How to Find Co-Parenting Success in Your Stepfamily

I’m leading a workshop at our Stepmom Retreat this week-end on Parenting Between Two Homes. I found some great information in Tammy Daughtry’s book, Co-Parenting Works, on how to identify your co-parenting style and find success as you co-parent.

Daughtry outlines three models of co-parenting that come from Dr. Hetherington’s book, For Better or For Worse: Divorce Reconsidered. Try to determine where you fit and where you’d like to fit:

     “Conflicted co-parenting is when former spouses make nasty comments about each other, seek to undermine each other’s relationship with the child, and fight openly in front of the child. Aside from being damaging, constant put-downs of the other parent may backfire, producing resentment and a spirited defense of the criticized parent by the child. One ten-year-old said, “When she goes into her usual routine about what a loser my dad is, I just hate her. I can’t stand it. Last night I yelled at her to stop and threw my dinner plate on the floor and locked myself in my room. She tried to make up but started with, ‘But you know your dad’s really irresponsible.’ I cried all night.”

     Cooperative co-parenting arrangements are where parents put the well-being of their children first and it is often difficult to attain. These parents talk over the children’s problems, coordinate household rules and child-rearing practices, and adapt their schedule to fit their children’s needs. Two decades later, the couples who cooperated were glad they did.

     Parallel co-parenting is a mixed blessing. It is the most common form of co-parenting (according to Dr. Hetherington) and is the easiest to implement. These parents simply ignore each other. They do not interfere with each other’s parenting or make any coordinated parenting strategies. They usually send communication through their children. The lack of parenting communication opens the door to problems and as children get older monitoring can be difficult. Children can also manipulate or play one parent against the other since they are the messenger.”

It’s not hard to recognize that the healthiest way to co-parent would be the cooperative arrangement, although it’s also the hardest. Perhaps that isn’t a possibility with your co-parent and you must resort to parallel co-parenting. But please, don’t stoop to conflicted co-parenting. Your children and stepchildren deserve better than that.

Time often heals raw emotions that follow divorce. Don’t stop seeking a cooperative relationship with your ex or your partner’s ex. It might not be possible today but it might be possible next year. Someone must take the road of humility and seek to make wrongs right. Will that be you? Your children and stepchildren will thank you for it.

What style of co-parenting do you engage in? Can you give tips on how you find success in co-parenting?

To hear the complete workshop on Parenting Between Two Homes and other workshops such as, “Successful Stepping: Is This Normal?” “The Ex-Wife-in-Law,” and more, join us this week-end at our Stepmom Retreat in Belleville, IL. It’s a great way to connect with other stepmoms walking a similar path and find hope, help, and healing. I’d love to meet you there! Details here:

Pic David Castillo Dominici



Quit Striving to be a Perfect Stepparent

I talk to stepparents all the time who blame themselves for the poor relationship with their stepchild. “If only I had more patience with my stepchild, if only I had more time to spend with him, if only, if only, if only.”

The truth is, it probably wouldn’t matter if you were the perfect stepparent. You might still have a disjointed relationship with your stepchild.

blogWhy? Because there are so many other variables that help determine what kind of relationship you and your stepchild will have.

That doesn’t take you off the hook. It’s important that you seek to have a loving, meaningful relationship with your stepchild and continue to work toward that. But it also helps to recognize that you don’t control the whole picture.

Your stepchild has other people and circumstances that influence his or her relationship with you. Here are the most common ones:

  • If the biological parent in the other home is discouraging a relationship with you as the stepparent, that affects your relationship.
  • If your spouse isn’t supporting you in your stepparenting role, that affects your relationship.
  • If your spouse is a passive parent and you step into the parental role too soon, that impacts your relationship.
  • If your stepchild has lost their biological parent to death, there are likely ghosts in the closet that affect your relationship.
  • If the biological parent in the other home is dysfunctional, your stepchild feels pulled toward that parent, which naturally affects your relationship.
  • If you married while your stepchildren were in their teen years, that can negatively affect your relationship because they’re more interested in seeking independence than bonding with new family members.
  • If you had a short dating period with your partner, it’s likely your stepchildren didn’t have enough time to process their feelings of loss, which will impact your relationship with them.

After we had been married several years, my two girls had bonded well with my husband and began calling him Dad. I was jealous of the relationship he had with his stepdaughters because it looked different than the relationship I had with my stepchildren. I was convinced I was doing something wrong. I didn’t realize the variables affecting my stepchildren—like a mom who discouraged a relationship with me—that kept them at a distance.

