Q & A: Stepfamily Specific Problems



How can I tell if the problems we are having are a product of stepfamily dynamics or something else?


Stepfamily dynamics tend to produce predictable difficulties in stepfamilies. Many of these difficulties are simply not seen in a biological family. Others are seen much less frequently in a biological family. However, stepfamilies can also have problems that have little or nothing to do with stepfamily dynamics.

Following is a sample of problems that are likely to appear in a stepfamily, but not in a biological family. 


  • Conflict with a prior spouse (usually "his" prior spouse)

  • Conflict regarding the discipline of each other's kids

  • The biological parent acts like a "mama bear" when the stepparent tries to discipline her kids

  • Kids are disrespectful /disobedient/impolite towards the stepparent

  • Stepsibling conflict


  • Unclear about your role and what you have to do to be successful in it

  • Unsettled issues regarding names, titles, etc. (e.g., how to address the stepparent)

  • Differences of opinions regarding who does/doesn't belong in the family

  • It seems like two different families are living in the same house

  • Couple appears to have few or no problems when the kids are not around


  • Prior spouse frequently disrupts your schedule and plans for your stepfamily--often at the last minute

  • "Disneyland" parenting -- the absence of a viable structure and workable rules for part-time kids

  • Recurrent confusion and moodiness at the start and end of each "visit"

Overwhelming Feelings:

  • Feeling like an "outsider"

  • Feeling unacknowledged and unappreciated for all the things you do for your stepchildren

  • Feeling jealous of your partner's child(ren)

  • Feeling responsible for kids over whom you have no authority

  • Feeling caught in the middle between your kids and your new partner

  • Feeling your partner is profoundly unfair towards your kids

  • Feeling that you are failing again--so it must be your fault

The more concerns such as these are present in your stepfamily, the more helpful a course such as Building Stepfamilies That Work is likely to be for you and your stepfamily.

I hope that helps.



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Stepfamily Foundation of Alberta