The Step-Siblings

To start your proactive work on preventing rivalry for a parent’s attention between siblings or between children and a new spouse, I recommend that you as the parent and step-parent consciously partition your home time into four parts: time with the blended family all together, time with your spouse alone, time with your own children alone, and time with your step-children alone.

However, when it comes to the time spent with the children and step-children, your children come first. Your children very well might feel replaced by your step-children, and some step-children will try to stick it to your kids, displaying their new-found possession of your children’s’ father in uncomfortable ways. It is up to you as a parent to stop this.  You are your children’s sole source of protection when they are in your and your new wife’s house–if you don’t act in their best interests, it’s likely that no one will.

Individual time spent with your step-children is crucial, and will help not just to build your relationship with them, but to create a larger sense of family cohesion. However, your first loyalty–hopefully not too explicitly demonstrated, in order not to elicit jealousy, but still there–must be to your own children. For remember that, in your very same house, the step-siblings have a parent who loves and favors them, too.


Now, back to the tetra-partite division of your time. Let’s assume for the moment that each child has two parents, both alive and paying attention. Then this division can work. When a step-child tries to interfere with your time with your own child, or works to lay claim to you in an inappropriate fashion, you merely state the facts, “You have a daddy who loves you and makes special time for you when you’re with him. I’m “X’s” daddy, and I want to have my special time with her now.” [You’ve probably spotted the rugby-field-sized-hole in this argument already, but I’ll move to the next paragraph before conceding it.]

[Here I am; point conceded right here–>] However, this approach will not work if your step-child has an absent or deceased parent. In such a situation it would be quite hard not to hurt the child with only one parent if you indicate that your own children come first.

And, of course, those children with only one parent are never gone from the house, so you can’t promise that they’ll get extra attention from their other parent when they return to that parent’s domain.

All you can really do in such a scenario is to understand that it’s terribly hard on the child with only one active parent, and be aware of his suffering.

Be sympathetic to the child’s complaining–within reason–and try not to cheerlead him or say it’s all okay, when it patently isn’t.

You might remember this claim from my first post on this topic, in the New Family Bill of Rights by Isolina Ricci: “Each child has the right to have two homes where he or she is cherished and given the opportunity to develop normally.”

A child with a deceased or disinterested parent is being denied what is rightfully theirs according to this Bill–the very least we can do (and, sadly, sometimes all we can do) is validate their suffering.

And now, you ask (and how lovely of you to ask the hard questions; it keeps me on my toes): What if the competition for your love and attention is not between step-sibs, but is rather between your new spouse and your children?

Well then, my friend, you’d best check back here tomorrow, for you’re in for a ride.


I help adults and adolescents through the particular struggles of our time: tension between couples, parenting frustration, blending new families, separation and divorce, (un)employment, cancer, and loss. When relationships come to an impasse, I use mediation techniques to try to ensure that each party will have his/her needs heard and accounted for in a dignified way. In addition to talking, listening, and reframing, I utilizes the tools of metaphor, active teaching, role-playing, visualization, and hypnotherapy.for families and businesses, as well as in cases of divorce.

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