We try to do everything right as a stepparent. We think that will create the relationship we’re seeking.  The reality is, we aren’t responsible for and cannot change many of the variables that influence the relationship with our stepchild.

Time is on your side. Keep pressing on as a not-so-perfect stepparent and you’ll see rewards down the road.

Have you seen rewards on your step-journey? Share them with us!


Pic by Stuart Miles



Surefire Ways to Beat Summer Burnout as a Stepparent

As the summer begins to wind down for many of us, the days are HOT and long. Stepchildren around every day can make for additional challenges.

Coping with Summer Burnout as a Stepparent

I’ve heard from several stepmoms lately who are barely treading water. Even with the best  plans for a fruitful and fun-filled summer, bickering kids with bad attitudes and not enough to do, create challenging days.

If you’re balancing work and a stepparenting role, it’s especially hard to keep your perspective on what to do next and how to stay sane! I’ve had one of those weeks lately!

Here are a few thoughts on how to make it through the rest of the summer without strangling your stepchild (just kidding, I know you’re not really planning that).

1. Check your mindset about the role you play.

Are you trying to play Super Stepmom while the kids are around for the summer, serving homemade meals every night and running them to every activity they request? Stop! There’s enough to do without heaping unrealistic expectations on yourself. Be kind to yourself and how much you’re willing to do.

2. Share your feelings with someone.

Be selective with who you talk to, but airing your feelings always helps. You don’t have to present every gory detail of drama; stick to how the situation makes you feel. Let your friend know you’re not looking for an answer or their advice–you just need to talk about what’s happening. Talking through our feelings also helps us identify our role and how we might be contributing to the situation.

3. Be careful you’re not neglecting your own needs.

If your stepchildren have spent the summer with you, or even a few weeks, reward yourself. It’s always an adjustment to have people in your home who don’t live there and it’s taxing to have stepchildren move in for the summer. Make time for a pedicure, movie with a friend, or date night with your spouse. Bitterness sets in when we constantly nurture others but neglect our own needs.

4. Plan something fun together.

What do you enjoy doing? What activities could the family do together that you would enjoy also? I took our son to the movie recently but negotiated with him on one that I wanted to see this time (that was appropriate for him also). We creates selfish hearts when we always allow our kids to dictate the activity without considering our wishes also.

5. Remember, “this too will pass.”

School will be back in session soon and your long summer days will be over. I’m looking forward to a break from our 100 degree temperatures every day and remind myself that thankfully, this season will soon pass.

Do you have other suggestions for summer burnout as a stepparent? I’d love to hear them.

Pic by digitalart



Dear Stepparent: Let Go of the Guilt

I often wonder why we so easily assume feelings of guilt surrounding our stepparenting journey. Why can’t we accept we’re imperfect? Why do we insist we must do everything right or our stepchildren will never love or accept us?

Perhaps society dictates that to us, particularly as stepmoms. But it isn’t true. And guilt is a powerful emotion. As long as you choose to feel guilty for the things you’ve done wrong, God cannot use the things you’ve done right for His glory.

So today and every day forward, I want you to focus on letting go of the guilt for:

  • Choosing to take a break from stepparenting when you know you need one.
  • Supporting your husband in disciplining his children.
  • Embracing a career that satisfies you.
  • Spending time with a girlfriend to nourish your soul.
  • Loving your stepchild in spite of his/her flaws.
  • Choosing to stay out of the relationship between your spouse and his ex.
  • Encouraging your spouse to spend time his biological child…alone.
  • Not loving your stepchild the same way you love your own child.
  • Making a less-than-perfect choice…again.
  • Putting your needs ahead of your stepchildren’s needs at times.
  • Doing fun things with your children, even if your stepchildren aren’t with you.
  • Planning a date night.
  • Spending time with your biological child…alone.
  • Choosing to embrace your new family, despite what others think.

Where do you struggle with guilt and how have you overcome it? Will you share it with us?

Tips for an Enjoyable Stepfamily Vacation

Throwing family members together for an extended period of time can wreak havoc on even the most stable family. For a fragile stepfamily, it can be a recipe for disaster.

Tips for a Peaceful Stepfamily Vacation

So if you’re headed out for an adventure with your stepfamily, take along a few tools to keep peace. Here are some tips to consider:

1.  Ask your stepchildren for help in the planning stage.

Gather ideas and brainstorm options at a family meeting to gain participation from everyone.  Kids feel included and assume a better attitude about a vacation when they get to offer their ideas. While relationships are bonding in the early years of your stepfamily, make plans for shorter trips to prevent tension-filled days as a result of too much togetherness.

