When your repeated efforts to make them feel comfortable with you as a permanent household member are rebuffed, you can feel like an unwanted visitor in your own home.

It helps to remember that it is probably not you personally whom the child doesn’t like, it’s the idea of who and what you represent. You are the step-parent, the one the child feels has taken their real Mommy’s or Daddy’s place. No matter how wonderful, understanding, and kind you may be, and no matter how much they may want to warm up to you, children will feel conflicted about loving a step-parent. It’s a loyalty thing, a guilt reaction. Their reasoning is that, “I can’t love this new person. That mean I’m forgetting my real mom or dad.”

The best way to create a happy family is to be completely honest with the child. Tell him or her that you wouldn’t ever want to take the place of their mom or dad but that you really want be part of the family as a respected step-parent. Emphasize the love you have for the parent you married and your desire that you all live in happiness together.

Don’t be the disciplinarian. That’s not your job. You can have an input into what is appropriate behavior and what is not, but if you punish a child it will only cause resentment.

No matter how tempting, never, ever speak badly of the parent who is not there. No one, especially a child, needs to hear negative words about someone they miss. Childhood loyalty is strong.

If possible, be on good terms with the other parent. You will be seeing him or her at school and sports functions possibly for years to come.

Don’t try to ‘take over’ responsibilities such as parent-teacher conferences, doctors’ visits, or any event that is usually done by the child’s mom or dad. Unless you are specifically asked to be a stand-in for them, they will see your action as interference and as if you’re trying to take their rightful place.

If you need to see a therapist to help you adjust to step-parenthood, do so. Many times, just a few sessions with a professional trained in family dynamics is all you may need to help you and the child through this new phase of life.

Remember that it will take time and effort to establish a good relationship but that, for harmony sake and a happy family, it is worth it all.


  • Kristen Houghton

    Kristen Houghton

    Thrive Global

    Kristen Houghton is the award-winning author of the popular series, A Cate Harlow Private Investigation.  She is also the author of nine novels, two non-fiction books, a collection of short stories, a book of essays, and a children’s novella. Her horror novel, Welcome to Hell, was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award. Houghton has covered politics, news, and lifestyle issues as a contributor to the Huffington Post. Her writing portfolio includes Criminal Element Magazine, a division of Macmillan Publishing, Today, senior fiction editor at Bella Magazine, interviews and reviews for HBO documentaries, OWN, The Oprah Winfrey Network, and The Style Channel. Before becoming a full-time  author, Kristen, who holds an Ed.D. in linguistics, taught World Languages on the high school and university levels. Along with her husband, educator Alan William Hopper, she is a philanthropist for Project Literacy and Shelters With Heart, safe havens for victims of domestic abuse and their pets . mailto:  [email protected]