More threads by David Baxter PhD

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
Stepfamily Problems
With the high incidence of divorce and changing patterns of families in the United States, there are increasing numbers of stepfamilies. New stepfamilies face many challenges. As with any achievement, developing good stepfamily relationships requires a lot of effort. Stepfamily members have each experienced losses and face complicated adjustments to the new family situation.

When a stepfamily is formed, the members have no shared family histories or shared ways of doing things, and they may have very different beliefs. In addition, a child may feel torn between the parent they live with most (more) of the time and their other parent who they visit (e.g. lives somewhere else). Also, newly married couples may not have had much time together to adjust to their new relationship.

The members of the new blended family need to build strong bonds among themselves through:

o acknowledging and mourning their losses
o developing new skills in making decisions as a family
o fostering and strengthening new relationships between: parents, stepparent and stepchild, and stepsiblings
o supporting one another; and
o maintaining and nurturing original parent-child relationships

While facing these issues may be difficult, most stepfamilies do work out their problems. Stepfamilies often use grandparents (or other family), clergy, support groups, and other community-based programs to help with the adjustments.

Parents should consider a professional evaluation for their child when they exhibit strong feelings of being:

o alone dealing with the losses
o torn between two parents or two households
o excluded
o isolated by feelings of guilt and anger
o unsure about what is right
o very uncomfortable with any member of the original family or stepfamily

In addition, if parents observe that the following signs are lasting or persistent, then they should consider a professional evaluation for the child/family:

o child vents/directs anger upon a particular family member or openly resents a stepparent or parent
o one of the parents suffers from great stress and is unable to help with the child's increased need
o a stepparent or parent openly favors one of the children
o discipline of a child is only left to the parent rather than involving both the stepparent and parent; or
o members of the family derive no enjoyment from usual pleasurable activities (i.e. learning, going to school, working, playing or being with friends and family)

Most stepfamilies, when given the necessary time to work on developing their own traditions and to form new relationships, can provide emotionally rich and lasting relationships for the adults, and help the children develop the self-esteem and strength to enjoy the challenges of life.


Unfortunately 2 of my boyfriend's 3 daughters exhibit many of those behaviors.

Their mother (who I, along with others I know in the psychiatric field, believe has borderline personality disorder) has pretty much turned them against me. We have been to court several times. She has come on my property after being told legally, by a certified letter, not to come there. She had pushed me and pushed me until one night I called and left a few nasty messages on her answering machine (I shouldn't have, but a person can only take so much).

At any rate, I'm sure it's been difficult for the children. That woman calls me all kinds of names and is just a very nasty person. She constantly tries to pick fights with my boyfriend, calls and leaves nasty messages. It's really a shame what those girls have witnessed.

To be honest, there are times I avoid them (the girls). They often exhibit behavior that is consistent with their mother's behaviors. They are very manipulative, and sometimes just not much fun to be around. I'm sure this is going to be an ongoing thing with them because I don't think their mother has sought out counseling for them. The one sees a school counselor, but I don't think they spend a lot of time together, and to be honest, the one that sees the counselor (youngest, age 8) seems to me to have gotten worse.

I really have no say in the matter, and neither does my boyfriend. If he tries to bring anything up to her she blames everything on him and even me. She's a screamer and she definitely has that uncanny ability to get under my skin.

I don't know if anyone would have any suggestions. We've tried talking to them. The 11 year old has actually said (to her sisters) that she hates me. We all had a talk after that, she kind of retracted her statement, but what led up to her saying that was that two nights before he picked them up for their weekend visit they had called to see if they could stay with him (their mother works in a bar), we had a christmas party to go to and he said that he couldn't (the only time ever that he said no), so their mother, after his daughter relayed the message said something to the effect that "everything's always more imprortant than you girls"...
I mean really, who does she think she's hurting?

So, anyways that some of the experiences I've had with being in a "step-family" (not officially because we aren't married, but we live together).
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