Years ago, I married into a stepfamily My husband had full time custody of his kids and a demanding career, so guess who had the job of raising the kids! Cathy was almost 8 and WILLFUL.

Naïve and full of expectations, I looked forward to buying her sweet, feminine dresses and doing girl stuff. (I had 2 biological sons already.) I had in my mind what little girls were supposed to look like and be like – cute and feminine, sweet and obedient, as I was as a child. Little did I know!

The first time I took her shopping for an outfit was NOT FUN. Everything I liked, she hated. She liked the ugliest, most ghastly stuff…in my opinion. I made her get what I thought was an appropriate outfit. She shrugged and sulked, but complied.

Things didn’t get any better. We always disagreed on what she should look like. Finally we reached an agreement. She “agreed” that she would wear skirts and dresses three out of five days to school and the other 2 days she could wear her jeans. Fine, I thought.

Well, guess what! She cleverly got around our agreement by leaving the house dressed in her girl clothes, walking to her best friend’s house to change into her jeans in time for school. I told you she was WILLFUL.

Looking back… mistakes were made on both our parts. We were both reacting to each other in the only way we knew. Both of us wanted our way. What I overlooked and chose to ignore was WHO SHE WAS in terms of her style and values, likes and dislikes. She didn’t WANT to be super feminine. She knew what she wanted. But I wanted her to be like what I thought little girls should be.

This happens in stepfamilies because we don’t know what we’re dealing with. As stepmoms, we have to get to know and adjust to our stepkids and visa versa. As Cathy and I got to know each other, we learned what to expect and how to deal with our differences. Yeah, we had some tough times, but we hung in there.

Cathy’s happily married now to a man who’s perfect for her, and they have two neat kids. She’s still strong and determined. She still has her I do too. But I stopped telling her how to look and what to do years ago. Now we both cherish our relationship. We find time to chat on the phone and get together as often as we can.

It takes time and patience to carve out a positive relationship with a stepchild without bitter feelings from the past getting in the way. Maturation and forgiveness helps immensely.

P.S. By the way, this sort of stuff happens in regular, traditional, Mom-Pop families …not just stepfamilies.

How well do you know your stepkids? Who they are? What’s important to them? What are their strengths and weaknesses. What are they sensitive to? How does this information influence how you stepparent them?

Author's Bio: 

My husband and I have successfully raised 5 children in a stepfamily. I know from my personal and clinical experience that a strong stepcouple is the foundation and glue in a healthy stepfamily.

I have a masters degree in counseling psychology from Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon. I’ve been in private practice since 1988 specializing in counseling stepcouples and stepfamilies. I wrote a book as a remarriage manual for adults with children: Stepcoupling: Creating and Sustaining a Strong Marriage in Today’s Blended Family (Crown Publishing Group, New York, 2002).