In most cases, stepparenting is the most difficult hurdle you'll face in creating a successful stepfamily. Stepparents too often begin with expectations based on fantasy, and a title with a negative connotation.

There are no easy shortcuts to effective stepparenting. Here are some important principles to consider:


  • Stepparenting means involvement, not detachment. The children need to know that you're committed to them and interested in their lives. Even teens who claim they want to be left alone yearn for your involvement.

  • Begin by being a friend. Make it clear that you have no agenda beyond being friends. Your relationship may develop beyond this, but it must begin with friendship.

  • Let your relationship proceed at your stepchildren's pace. You can't force a child to move quickly from friendship to a more familial relationship. Trust and mutual affection grows through shared experiences.

  • Plan special times. When you share an experience with your stepchildren, you learn more about each other and build a relational history. Plan times with just you and the stepchild, doing things your stepchild enjoys.

  • Present a united front to the stepchildren. You and your spouse need to work as a team so the children
    Becoming Family
    Reprinted by permission from Becoming Family by Robert and Jeanette Lauer, copyright (c) 1999 Augsburg Fortress, Minneapolis, Minn.

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    won't be playing one of you against the other and it allows you to incorporate your individual strengths and neutralize each other's weaknesses into your parenting/stepparenting.

  • Give the gift of limits. Your children and stepchildren need to know there are boundaries - and actually want them. The limits may be of various kinds: what is unacceptable behavior or ways of talking, regular bedtimes, curfews, or money management.

  • Use clear and explicit rules to establish limits. Don't let the child be able to say, No one ever told me that. Rules must be fair, clearly stated and explained, and consistently enforced. Make sure consequences can be reasonably administered.

  • Let the children participate in making the rules. Those who participate in the decision-making process are more likely to abide by the decision. Participation doesn't mean the children should necessarily have the final say in which rules are to be observed, but the process must not be a sham either. Consider their opinions.

  • Be open about your feelings with your stepchildren. When a stepchild says, I hate you! You're not my real mother/father, it is easy to retaliate in kind. A good dose of grace is needed to calmly invite conversation leading to better understanding.

  • Use humor. Humor helps you keep your perspective. If you can still laugh about your struggles, they haven't overwhelmed you. The more fun you have together, the more stable and satisfying your relationship is likely to be.

  • Practice gratitude. Give thanks in all circumstances... (1 Thess. 5:18). It's hard to feel both grateful and hostile; both grateful and resentful; both grateful and deprived. Focus on the ways in which God is at work in your family.


Robert H. Lauer and Jeanette C. Lauer lead workshops in marriage and family life and have co-authored 10 books. Each has lived in a stepfamily. Their home is in San Diego, Calif.

Originally posted on Crosswalk.com's Live It Channel, bringing you today's best advice from Christian books.