Parenting Stepchildren/Stepson


I am having a hard time understanding what my stepson (3) is needing emotionally and physically. We have been in each other's lives for a little over a year now. I stay at home and take care of him while his father goes to work Monday through Friday. During the day we play, laugh, dance, and have a great time. He is potty trained and listens very well most of the time. He asks for his father all day, which is great. I just let my stepson know that his dad will be home at dinner time and he understands.

His mother has certain times when she calls and my stepson usually looks forward to talking to her. There was a whole two weeks where she could not call because she got into some trouble. The third week when she called like she usually does my stepson did not want to talk to her. I have noticed that any day that she calls two things happen: that night he wets his bed and the following day his attitude is poor.

His mother will be coming to see him for an entire week for visitation, after two months of not seeing him, and his attitude has been worsening the closer it comes to her arriving. Yelling, trying to hit, cursing and not listening (all things that are out of the norm for him). His mother usually encourages him to curse and does not enforce rules. She encourages him not to listen and to say curse words. His father has talked with his mother on many occasions about everything but she refuses to listen. I feel like she only does what she wants to be happy without considering her son's feelings, needs and emotions.

How do I handle the situations at hand? How do I keep my stepson happy and help him remain his happy loving self? I only want what is best for him. Thank you for reading.

Dear Confused Stepmom,

Thank you for trusting me to answer your question. It sounds like a challenging situation indeed! With children your stepson's age, developmentally they do not have the capacity to 'talk out' feelings, and instead they tend to act out. His response of wetting the bed and increased aggression is typical for children who are adjusting to situations such as his. Remember, it is not your job, to always 'make' your stepson happy. It is quite unrealistic, for your stepson to be happy all of the time. He has emotions and allowing him to experience them is an important part of his development.

The best thing for him is to have a predictable schedule of time with his mother so that he can be made aware of what to expect and when. If such is not possible, I would suggest letting him know his mother is coming as soon as you can and informing him of days he will be with her and talk with her as you become aware of them.

Children pick up on the emotions that the adults around them have. Therefore, if you and your spouse are having emotional responses to your stepson's mother's unpredictability, then he will inevitably also. Should his mother continue to be unpredictable. You and your spouse can save yourselves a lot of stress by understanding she is unpredictable and accepting it, if she will not change to a more predictable schedule in her son's best interests.

Should the challenging behaviors continue, I would advise seeking a qualified stepfamily counselor to assist you and your family.  

Parenting Stepchildren

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KaRae' Carey, PhD


I can answer questions that pertain to challenges stepparents face, as well as challenges with adjustment and integration of the stepfamily. I can answer questions about psychological, emotional, and social changes that affect adults and children in stepfamilies. I can answer questions that have to do with the emotional and psychological impact of stepfamilies pertaining to child support, visitation, or divorce.


I am a stepmother to one boy and one girl. I have been in their lives since they were about 8 years old. I have first-hand "real life" experience with 'baby mama drama' and strains in marriage due to the complications and challenge that being a new stepmother presented. Bio: Inspired and motivated by her experiences as both a stepdaughter and stepmother of two children, Dr. Carey founded the Triangle Stepfamily Institute and is committed to empowering stepfamilies. She has first-hand experience both personally and professionally, with the difficulties people may experience when adjusting to stepfamily life. Dr. Carey believes that with the right support, and armed with knowledge, living harmoniously within a stepfamily is possible. She has dedicated countless hours to understanding the delicate functioning of the stepfamily and has produced several articles related to stepfamily relationships and functioning. Dr. Carey has studied with research pioneers and clinical leaders in the field of stepfamily life. She has also conducted independent research about stepfamilies with a focus on the concerns of the stepmother. She has also earned certification as a stepfamily counselor. Dr. Carey has also earned seven specialty certifications. Dr. Carey’s specialty certifications include being a nationally certified professional counselor, an accredited clinical supervisor, a credentialed distance counselor, board certified health services professional, school guidance counselor, Child and Adolescent Mental Health, and a certified stepfamily counselor. For more information on services, or to request Dr. Carey for counseling, interviews, or speaking opportunities, please contact her through her web site, or by calling 919-454-7857.

National Association of Professional Women American Counseling Association Licensed Professional Counselors Association of North Carolina

Publications, expert author

Oakland University, Rochester, MI Ph.D. in Counselor Education 2009 Dissertation: “The Experience of the African American Stepmother: An Exploratory Investigation ” Honors: Dissertation nominated for 2010 Outstanding Humanistic Dissertation Award Cognate Concentrations: Child and Adolescent Mental Health & School Guidance Counseling Major Advisor: Robert Fink, PhD Madonna University, Livonia, MI M.S. in Clinical Psychology 2002 Madonna University, Livonia, MI B.S. Psychology 2000 Cartified Stepfamily Counselor, Stepfamily Foundation, 2011 • Licensed Professional Counselor, State of North Carolina, (6893) • National Certified Counselor, NBCC, (234907) • Credentialed Distance Counselor, CCE, (966) • Approved Clinical Supervisor, CCE, (ACS01058) • Board Certified Health Services Professional, CCE, (1472) • Licensed Clinical Addictions Specialist- Provisional- State of North Carolina • Licensed Bachelor of Social Work, State of Michigan, (6802084095) • Limited Licensed Psychologist, State of Michigan, (6301012018) • Social Worker Registration, State of Michigan, (6803075415) • School Counselor license (K-12), State of Michigan, (SC000554) • School Counselor license (K-12), State of North Carolina, (XXXXX2200)

Awards and Honors
•Kappa Gamma Pi, National Catholic College Honor Society, inducted 2000 •Chi Sigma Iota, Counseling Academic and Professional Honor Society International, inducted 2005 •Robert Brown Memorial Fund Scholarship, 2005

Past/Present Clients
Step family members, children, adults, teens

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