15 Things a Stepparent Should Never Do

Becoming a stepparent can be an incredibly rewarding experience. However, it also comes with unique challenges. As you take on this new role, it’s important to avoid some key mistakes that could damage your relationship with your stepchildren.

In this article, we’ll explore 15 things a stepparent should never do, according to parenting experts and people with experience being or having a stepparent. Avoiding these missteps can help you build trust and positive connections as a blended family.

Don’t Try to Replace the Biological Parent

One of the most important things to keep in mind as a stepparent is that you are not trying to take the place of the biological mom or dad. Your role is unique. If you try too hard to replace the other parent, it will likely backfire.

“Children often feel very protective of their biological parents,” says licensed family therapist David Spellman. “They may resist your attempts to step into that primary parental role.”

Instead, focus on developing your own special bond and identity within the family. Let your spouse take the lead when it comes to the rules and discipline related to their kids. Over time, as your relationship grows, your parental role can expand naturally.

Never Physically Punish Your Stepchildren

It should go without saying, but stepparents should never use physical punishment on their stepkids, even if their spouse gives permission.

“Leave disciplining stepchildren to your spouse,” advises counselor Casey Jones. “Physical punishment from a stepparent, especially early on, will immediately damage your ability to build trust and respect.”

Using non-violent discipline that focuses on teaching good behavior is always the best approach.

Don’t Assume a Position of Authority Too Quickly

Given that you are not the biological parent, it’s wise to let your spouse maintain primary authority over the children, at least initially.

Avoid trying to assert yourself as an authoritative parent figure right away. This attempt to take charge and make rules is likely to breed resentment.

“I tried setting a lot of boundaries and being the ‘bad cop’ when I first became a stepdad,” says Mike, father of two stepchildren. “It completely backfired. The kids resented me and I lost their trust.”

Be patient and allow your partner to take the lead when it comes to laying down rules for their kids. In time, your parental authority will develop naturally as your bond strengthens.

Never Play Favorites Between Kids

If each partner in the relationship is bringing children from previous marriages, it’s crucial that the new stepparent does not show favoritism toward their biological kids. This breeding of resentment can fracture sibling relationships.

“I always felt like my stepdad loved my stepbrother more than me,” shares Lisa. “It made me distrust and dislike him.”

Make an effort to treat all children in the home equally. If you are blending infants with teens, find ways to ensure each child feels valued and “seen”. Equity in time, attention, chores and financial support is key.

Don’t Expect Perfection from Stepchildren

Understand that children will likely not welcome a stepparent with open and loving arms right away. They are coping with major life changes and may be mourning the loss of their original family structure.

Avoid anticipating perfect behavior or instant closeness with stepchildren. This will only lead to frustration and disappointment. Give the relationships time and grace to blossom.

“I wish I hadn’t expected my stepkids to immediately see me as a father figure they loved and respected,” admits Tom. “That just wasn’t realistic. I had to adjust my expectations.”

Never Badmouth the Other Parent

No matter how rocky your relationship is with your spouse’s ex, you should never criticize or belittle the other biological parent in front of the kids. This can cause loyalty conflicts and emotional distress.

“I made the huge mistake of insulting my ex-wife in front of my daughters when I first started dating my current wife,” says Frank. “It damaged my relationship with them for a long time.”

If you have frustrations, vent about the other parent to your partner privately. But when interacting with the kids, remain neutral and respectful. This supports their emotional well-being.

Don’t Try Too Hard to Please Stepchildren

In an effort to get stepkids to like you, some stepparents go overboard in trying to please them. They become more of a friend than a parent. This undermines your authority and causes confusion.

Avoid attempting to “buy” a kid’s love and affection by always saying yes or being the “fun” parent. Put your own needs and household rules first, while showing care and interest in stepchildren’s lives. Find a balance between firmness and friendship.

“I let my stepson walk all over me at first,” admits Amanda. “When I started setting healthy limits, our relationship improved. He actually respected me more.”

Never Overstep Boundaries as a Stepparent

As you build trust and find your groove in the stepparent role, you may be tempted to overstep the boundaries your partner has set around discipline, finances, or managing the kids’ schedule. Avoid this.