2. Make the trip fun and spontaneous by breaking a few house rules.

Bring along your sense of humor and allow the kids special privileges they don’t get at home. On our first cruise, our youngest son spotted the self-serve ice cream machine the first day. For the first few days, ice cream was only allowed after noon. But by the last day of the cruise, the ice cream rule evolved to ice cream at breakfast and other times throughout the day. The kids knew it was a special treat that would change when we returned home, but they fondly recall running to the ice cream machine together as one of the highlights of the cruise.

3. Be mindful of the kids.

A stepfamily vacation isn’t the time to insist on quality moments with your partner–that can happen on a separate trip with just the two of you. For a successful stepfamily vacation, assume a mindset of creating lasting bonds and memories. Seek to make it a special time for the kids. Even if they don’t acknowledge your efforts now, they will remember the time and energy you spent on family vacations when they get older.

4. Build in down time to rest and recuperate and maintain a flexible spirit.

 Stepfamily vacations don’t always feel relaxing, especially in the early years. Make an extra effort to find activities that promote rest and leisure without a jam-filled schedule. Sit outside and enjoy the sunset or catch the fireflies on a lazy evening. Be willing to change your schedule if plans don’t go as anticipated. Memories are created as family members spend time together doing activities they enjoy, whether simple or elaborate.

5. Keep a positive attitude and expect a few bumps along the way.

Unlikely happenings occur on vacation.  On a cross-country trip several years ago, I watched in horror as a large concrete truck backed into our Suburban, smashing the driver’s window and denting in the driver’s door before coming to a halt. I remember the screaming and sheer panic I felt as I watched the truck ram our vehicle. It screeched to a halt before injuring anyone, but our vacation spirits were dampened as we recovered from the frenzy and repaired our car enough to proceed. We drove the entire week with plastic rattling from the window in an attempt to silence the wind. We laugh with our kids about the disaster of that trip now, but my husband and I had to work hard to keep the tragic beginning from ruining our trip.

Be reasonable with your expectations, particularly in the early years of your stepfamily. Stepparents lose their patience, cars break down, step-siblings argue, kids get sick. Unrealistic assumptions create a sense of failure when plans go awry.

Stepfamily vacations play an important role in creating family identity and a sense of belonging with stepchildren. As relationships bond, it’s easier to spend extended time together. Don’t give up on a peaceful vacation, even if you experience tension-filled days.  Try again next year and the year after that. The memories you’re creating with your stepfamily are meaningful, even if they’re not perfect!

What tips would you add for a peaceful stepfamily vacation?

Related Posts:

As a Stepfamily, You Can Expect Challenges

Stinkin’ Thinkin’ Creates Bitter Quitters in Stepfamilies

The Effects of Patience in Blended Families

God Uses Imperfect Stepparents

The early morning text surprised me. I don’t hear from my young adult stepson a lot but sensed he needed to talk based on what I read. I picked up the phone and engaged in a lengthy conversation with him regarding his year-long relationship with his girlfriend.

God Uses Imperfect Stepparents

It was a great time to impart words of encouragement and support for his recent decision to take a step back from the relationship. I heard his feelings of discontent and sound judgment about whether they could make it long term. I heard words of wisdom that I knew were partly due to his upbringing in our home.

I will forever be an imperfect stepparent. I could spend days relaying countless ways that I messed up with my stepchildren. My stepson, Payton, and I had a strained relationship much of the time during his adolescent years. I didn’t know how to raise a son and didn’t spend enough time “studying” Payton so I could parent him better. But God used my imperfect efforts and continues to redeem a less-than-perfect relationship.

If you’re struggling with a stepchild relationship that feels it’s on a downward spiral, don’t give up. God redeems relationships every day. We don’t have to have all the answers. But we do need to do our part in apologizing when we’re wrong and seeking to improve our stepparenting ways to foster a healthy relationship.

The stepparenting journey often includes one step forward and two steps backward, particularly in the early years. But don’t underestimate your value with your stepchildren. Stepparents who choose to stay the course, through the good times and bad, will make a difference in the lives of their stepchildren.

Do you agree? How is God using you as an imperfect stepparent?

Pic by graur codrin

Related Posts:

Learning How to Love My Stepchildren

Seeing God’s Mercy on Difficult Days

Finding Success Through the Bumps on Your Stepparenting Journey