Do You Know What You’re Doing in Your Stepfamily?

by Claudette Chenevert

step-family.pngSo often, I hear couples that are step parents tell me “we’re no different than any other family.  We never call ourselves a stepfamily.” I think it’s sad that people don’t acknowledge that there are differences between a nuclear (or a traditional family) and a stepfamily and this is why:

  1. The stepfamily came to be because the previous relationship didn’t work, broke up or someone died and when that parent remarried, he or she created a stepfamily. Let me clarify what the word “STEP” actually means. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word “step” comes from the Teutonic (High German) word Stéop- a prefix to identify a relationship formed though the remarriage of a widowed parent.  Stéop also means “to bereave”, meaning the child is left parentless. Of course, stepfamilies today are mostly formed due to a single parent or a divorced  parent remarrying but the concept is still the same.  This means that the stepparent comes in to care for a “grieving” child.  There is no mention anywhere of being evil except in our fairytales.

  2. There is no honeymoon period for the couple, meaning the instant family has little to no time for adjustments.  That alone is challenging because anytime two people come together, it always takes time to understand how everyone conducts themselves in their space.  It’s a learning process that takes time, something stepfamilies don’t have.

  3. Stepfamilies in of themselves are not evil or bad, but simply different ( In fact, there are studies that show that in some circumstances, being in a stepfamily can actually improve the quality of life of the children. They get to experience a two parent home, giving them a sense of security and the children get to see positive role models of families that work.

  4. Children see early on that being in a stepfamily is different than being in a traditional family for the simple fact they often go to two different homes every other weekend, they have more grandparents than some of their friends and when the stepparent comes to pick them up, they may not be calling them “mom” or ‘dad”.  It can sometimes be awkward for the children when there are more than two parents coming to Parent/Teacher meetings.

  5. When stepfamilies don’t acknowledge themselves as such, they are in essence telling that child that the other parent is either nonexistent or irrelevant to some extent.  For some children, they might feel like they are not being loyal to that other parent, regardless if they see them or not. This is an issue that doesn’t exist in a traditional family.

So what can you do if you're a step parent?

  1. Embrace your differences rather than pretend you are not a stepfamily ( ). It will make it easier down the road, when the time comes for those children to have a family of their own, and maybe wanting to include every parent in their new family life.

  2. Have open conversations about the challenges you face as a stepfamily. We all face conflict in life. It’s how you deal with it that will create more peace and harmony in your life. When you share your challenges with others, you realize that you are not alone.

  3. Give yourself time to come together, to get to know one another and enjoy each other’s company.  Creating a new family takes time, dedication and commitment.

What you don’t know could actually hurt you and your family.

When I first became a stepmom, I felt a little weird to tell you the truth. I didn’t know why really. I loved the man I had met along with his two daughters. I had a son of my own and was doing a good job raising him, so why would being a stepmom be so different?  Well there were several reasons why and not understanding those reasons when my husband and I first came together nearly cost us our marriage.


  1. I needed to accept and acknowledge that I wasn’t the first “wife” in my husband’s life, that he had a past which created his two daughters.

  2. His ex-wife would always be a part of “this family” whether I liked it or not.  He may have divorced her but she was and will forever be the mother of his girls.

  3. We all have our view of what a family should look like and how it functions. It doesn’t mean my way is better than anyone else, so I had to learn to let go of some of my expectations.

  4. As a couple, we needed to work extra hard at finding time alone so that we could build a solid foundation for our marriage. Not spending time together only increased the gap between him and his girls and my son and I.

  5. Focusing too much on what others (meaning his ex-wife) thought of my skills as a mother created more conflict than was necessary.  There were times, I’m sure, I fabricated a few stories out of fear of not being good enough.

  6. Life is full of phases and when you understand what phase you are in, it really helps to navigate and keep your head above water until the things calm down.

  7. Asking for help is actually a sign of strength and not weakness.  That is the one lesson that I personally had to learn and put into practice.  Putting aside my ego of being able to do everything on my own was the worst strategy I could use in this relationship.  Showing my vulnerable side actually made me more approachable to my family.


If you are struggling in your stepfamily relationship and are looking for help in creating more happiness and harmony, check out my new small group coaching program called "Stepfamilies: From Conflict to Harmony in 90 days."

We will address that will address the issues most stepfamilies face. If you are:

  • Tired of walking on eggshells for fear of having another fight
  • Feeling like it’s time to do something different with your relationship before it’s too late 
  • Tried many things but are still struggling to find happiness in your home 
  • Curious to know what really makes stepfamilies different and what you can do to feel more like a family 
  • Asking yourself if this relationship is worth it still 
  • Feel like you’re walking around in circle

Then my new small group training is for you! Click here, and learn more about "Stepfamilies: From Conflict to Harmony in 90 days."


If you have an opinion, thought, or would like to leave a comment, please let us know in the comments section below.

Claudette Chenevert

claudette.JPGClaudette works with stepfamilies in understanding and transitioning into their new roles. She provides tools and skills as well as expert support in dealing with family roles, house rules, visitation and dealing with ex-spouses. Her goal is to help stepfamilies transition from chaos to harmony, one step at a time.

Learn more about Claudette at

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