Parenting Stepchildren/Blended family


I'm the divorced father of 3 children ages 10 1/2, 14, and 19 (girl, boy, boy). My divorce was difficult for my kids as it is for most children. My girlfriend, who has lived with me for over a year, has two older children of her own, a son who is 20 and a daughter who is 18 1/2. Their collective childhoods were difficult to put it mildly. Her daughter in particular started running away at the age of 12 and was sexually active by 13. She was into drugs and eventually was sent to a juvenile center in Texas. She is now 18 1/2 with a 1 1/2 year old and another baby on the way with no way to support herself and a deadbeat father. Her son is trying to survive working odd jobs and living with her ex husband. My children are rough around the edges when it comes to discipline in the areas of picking up after themselves and chores. Demonstrating respecting at times but they aren't into drugs or any sort of trouble at all. They are all good kids (and I don't say that as a parent but as an observer) that have not had enough discipline in my last marriage. My girlfriend has a ton of anger over her children and her own life. She has severed ties with her family (long story) and she demands very tight respect and control with my kids. If I don't agree with her or don't act upon things she believes to be a "big" deal or react with enough ferocity she loses it. We have nearly come to ending our relationship. She can be great wih the kids and the kids great with her but at the same time there becomes a huge wedge. One of her best friends who I love dearly said she thinks that given her own past and her childhood and experience with her own kids that she feels as though any act no matter how small in my eyes is a slap in the face and cause for "war" and "just the beginning to a path of drugs, disrespect, run ins with the law" etc...   I'm totally confused. I get so angry at her reactions and constant harassing about the kids and I know she goes out of her way to look for things they may have done wrong be it leave a dish out or whatever and yet I do know the kids need to be more accountable. I also acknowledge I'm softer on the kids. My ex does nothing around discipline so they are also bouncing back and forth between our homes which adds additional complexity.  I know that's a lot but any advice on dealing with my girlfriend and my kids and finding that elusive middle ground such that the kids aren't feeling like she's a domineering psycho and her and I aren't always arguing about the kids and at the same time I'm displaying greater consistency in dealing with the kids and instilling more structure and discipline?  Thank you so much for your time!

Hi Harrison - I'm very familiar with your situation. You all are probably struggling with a set of these concurrent problems:

Your core problem is that you mates (and exes) have each survived early-childhood abandonment, abuse, and neglect, and have inherited psychological [wounds + unawareness]. //  //

To gain perspective on your situation, read and discuss these as partners:  //  //

If you mates each can commit to patiently resolving your wounds and step-problems over many years, then help each other learn and apply this free online course:

Whether you stay together or not, your wounds and unawareness will go with you. Your kids and grandkids depend on each of you adults to protect them from inheriting what was given you by your unaware ancestors.

If you have questions on these ideas and/or wish to discuss them with me, please see these:  and

With compassion, Pete

Parenting Stepchildren

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Peter Gerlach, MSW


I can answer questions about remarriage preparation, stepparenting, stepchild discipline, child visitation, grieving, stepfamily norms and myths, mission statements, stepparent job (role)descriptions, communication skills, loyalty and values conflicts, stepfamily identity problems, common pitfalls, ex mate and relative problems, stepfamily merger and adjustment tasks, name confusions, choosing an effective counselor, resolving money disputes, co-parenting support groups, and the family effects of court (legal) battles. I can`t answer questions about medicine, family law, legal stepchild adoption, or financial planning.


I have studied and worked with stepfamilies clinically since 1979, and I have been a "step everything" personally. I was invited to be on the board of the Stepfamily Association of America (SAA) by it's founders, Drs. John and Emily Visher; and later was re-invited by president Margory Engle, PhD. For more detail, see this.

Former Board member, Stepfamily Association of America (SAA)
National Stepfamily Resource Center (NSRC)Experts Council

Hundreds of Web articles on ; I've uploaded over 150 self-improvement videos on YouTube; and have self-published 6 books. My ad-free Web site offers a unique, practical 7-lesson self-improvement course.

Stanford University BSME (1958) George Williams College MSW (1981) Hundreds of post-graduate seminars on a wide variety of "mental health" subjects

Awards and Honors
Hundreds of appreciative emails and comments on my Web site and videos from people all over the world.

Past/Present Clients
I have worked clinically with over 1,000 midwestern divorced and remarried family members, and have had over 800 stepfamily students in various seminars and courses since 1981

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