Step-Parenting – Children’s View

The Biological Bond

During the last couple of years, some stepmothers have raised their voices and suggested that they are no different to a birth mother. But even if step-parents feel the same for biological and non-biological children, the perspective from a child’s point of view might be completely different. 


Research suggests that children separate parents and step-parents and they often call parents the” real parents”. They also tend to call their biological siblings, their real siblings. 


Interestingly the word is also used to refer to how a parent should be: “My stepdad is great, he is always happy and almost like a real dad.” 

  • This suggests that not only are parents held as a model but also it is possible as a step-parent to be loved and respected in “almost” the same way. 
  • Stepchildren know that their step-parents will never be their real parents but it is not the longing for their biological parent that is the strongest; rather it is the longing for an adult that accepts them on their own terms.

Picture of Family is Changing

The picture of what constitutes a family is changing. Although the traditional picture of a family still might be held as an “ideal concept”, children growing up today are familiar with several different family structures. 


As adults, we might have more difficulties accepting that even though biology is an important part of parenting, the crucial criterion is how someone treats you. 

  • From a child’s point of view, it is the relationship with an adult that is the important factor, not the biological or lack of biological relationship.  
  • It is how your parents and step-parents treat you that are the key.

We need to see our children as people we want to be involved with all our lives. Children grow up but being involved with your adult kids can be just as important and rich and beautiful as being with them when they are small. 


Loved and Adored

Many step-parents argue that they do not have to be loved and adored by their stepchildren, and that they do not have to be liked by them. Step-parent’s only responsibility is to help the partner so that they have a good relationship with their children. 


Step-parents are not parents and often it is argued that viewing the relationship in this way is a relief since it takes the pressure away. Admittedly, many responsibilities and pressures are linked with step-parenting and it may be liberating to acknowledge the limits of the role. 

  • But accepting the limits of the role does not mean that the children have accepted the limits, or that there is no need for any commitment.

Sort of Expert

Have you ever consciously thought about what it feels like to be a child? Everyone should be a sort of expert, but it is important not to assume that you know how the world looks like from someone else’s perspective. And unless you ask your children, you do not know how or what they are thinking or feeling. 

Having said this, it is difficult to ask children and certain subjects are naturally more sensitive to discuss than others. To understand and help a step-child to develop and blossom, a parent needs to understand what it is like to be a child of divorce.


By examining some of the changes that are the consequence of divorce, certain things and events stand out. Certain patterns appear when you examine descriptions of how it feels to be a child of a divorce. 

  • A child’s immediate reaction to their parents’ divorce does not predict how she will cope with it after a while. 
  • Some children react immediately and they might show signs such as temper tantrums or sleep disturbance. 
  •  Many children who have shown a mild initial reaction might carry on like nothing has happened. 
  • This does not mean that they are not hurting or that they will show a late reaction.

Children are often voiceless and we are just beginning to understand what the experience of divorce is like for a child.  In many cases a child of divorce, experiences resemble children from unhappy homes, but there are also differences. 


By acknowledging these experiences and by understanding you can help children to grow. 

  • Divorced children grow up in a different culture than children who live with their family.

Temporary crisis

There is no simple way to describe how children are affected by divorce.  Divorce is stressful for children and most children do not want their parents to separate.

Fortunately, the majority of children do not develop any serious behavioural or emotional problems.

  • Children are strong and resilient.
  • Many children who parents are not divorced describe painful memories and worries about divorce, their parents’ relationship with each other, and their relationship with their parents.
  • No one escapes pain, and parents cannot protect their children from pain.

But it is important that the child can continue to grow as a person, and this requires understanding about her own role and other people’s role in the events related to the parents’ separation and parents’ finding new partners.

The pain of rejection and loneliness can be a deep emotional pain that can feel like physical pain.

  • A child needs help to make sense of the confusing thoughts and mixed emotions.

Long Lasting Consequences

Some might argue that a breakup does not hurt the child, or that if you do things in a certain way the divorce will not have long lasting consequences. But, it will, and children need help in coping with the losses.

Research into divorce suggests that divorce is not a temporary crisis that children grow out of; rather it is suggested that the effects of divorce are most clearly seen in adulthood.

As a step-parent, it is crucial; both for your own happiness and your partner that you do not believe everything will sort itself out automatically.

Even if you are a child of divorce yourself, it may be difficult to understand and help your stepchild. Although a step-parent who is a child of divorce knows how it feels to be in the situation, it can still be difficult.

Everyone is different and has different needs, and at the same time, there are many similarities. Understanding another human being is difficult and we never really know another person. Understanding a child is even more difficult.

Examining the Feelings

Children of divorce in many cases grow up without examining their fear of betrayal or abandonment and this can affect their adult relationship. Naturally, the tumult surrounding the breakup is painful and deeply affects and hurts children.

Research suggests that many children of divorce experience feelings of sadness or loneliness, and these feelings do not disappear immediately after the breakup. For many children, life changes from being “carefree” in some sense to being drawn into logistics concerning when to be where.

Photo:Walking Barefoot On The Beach by Daniel St.Pierre

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