• Keeping Friends

Can A Stepparent Be A Friend? An Interview with Erin Munroe

Published: November 20, 2009 | Last Updated: May 25, 2024 By | 2 Replies Continue Reading

The role of being a stepparent can be challenging.

So I was pleased to interview Erin Munroe, author of The Everything Guide to Stepparenting: Practical, reassuring advice for creating healthy, long-lasting relationships, about some of the boundary issues between the roles of stepparent and friend.

Can a stepparent be a “friend” with a birth parent?

It depends on the situation and the situations are so mixed that this is a tough question to answer.

f there was never a marriage between the birth parents or they had a very happy divorce and are still friendly with one another, it makes a stepparent being friendly with a birth parent a little easier for everyone.

However, if there is animosity or the potential for one parent to manipulate another, then it is a slippery slope.

Being “friends” and being “friendly” are quite different. Friends also have the potential to get into arguments more than those who are simply friendly to one another. Arguing with a friend about something unrelated to your stepparenting role will probably take a toll on your relationship as parent/stepparent, and that is a relationship you really need to protect for the sake of the child.

So, you might want to keep it “friendly” and not become BFFs until the child is old enough to be out of the house and on his or her own!

Can a stepparent be a friend with and adolescent or adult child?

Adult, potentially – If you became the stepparent to a child who is already a mature adult, you may be more of a friend figure anyway.

You won’t be disciplining your stepchild or making major life decisions for her, so having more of a friendship won’t confuse the adult stepchild.

However, it could still get hairy if you have an argument with your stepchild since you can’t really cut ties if necessary.

Your stepchild will be your stepchild whether or not you are friends. You don’t want an argument that could potentially disrupt your family unit in any way, so you would still have to proceed in friendship with that in mind.

As far as boundaries go, telling each other your deepest, darkest secrets is out the window – unless you don’t mind your spouse finding out, and your stepchild doesn’t mind risking her parent finding out!

Keep in mind that your friend might be interested in intimate details about your relationship with your partner – your stepchild probably isn’t!! As far as a friendship, proceed with caution and be aware of the dangers and boundaries.

Friends with your adolescent stepchild?

No way. You are a parental figure. Adolescents need guidance and to know that they are safe when in your care. They don’t need adult friendships from stepparents; they need strong supportive adults!

What are some of the landmines a stepparent faces with her stepchild’s friends’ parents who were friends of the birth mother?

The possibilities are daunting: She may have aired all your dirty laundry and then some to the other parents. The other parents might want to be gossipy and get you talking about the birth mother. The other parents may have chosen “a side” without even hearing your side.

The best thing to do in this situation is remain courteous, don’t bad mouth the birth mother, and appreciate that these folks have a history with her, and to them, you are “new” or “an outsider.”

Keep in mind, this is probably less about them not liking you and more about them feeling loyalty to the birth mother. If you act respectfully, people will form their own opinions (it may take a LONG time) and eventually realize that you are just fine!

Any other thoughts about friendship and stepparenting, Erin?

Friendship is tough at times, no matter how great the friendship.

People go through different life stages that can throw a wrench into a friendship. I have always been friendly with my stepson’s birth mother – not friends – but we have grown a bit closer since I had my own son, and my stepson is away at college.

We recently took pictures of my son and her daughter (my stepson’s half-siblings) together in their Halloween costumes as a surprise for him.

So although we won’t be hanging out with one another or chatting on the phone, we love my stepson enough to put our differences aside to ensure that he feels that he has a loving family to come home to no matter which house he stays in!

Erin Munroe is a licensed mental health counselor, school adjustment counselor, school guidance counselor, and proud stepmother of her nineteen-year-old stepson. She lives in Braintree, Massachusetts, and completed her MA in behavioral medicine and mental health counseling from Boston University School of Medicine. She currently works for the Boston Public Schools and holds a part-time position at a confidential teen clinic, counseling at-risk adolescents.

* DISCLOSURE: The Friendship Doctor (me) was a technical reviewer for Erin’s book, which I thought was extremely practical and thorough!

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Comments (2)

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  1. Irene says:

    Thanks for chiming in with your wisdom and experience!

  2. Anonymous says:

    I was a step-parent, and no, its not a good idea to be friends with the ex-spouses. Treat it like a business relationship. Its fine to be friendly, cordial, but just a boundary not to be crossed.

    Another interesting comment made was about the” mutual friends”. Its easy to get caught in the trap, made that mistake. Mutual friends acted like they did not like the bio mom, but they were testing to see if I had anything negative to say, and gossip later. Some even said “BM is not a good mom, etc”. I quickly learned to keep my mouth shut. Definitely took the bait. I don’t know if it ever got back to her, but nonetheless, it has ways of getting back to the children.

    Best advice, avoid saying anything negative about the bm, unless its trusted friends, spouse, counselor, etc.

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