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When Stepparents Feel Left Out: Why Stepkids Treat You Like The Outsider

If you have stepparent outsider syndrome or are struggling to bond with your stepkids, use these tips to feel more included in your new blended family.
When Stepparents Feel Left Out
Updated: October 17, 2023
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If you just became a stepparent, you may be struggling to adjust to your new role. You might sometimes feel unwanted or like an outsider in your family. This is totally normal and often part of the adjustment period when blended families form.

Often, stepparents experience a feeling of being left out or unsure of what their exact role is in their new family. This is known as outsider syndrome.

Ahead, we break down what stepparent outsider syndrome is, why it’s sometimes hard to be a stepparent and how to improve your bond with your stepkids.

What is Stepparent Outsider Syndrome?

Outsider syndrome happens when you feel isolated or shunned by the people around you. It’s disheartening when it seems like friends or even family members are part of a group that you’re not included in. 

When you’re a stepmom, you might hear your spouse and stepfamily laughing over inside jokes or reminiscing about memories that you don’t share with them. These situations can make you feel like you’re separate from the family.

You may also feel like an outsider if the kids go to their biological parent for advice, comfort, permission or other things a parent provides. They may ask your spouse and not you, or they may call their other biological parent for these things, even if you’re available at the time.

It’s normal to feel a bit like an intruder in a blended family Sometimes you may feel unsure of your exact role. It may take time to figure out what kind of relationship you’ll have with your stepkids, and they may need some time to get used to you as well.

Why Do Kids Resist Stepparents?

It’s not uncommon for kids to resist their stepparents, especially in the time soon after a new family has formed. The reasons may vary depending on children’s ages, family dynamics or many other factors.

  1. Loyalty to Their Bio Parent 

Kids often feel a strong sense of loyalty and connection to their biological parent and will resist a new stepparent so as not to feel like they are letting down their bio parent or replacing them. This sense of loyalty is true both for kids who have divorced parents and kids who have experienced the loss of a parent. 

  1. Grief 

In the case of a parent’s death, the child may still be grieving which can cause them to act out or deny anything they see as threatening that parent’s memory. 

Depressed teen girl wearing hood sitting on bed ignoring step mother
  1. Jealousy 

In other situations, a child may resist a stepparent because they feel like this person has intruded upon their relationship with the biological parent in the same household. For example, a father’s biological children may feel threatened by the attention his new wife gets from him. 

Likewise, new stepkids may feel jealous of any of your biological children / their new stepsiblings who have been brought into their new family,

  1. Clashing Parenting Styles 

Stepparents may have their own parenting style, which may differ from that of the biological family. Figuring out how to parent your stepkids and how to co-parent with other family members for the first time is no easy feat. 

Kids may fight back against a stepparent who acts more like a disciplinarian than they are used to. Or, they may reject having to obey a stepparent at all, even if this person is onboard and consistent with the family’s house rules.

Biggest Challenges of Being a Stepparent

Being a stepparent is not always easy. Though every situation is unique, there are some common challenges that stepparents often face.

  1. Conflicts With the Kids

Building a positive relationship with your stepsons or stepdaughters can be tough. They may have preconceived notions about stepfamily life or they may just be uncomfortable with your presence in the home.

Kids often aren’t afraid to speak their minds and this may be a painful experience for a stepmom who doesn’t feel like she’s welcome as part of the family. Children may also shut down and refuse to interact with their stepdad or stepmom.

  1. Conflicts With the Ex-Spouse

Unfortunately, the kids aren’t the only ones you might find yourself head-to-head with. Exes don’t always place nicely. Your spouse’s ex may try to manipulate the kids against you or they may invade your family life and make things tougher than they need to be.

Teenage girl shouts at her stepmother
  1. Trouble Establishing a Family Bond

When you form a blended family as the “outsider,” you often have to start relationships from scratch. Sure, you may have married the love of your life, but if he has kids, you probably want to build a bond with them as well.

This bond can take time to form and blossom, and in the meantime, you may feel a little like you don’t belong.

  1. Parenting Differences

You might have opinions about how kids should be raised that differ from that of your spouse. This is tricky territory to navigate. Your spouse might feel that they have the authority to decide how their own children are raised, but you might feel uncomfortable getting on board with all of the house expectations.

