Why Is It So Hard Being A Step-Parent?

12/14/2012 01:53 pm ET Updated Feb 13, 2013

Think of the fact that nearly 50% of all marriages end in divorce. Second marriages have a higher failure rate than first marriages. Why is this? Here are some reasons that I have seen over the years:

In a first marriage, we are young, usually naive and innocent. In a second marriage, we are older but not necessarily wiser. In a first marriage, each spouse usually has few or no assets and other than perhaps student loans, little in the way of debts. Contrast this with a second marriage where there are often assets that have been divided, though in this economy, sometimes not. Too often there are a lot of debts.

There is also a lot of emotional baggage. During my career, I have handled divorces for two women who were each 36 years of age and going through their sixth divorce. Some people never learn. People often marry the same person again and again. Perhaps a different physical package but the same psychological make-up.

The first time around, there are usually no children. In a second marriage, and this is where step-parents come into play, there are children. Most families are not the Brady Bunch. You may love your children but they may not love their step-mother or step-father. Blending families is difficult, to say the least. Think of the problems that may arise. There can be issues regarding custody and parenting time. These always create a lot of stress in a second marriage.

Another stress point is the fact that your new wife may feel that you are paying too much in child support or paying too much alimony. On the other hand, you may feel that your new wife's former husband is paying too little in child support and now with the re-marriage, her alimony is gone. These are some of the reasons why second marriages fail.

Next, think of the stereotype of the evil step-mother that is perpetuated in many of our fairytales. As a step-parent, you have the burdens but few rights. Step-parents do not have legal rights over step-children. This can be frustrating, especially when you are watching the mess being made by your new husband and his or her wife from a prior marriage. I have numerous cases where step-parents are thrown into the ring whether they want it or not. My first recommendation is that the legal system is not going to help you. My second one is that you stand back, grit your teeth and somehow persevere.

What are the realities?

1. As a step-parent, you have no legal rights with regard to your step-children.

2. Don't start ask to be called mom or dad. This is for natural parents and is the cause of friction in many cases.

3. You should be loving and supportive but you cannot try to replace the natural parent.

4. Do not be the go-between regarding communication with your new husband or wife's former spouse. I see this happening too often and it creates a lot of conflict.

5. Stay out of arguments with regard to parenting time, with regard to sports, extracurricular activities and with regard to school related issues. Be a sounding board for your husband or wife but try to stay out of the fray. This is easier said than done!

6. Try to love your stepchildren, even though that may be difficult, to say the least. Remember that they want their natural parents to be back together and will often irrationally blame you.

7. It is important for you and your new spouse to be united because there will be tremendous pressure to turn one of you against the other from all the outside factors that I have mentioned.

8. Try to be a voice of reason to your new spouse.

Over the years, I have seen many ugly situations where step-mothers and step-fathers become enmeshed and become pawns in the battle. Avoid this at all costs. Remember, the second time around is not easy. I would like to ask you to share some of your thoughts with me regarding being a step-parent. Your thoughts and ideas are more than welcome.

Family Law Attorney & Legal Correspondent
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Bloomfield Hills, MI 48304-5116
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