How do I Prepare to be a Step-Parent?

wiseGEEK Writer

When you plan to marry a fiancé with children you should not just prepare to be a husband or wife, but also prepare to be a step-parent. If you haven’t parented before it may be time to consider how to take on this big task, and even if you are a parent, being a step-parent can bring disputes between your spouse and yourself about “how to parent” into sharp relief. Another consideration is the children that you will be assuming some responsibility over. Some may welcome your presence, but others may resent your intrusion, through no fault of your own.

Step-parents need to develop plans for discipline when a child acts out.
Step-parents need to develop plans for discipline when a child acts out.

Most experts recommend that you take your time before getting married to really spend some time with your soon to be step-children. If disputes are present, it’s a good idea to get some family counseling before the marriage takes place to help determine your place in the family. There is strong evidence that a step-parent who comes into a family quickly, and establishes him or herself as a harsh disciplinarian, is probably going to be unsuccessful in building happy relationships with stepchildren. Many believe that disciplinary steps should be taken mostly by the biological parent, especially at the beginning of a relationship with stepchildren, and that you should prepare to be a step-parent by planning out a disciplinary strategy with your new spouse prior to the marriage, where you learn to follow instead of lead.

Step-parenting can cause issues between partners in the new marriage in some cases.
Step-parenting can cause issues between partners in the new marriage in some cases.

If you are completely new to parenting, you can also prepare to be a step-parent by taking some parenting classes. It’s hard to simply jump into a relationship with children, especially if you don’t know much about how kids work. Reading parenting books, and there are many geared especially toward step-parenting, and learning about the development of children is also a good place to start. It’s a great idea to spend lots of time with kids, getting to know them, since no book will give you inside information on the individuals you are going to parent. Listening to the parent who has been with these children from the onset of their lives is equally valuable. She or he can give you information about each child: their needs, desires, problems, interests, and strengths. Having a little information can help you better relate to your fiancé’s family as you prepare to be a step-parent.

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When possible, it’s also important to get to know your step-children’s other parent, since you will now be sharing parenting responsibilities with him or her. It’s furthermore valuable to never denigrate or criticize this parent to your new stepchildren. They owe their allegiance first to their biological parents, and it’s smart to prepare to be a step-parent by understanding you are not coming in to take over the job of the primary parents. You’re there as help and assistance, gradually assuming importance in these children’s lives. Children may fear that loving you expresses disloyalty to their biological father or mother. By showing your respect for that person and honoring a child’s love of that person, you don’t stand in their way and are more likely to be respected for your own contributions to the family.

As you prepare to be a step-parent, consider starting early. Include children in outings, make them a part of the wedding, and keep a friendly poise. Learn about kids and parenting, but accept your future spouse’s superior information about his/her children. Plan out your role and be prepared for resistance from stepkids. Let them discuss their conflicted feelings and give them time to adjust to your becoming part of their lives. A step-parent, though possibly taking a role that is somewhat inferior to the primary parent can nevertheless be an incredible asset in a child’s life. Suitable preparation gives you an opportunity to become that asset and a welcome part, if not initially, then eventually, of your new family.

Some children may welcome you as a step-parent, but others may resent your intrusion.
Some children may welcome you as a step-parent, but others may resent your intrusion.

Discussion Comments


I am engaged to a man who has a son as well. Our boys are 4 years apart but we are both having difficulties with blended families. My fiancé doesn't reach out to my son like I want but gets upset that I don't put his son first and I don't know what to do in this relationship because I love him but I'm stuck.


I am a divorced mother of 3 children. I figured I would probably be single forever because I didn’t think any man would want to take on me and 3 kids. However, I met a wonderful man. He has no children of his own and really knew nothing about becoming a step parent, or any parenting, for that matter.

He is wonderful with my kids. He is a great step-dad and my kids are crazy about him, as well.

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