Conflicts about parenting may also arise with the ex-spouse. What happens when the biological parent of your gender allows video games in the evening but you don’t, or vice versa? Figuring out how to be a parent can be tough.

  1. Role Ambiguity

Navigating your stepparenting role is not always clear-cut. Should you be the “fun” parent who bends the rules a bit and that your stepkids feel comfortable talking to about things they might not be as open about with their biological parents? 

Or do you need to be just as strict as the biological parents so as not to be taken advantage of

Figuring out how you fit into a blended family is not something you can find in a rule book. The exact role you play will depend on your spouse, the kids you are raising together and other specifics about your family situation.

How Can Stepparents Cope With Feeling Left Out?

So you’re feeling rejected by your stepkids and like you don’t fit in what you thought was going to be your new family. How can you cope?

Step 1: First of all, give yourself some grace. While there are blended families that seem to come together perfectly, many do not. Experiencing some bumps in the road is totally normal and expected.

Step 2: Next, extend empathy. The kids you’ve just moved in with are just kids. They have been through some major life changes and it’s not surprising if they’re struggling and might be taking some of that out on you. 

Try to relate to what they might be going through. This may help you feel more understanding and less like a victim.

Step 3: Lastly, talk with your partner about your feelings. It’s important for them to understand what you’re going through and offer your support and reassurance.

Tips and Advice for Overcoming Resistance from Your Stepkids

You may need to be intentional and have some patience in order to overcome your stepkids’ resistance to your presence in their lives. We rounded up a few tips that may help you gradually break through barriers with your new family.

  1. Be Patient

Allow kids time to get used to you and your role in the family. Relationships take time, The strain of divorce or losing a parent on top of the transition into a new household setup is hard on kids. All that change can be scary.

Your stepchildren will appreciate it if you let them take their time to get to know you and build trust.

  1. Build a Relationship

Relationship building should be something you do intentionally. Show that you care by being present and interested in your stepkids’ lives. If they have a performance, attend it (although you may want to discuss this with your spouse first if the ex-spouse is also planning on attending). 

Continue to look for opportunities to bond and get to know one another. This can be as simple as offering to help with homework or asking them if they’d like to go see a movie or get ice cream.

  1. Don’t Force It

While it’s important to put work into building the relationship, it’s also important not to try too hard. Kids will pick up on it if you’re trying to force certain expectations on them. You don’t have to have a picture-perfect relationship nor should you feel the need to become a full-on parent to these kids. 

Let them take the lead and understand that while they will likely warm up to you over time, it might not ever be perfect and that’s okay.

  1. Respect Family Rules

Things will be smoother if you can integrate yourself into the family’s established parenting style. This can be an area of conflict for stepfamilies, but you should really try your best to hop on board with the way things have already been done. 

For example, if your new stepkids are used to being able to grab snacks from the fridge as desired, don’t jump in with rules about asking before eating or waiting for dinner. Try to go with the flow.

  1. Respect the Kids’ Feelings

Children will notice and appreciate it if you respect their feelings. 

They may not like you (hopefully at first!) and they may be broken-hearted and struggling with the changes their family is going through. And yes, they may take that out on you.

Understand that this is normal and it’s not about you, but the challenges that come with this transition. Don’t try to argue with kids’ feelings — instead, validate them. A simple statement like, “This must be really hard for you,” goes a long way.

  1. Seek Professional Help if Necessary

If you’re really struggling to establish your role in your new family, consider speaking to a therapist

Family therapists may help co-parents navigate the challenges of raising kids as a team, or they may meet with the whole family to help facilitate a positive experience for everyone in the family.

There is nothing wrong with getting some outside help when it comes to blended families.

Becoming a stepparent can be a rocky road at first, but remember to be patient and work to build positive relationships. Over time, things will get better.

Sources +

American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. (2017, December). Stepfamily Problems. Retrieved from

Denver Stepfamily Therapy. (2019, January 19). Dear Step-Parent: 10 Ways to Feel Less Like an Outsider with Your Stepfamily. Retrieved from

Sack, D. (2012, November 12). Being the Outsider. Psychology Today. Retrieved from

Elisa Cinelli

About Elisa

Elisa is a well-known parenting writer who is passionate about providing research-based… Read more

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