Resist the urge to punish the kids on your own or set new rules without discussing it. And involve your spouse in major decisions about funding college, medical needs, or activities for their children.

“My wife’s ex-husband suddenly told my stepdaughter he’d pay for her to go to a $50,000 private college without consulting me,” said Mark. “I was furious he’d overstepped his role and put us in a tough financial position.”

Don’t Interfere with the Family Structure

A common mistake is for stepparents to drive a wedge between the kids and other biological parent. For example, making kids choose which home to be at for the holidays or competing over time and activities.

Avoid interfering with the family structure. Respect the relationship between the kids and their mom or dad. Support visitation and shared experiences. If conflicts arise, focus on solutions rather than taking sides.

“My stepmom was always trying to limit time I spent with my dad,” laments Amy. “It made me resent her and caused ongoing tension.”

Aim to strengthen, not strain, existing family bonds as a stepparent. This serves the kids’ best interest.

Never Tell Your Spouse How to Parent

It’s important for parents and stepparents to be united. But you should avoid constantly undermining or belittling your spouse’s parenting choices. This will breed resentment and make kids play you against each other.

“My husband was always contradicting how I disciplined my son or telling me I babied him too much,” shares Lauren. “It made me furious and undercut my decisions as a mom.”

Seek compromise when you disagree on parenting approaches. But let your spouse take the lead with their own children.

Don’t Discriminate Against Stepchildren

Sometimes stepparents unconsciously favor their biological children over their stepkids. This may show up in everything from birthday gifts, to weekly allowances, to college savings.

Make an effort to avoid discrimination and ensure things are equitable between stepkids and biological kids. Treat all children in the household fairly, regardless of who gave birth to them.

“My stepmom always spent way more money on my stepsister,” says Tyler. “It made me feel like a second-class citizen in my own home.”

Don’t Force Bonding with Stepchildren

In your eagerness to connect with stepkids, avoid forcing too much contact too soon. Gradual bonding is healthiest. Let children warm up to you at their own pace.

Refrain from pressuring affection, insisting on family activities every weekend, or smothering kids with attention if they seem uncomfortable. This overwhelms children rather than bringing you closer together.

“My dad’s girlfriend was constantly hugging me, planning daddy-daughter dates, and buying me gifts when I first met her,” recalls Sara. “I wanted to run the other way.”

Be patient. Offer care and support, but let stepchildren decide when they are ready to open up to you.

Never Undermine the Co-Parenting Relationship

It’s important that you support your spouse in their co-parenting relationship with their ex. Avoid actions that undermine their ability to co-parent as a team, like badmouthing the other parent or arguing over discipline.

“My wife would constantly criticize and question my parenting choices when it came to my daughter,” shares James. “It damaged my ability to co-parent with my ex.”

Seek to strengthen your spouse’s co-parenting bond. Show respect, communicate regarding the children’s needs, and stay focused on solutions during conflicts.

Don’t Criticize or Belittle the Co-Parent

Co-parenting relationships often involve miscommunications and disagreements. But as a stepparent, resist the urge to criticize your spouse’s ex or blame them for conflicts. This will strain the co-parenting dynamic.

“My husband was always rude about my ex and blamed him anytime our son was upset or acting out,” says Julie. “It made an already tense situation worse.”

Remain neutral and open-minded during co-parenting disputes. Keep the focus on understanding the child’s needs rather than attacking the other parent.

Never Refuse to Be a Positive Influence

At times, being a stepparent will require personal sacrifice. Avoid letting your own interests or preferences prevent you from being a positive influence in the lives of your stepchildren.

Make an effort to attend sports games, school events, or activities that are important to the kids even if they don’t excite you personally. Keep communication open and show support during tough times. Demonstrate through your actions that they can depend on you.


Becoming a stepparent comes with unique rewards and challenges. By avoiding the key mistakes outlined here, you can nurture trusting bonds with stepchildren over time. With patience, communication and respect at the core, you have an opportunity to enrich the lives of children as they adjust to a new family structure.

Remember, your role is distinct from the biological parents. Seek compromise with your spouse when parenting approaches clash. And let relationships with stepkids evolve gradually, without pressure or perfect expectations. Despite hurdles, with care and compassion, stepfamilies can thrive.