PBS Kids GO! It's My Life
Stepfamilies: Stepmoms & Stepdads

So, it's official. This person your mom or dad has been dating is going to become your stepparent. Yikes! Even if you've all been living together for some time, he or she will officially take on a different role in your life.

Getting to know you, getting to know all about you
Do you still feel like you and your new stepparent are strangers? You both share equal responsibility to get to know each other and form a real relationship. It's important to spend time with this person without your parent. If you have siblings, you should still try to plan things one-on-one. Here are some suggestions:

  • What are your common interests? Do you both love movies? Running? Cooking? Baseball games? Plan activities around things you already share.

  • Set up a weekly outing for just the two of you. If your stepparent is new to the neighborhood, this is your chance to show him or her the lay of the land.

  • Create an ongoing project you can do together. Work as a team to create this year's Halloween costume, or volunteer for community clean-up days.

Crime and punishment
If your stepparent has suddenly started dishing out discipline, it might take you by surprise and cause resentments. Remind yourself and your parent that a stepparent shouldn't come into a household and change all the rules on his or her own, even if it makes things run smoother. Early on, you and your family should sit down and create some guidelines that everyone can follow. For instance, here's one that works for a lot of families: Your parent is the only one who can set rules about you and your siblings, while your stepparent's job is to help and support your parent to do that. Think of your mom as the sheriff who can make the laws, and your stepdad as the deputy who makes sure the laws are obeyed.

Separate but equal
If your stepparent has children of his or her own, will he or she treat them better than you? If your parent and stepparent have a new baby, will they still love you now that they have a child who "belongs" to both of them?

The truth is this: your stepparent will feel differently towards you than she will towards her own biological children. The key word here is different. Not more or less, not better or worse. Think of it from your own situation. You might love your mom and stepmom both, but not in the same way. After all, you have different shared experiences and a different relationship to each one.

Drawing boundaries
Maybe your mom is happy to let you go into her drawer and borrow a pair of earrings or a blouse-but when do that with your stepmom, she freaks out! Maybe your dad is okay with you coming in to use the bathroom when he's in the shower, but your stepdad isn't.

Everyone has personal boundaries. Remember that you and your stepparent are BOTH dealing with privacy issues. Sit down and talk about what's cool for everyone and what isn't. Maybe it will change in the future, but for now, it needs to be respected.

What's in a name?
"Stepmom"? "Mom"? "Laura"? "Hey, you"?

What should you call this new person in your life?

If your parent is insisting you call your stepparent "Mom" or "Dad," and this doesn't feel right to you, speak up. Remind everyone that a stepparent shouldn't replace a parent, so it's not appropriate to call him something he isn't. However, if you feel like you WANT to call your stepparent "Mom" or "Dad," and it's okay with everyone, then by all means do it. But here are some other options:

  • Use his or her first name, or a form of it, such as "Tommy" for "Tom," or "Teens" for "Tina."

  • Use a nickname, like "Mommy Mary," or "Poppy."

  • Come up with a special name that relates to something fun or a personal memory you share. For instance, if you and your stepmom are both crazy about Oreos, maybe the best thing for you to call her is simply "Cookie."

When you're talking to other people, it can be easier to say "my parents" than "my mom and stepdad." That's okay. In fact, it's all okay-as long as you're comfortable saying it and your stepparent is comfortable hearing it. Remember, though, that saying something like "my father's wife" or "my mom's husband" is very distancing and can cause problems down the line. It's like saying, "I have no connection to this person."

What about last names? If your mom is getting remarried, chances are she'll change her name to her husband's, which means you'll have a different last name than hers. This may feel weird, but it's a way of keeping your identity. You have your father's name because you are your father's child. If the adults in your life are uncomfortable with this, help them see that it's okay. Remember: A STEPPARENT IS NOT A REPLACEMENT PARENT. He or she is an additional parental figure and another source of emotional and financial support to you.

Something to talk about
There may be a thousand other questions you have for your parent and/or stepparent. Some might come up right away, while others might appear later. Here are some examples:

  • BLECH! Why do you two have to act like lovey-dovey newlyweds all the time? It grosses me out and is totally embarrassing!

  • What if I get a hidden crush on my stepmom or stepdad?

  • Will my stepparent be expected to help me with my homework, attend my soccer games, and drive me to piano practice?

  • Since my new stepmom is so close to my age, does she really have the right to act like a mother to me?

Don't feel ashamed for having questions. Questions are your right. Questions are healthy and natural-in fact, questions are GREAT. They keep communication open in your stepfamily and will help make life happier for everyone. We'll talk more about this in Lines of Communication.

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