Starting a Step Family – Lowered Expectations Gives More Room for Joy


I met my husband while I was working as a waitress at a local bar. That was almost a year ago. The third time he came to the bar, we began talking about co-parenting. Each of us had shared custody with our children’s other parent, and I was having difficulty with this arrangement. My now husband Kevin, has older children than I and has more experience with the co-parenting relationship. His advice made me a better parent.

That was our first deep connection.

Our first date went very well and soon after we decided that it was time to meet the kids. My son and his two children had so much fun together that first meeting. As they saw each other more and more their connection grew deeper.

At the same time that my son was bonding with Kevin’s kids, so was I. They were always excited to see me and I loved having lots of new activities to do with them. When we had all three kids I was very involved, keeping harmony and helping them talk out any differences. In many ways Kevin’s and my bond was built around our shared parenting experiences and the family dynamic that was developing.

Problems Began Early On In The Family Merge

Honestly, there were problems even at this early stage. The boys had some issues. Mostly around sharing, with some hitting, and pushing. Normal kid things really. They were very responsive to my talk it out method, and conflicts usually ended with them playing respectfully again. So I felt optimistic and excited about the forming family dynamics.

It was quick, no doubt, but Kevin and I got married seven months after that first date. We loved each other and we loved all the kids. The kids were super excited and so was I.

Then reality set in. Step families are hard. You have all the normal set of family stresses plus a whole new set of step family specific conflict, and confusions. The idealistic view I had of all our relationships were fading. Both Kevin and I started hearing the wonderful I hate you’s, no’s, and other such parenting joys from all the children. Differing parenting styles began presenting disputes between us, and the sibling conflict became constant.

Lowered and Realistic Expectations Have Been a Wonderful Help to Me

After a period of feeling especially downtrodden about the apparent hopelessness of our happy step family ever being happy, a discussion with my husband helped put things into perspective. Lowered and realistic expectations have been a wonderful help to me. I have also accepted the growth process that comes with bringing two families together, so I can better put issues into perspective.

One of my big concerns was the relationship between my husband and my son. My son is three years old, and can be a handful, to say it lightly. I was feeling like my husband was less involved with him than previously and it was very upsetting to me. After a number of fights around this issue I came to realize that he was feeling like he had no authority, so his fall back reaction was to remove himself from the situation.

Include Both Parents When Setting Expectations

Authority to a stepparent can be given. The parent can hand the stepparent borrowed authority, and in our case this was important to preserve the relationship between my husband and my son. My first step was to include my husband in my language when I was explaining rules. I made sure to say things like “We expect…” or “We have decided…”. I also made sure my husband was with me whenever possible to share these new rules. This simple change was enough to start the process of making both my son and husband feel like the natural authority relationship between child and adult was present.

I am still the main disciplinarian to my son, just as my husband is for his children, but the relationships are developing in a healthy way, and we all feel good about it, most of the time. It may happen that we never have full authority of each others kids, and that’s okay.

Another concern I felt was the separation of his family and mine that would happen through differences in our expectations. Whether it was over food choices, behaviour expectations, bedtime routines, or any number of small things that would happen during our day, it made me constantly feel like we were keeping the families separate instead of integrating them together.

Change Is Organic And Beautiful

With the help of communication and compromise, our routines and expectations are combining and melding to form our new family dynamics. I have come to see that this is not and should not be a instantaneous change and the natural evolution of things is beautiful in how it happens all on it’s own. Everyone’s needs are being worked around. New family dynamics are creating a shared set of rules and expectations that works for everyone.

My last major concern was that the sibling disharmony was becoming overwhelming. Coming from a family situation that was just me and my son, the reoccurring conflict over what seemed like trivial matters, was a bit of a shocker for me, and my husband wasn’t dealing well with the added stress either. Talking out conflict had digressed to my son covering his ears and my step son repeating “it’s wasn’t my fault” even when I was agreeing it wasn’t his fault. I was also hearing comments like, “Break up with dad so I don’t have to live with your son”. My parenting toolbox seemed empty to help their relationship along.

It’s Unrealistic To Think There Will Be No Conflicts

But siblings will fight, step siblings included. To expect their relationship to be conflict free would be unrealistic, two boys 3 and 6 can’t be expected to play well all the time whether they are brothers, step brothers, or just friends. I focus on the wonderful moments when they are reading together, sharing hugs and kisses, or playing long games together with their toys. I deal with the conflict the best I can, listen to their frustrations with a open heart, and encourage positive interactions through fun activities we can all do together.

Being a stepparent is a special relationship, different than a parent. Like all relationships, it has it’s own benefits and disadvantages. I have come to appreciate being a step parent to two wonderful children, where I get to enjoy them, and teach them, but let much of the discipline fall to my husband. In some ways this is nicer than being the parent, the love, not the discipline, is the great part of being a parent.

So the struggle continues, but so do the joys. I love my husband, my boy, and his children. I even appreciate the co-parenting partners we have (at least most of the time). Expanding my family has been one of the biggest challenges and joys in my life and I send my best wishes to all who are also following this journey. Hard times are expected, but so are the endless rewards that a big family brings.

Antonia is a science enthusiast with a keen interest in health nutrition. She has been intensely researching various dieting routines for several years now, weighing their highs and their lows, to bring readers the most interesting info and news in the field. While she is very excited about a high raw diet, she likes to keep a fair and balanced approach towards non-raw methods of food preparation as well. Read more by Antonia here, and SUBSCRIBE!

A science enthusiast with a keen interest in health nutrition, Antonia has been intensely researching various dieting routines for several years now, weighing their highs and their lows, to bring readers the most interesting info and news in the field. While she is very excited about a high raw diet, she likes to keep a fair and balanced approach towards non-raw methods of food preparation as well. (