Scary Mommy

How To Build Strong Blended Family Relationships

January 14, 2014 Updated February 3, 2016

How To Build Strong Relationships In A Blended Family
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What should a single father do if his child does not like his girlfriend?

My children gave their father’s girlfriend the third degree:

“Can you cook? My mom can.”

“Can you sew? My mom can.”

“Can you speak sign language? My mom can.”

You catch my drift. To her credit, the woman who ended up being their de facto stepmom and my friend handled this very well.

“What does your mom cook that you really like?”

“Did she make your shirt? It’s very nice.”

“I’d love to speak sign language, but I don’t. Why does your mom speak it?”

She showed pleasant interest in my many stellar accomplishments (heh), but remained neutral. It reassured my girls that she wasn’t trying to step into my place.

My advice? Do the parenting yourself. Do not leave your girlfriend in charge of discipline or decisions to an extent beyond what you would expect of a babysitter. Make sure that you haven’t done what is unfortunately common (although not endemic) to single dads, and that’s thinking, “Whew. I’m going to let her take over. She knows what to do, and besides, I don’t want to do all that stuff.”

You are the parent. You do the parenting. You do your daughter’s laundry. You decide what she eats, and you prepare it. You decide what bedtime is, and you supervise homework, baths, tooth-brushing, book time and lights out. You make the decisions. (You also back up your significant other; don’t undercut her by contradicting her, but she should not be making important decisions.)

How is your relationship with your child’s mother? Assuming that their mother is in the picture, can you support each others’ relationships as a blended family? It helped my daughters a lot when they could talk freely about me and my now-husband to their dad and his significant other, and vice versa. One of my daughters was very resistant to my partner until her father told her that he seemed like a very nice guy, and that he was happy that I was happy, and that he (dad) didn’t feel threatened if she liked him (boyfriend).

I hope it goes without saying that neither you nor your girlfriend should ever trash-talk your child’s mother. In fact, if your girlfriend has nothing nice to say about your child’s mother, then she should say nothing at all.

A step-relationship takes a long time to put together, and it takes everyone knowing their function. I have been a stepmom to two (now) young women for 20 years, and one of the reasons that we get along is that I have always been their dad’s wife, and not their mom. I let him and their mother do the parenting. I offered input (privately and only to my husband) if things that they were deciding on affected me, but the final decision was always theirs. My husband never interfered with my and my ex’s decisions concerning our kids. He told me (privately) what he thought but never interfered in our decisions.

Your child can form a warm and loving relationship with your significant other if they are not pushed to do so. It may take 10 years, but just take it one day at a time.

This post originally appeared on Quora.