Dear Barb – Taking on Step-Kids

Dear Barb: I have been dating my fiancé for about a year. We are planning to marry next summer. I love her very much and I am looking forward to getting married, but my problem is that she has a five-year-old daughter from a previous relationship. I like her daughter, but I’m not sure I’m ready to be a father to this girl. My fiancé and I have talked about this, but she just shrugs it off and tells me everything will work out once we’re married. What do you think? What should my role be with this child? I need some guidance!

Carl – Newcastle

Congratulations Carl on your upcoming nuptials.

You are about to enter into a stepfamily relationship. The number of stepfamilies has been increasing since the late 1970s. As a result, research has been conducted to help individuals become successful in stepfamily relationships. In your question you don’t mention whether this little girl has a biological father in her life. If she does, you must be careful not to do anything to jeopardize this relationship. You and your fiancé need to encourage and support her daughter’s relationship with her father. This may be difficult and further confuse your role in this girl’s life. The best approach is to take a step back, at least initially.

I don’t know if you are cohabitating now, but if you are then you may already have encountered some discipline issues. Experts recommend that, early in the relationship, the discipline be left to the biological parent. You should not be left completely out, as you and your fiancé can decide on discipline and consequences together, but your fiancé should be the one enforcing the rules. As a stepparent, you can offer support and encouragement, much like an uncle or other close relative. It will take time for you and your soon-to-be stepdaughter to bond and find a comfort level with each other. If you come on too strong in the early stages she may get her back up and you may never have the opportunity to develop a strong relationship.

There are things that you and your fiancé can do to help understand the dynamics of stepfamilies. Begin to expand your understanding by joining a group like the “Stepfamily Association of America.” While the SAA is no longer accepting memberships, there are resources available through their website and you may be able to locate a similar organization in your local area.

Good luck Carl. I hope this information is helpful.

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