Posted by familylaw on 20th December 2011
Last updated 16th July 2021

An estimated 18 million people in Britain today are part of a step-family. A relationship with a woman who already has children inevitably brings with it a good deal of extra responsibility.

If you don’t have children of your own, you are gaining an instant family. If you already have children of your own, you will face the daunting task of merging two families together. However sensitively this is managed, there is bound to be conflict along the way.

Below we have put together some hints and tips to make the process a little easier.

  • Give it time. Becoming a step-parent is a complex task with lots of feelings to consider.
  • Sit down with your partner and discuss the fundamental issues about eating, sleeping and discipline within a family.
  • Be open and honest about your expectations and encourage your partner, children and step-children to do the same.
  • Accept that your partner and his children will already have established models of discipline and support him with them.
  • Be realistic. You may never be able to love your partner’s children the same way as your own but you can aim to build a fulfilling and healthy relationship with them.
  • Expect to experience feelings of guilt. It may be that you will be spending more time with your step-children than with your own and you may feel torn between them.
  • Continue to spend quality time alone with your own children and encourage your partner to do the same with his. This will provide much needed reassurance to all concerned.
  • Don’t be tempted to speak negatively about their biological mother and support their need to maintain close bonds with them.
  • If you are merging two families into one home, sit down regularly together to discuss issues affecting everyone and draw up house rules.
  • Don’t strive for perfection – all families have their ups and downs. If the majority of the time is harmonious you are doing a great job!

It is natural that there will be some conflict. Children can be fiercely loyal to their biological parents and naturally find it challenging to accept a new ‘father figure’ into their lives. Nevertheless, children often appreciate the effort you are making to bring them on board even when the situation is difficult and becoming a step-mum can be a rewarding experience with the opportunity to create a stable and loving environment for everyone.

Parental Responsibility For Step-Mums

Step-mums can acquire Parental Responsibility through a formal agreement or Court Order but all others with parental responsibility must agree before it is granted.

On acquiring Parental Responsibility, a step-mums have the same duties and responsibilities as any other individual including a natural parent with Parental Responsibility. Same sex partners in a registered Civil Partnership are also able to acquire Parental Responsibility by formal agreement or Court Order.

Another order that results in Parental Responsibility to a step-mum or other individual (e.g. grandparent) is a Residence Order which regulates where a child will live and gives the individual with the Residence Order Parental Responsibility until the child is 16.

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