Last Updated on June 4, 2024

“I’ve decided to begin some new techniques with my adult stepkids,” stepmom Nancy shared with me.

“I sent an email to my step daughter-in-law sharing how I wanted to begin a fresh year and communicate more often. I have decided to stop waiting for them to make the first move. I want them to know that I care,” she continued.

Reaching out to adult stepchildren can be confusing. My husband and I have been married for 27 years, so his sons and their wives are used to me being in the picture.

But even this many years later, it’s different once they grow up and get married. I’ve started doing exactly what this stepmom shared. I reach out to my step daughters-in-law whenever possible.

If the remarriage occurred when the kids were already adults, a stepmom will need to gauge if and when her husband’s family desires to have a relationship with her. It’s possible they aren’t ready to add more faces into the family photo.

In that situation it’s wise for her to step back, offer small gestures of love that express a desire to reach out. And then accept and recognize that it’s OK to guard your heart.

It hurts when we desire a relationship with someone and they don’t reciprocate. In a stepfamily it often takes a while for the relationship to form.

The greatest gift a stepmom can give adult stepchildren is dad! The most common statement I hear from adult stepkids is, “When my dad remarried, we lost him. He spends all of his time with her family, her grandkids, and doing what she wants to do. I’m happy my dad found someone to love, but it hurts that we no longer exist.”

If you wish to communicate love to adult stepkids, let dad have time with his family that may, or may not, include you.

Encourage him to spend time alone with his children and grandchildren. This will allow the children to see you as an ally, not someone who is stealing the parent away from his family. And it often bridges the gap that gradually allows the stepmom to walk across into the family.

“I am sending my step daughter-in-law a nice thank you note for a small gift she gave me for Christmas. I pray that acknowledging the gift will open the door to a fresh start,” Nancy said.

Now that is one smart stepmom!

How to deal with adult stepkids

{Editor’s Note: This article was last updated on January 2, 2024.}

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  1. Laura, I so appreciate your wonderful advice! I have adult friends who have been hurt by that very situation (dad remarries and the kids feel they no longer exist.) I think sometimes the step parent might not even realize the other spouse’s kids feel that way. Maybe the step mom feels so awkward around her husband’s children, she doesn’t even know how to reach out. Thanks for offering perspective on all sides of the family. You, my dear, sweet friend, are one smart step mom!

    1. Jennifer, that is so true about the awkwardness. As my finance is a widower, and I came into his life very hesitantly but he continued to pursue me, I have worked hard to try to “learn” how to ‘fit in’ with his family of 3 daughters, but somehow I lost being myself in many occasions. I am very compassionate and want to do the right way in life for all of us, but boundary lines get very confusing and awkward at times. I am so trying to give it to the LORD our GOD, but haven’t mastered that yet! I am praying our adventure in Pre-Marriage will shed much light, lessons, and hope, as there are many engaged (to be remarried) couples that have young and teen dependents, and I am sure they will teach me a thing or two.

      1. Kim I BEG you to attend my stepmom retreat or one of my stepfamily events before you marry. It will truly help you gain a better perspective, and give you the tools needed. If I had a dollar for every sm who said to me “I wish I had learned this stuff BEFORE I got married. it would have been a lot easier.” Id be rich !!

  2. Thank you so much for this post. I am dealing with this right now. My husband and I have been married just shy of 2 years and my stepdaughters are 18 and 20. We are really struggling to bond. The biggest issue for me has been that my husband does EVERYTHING for the girls. They are 100% dependent on dad and refuse to do anything themselves. This is so hard for me to watch because I am such an independent person. We have had several arguments about this and it has started to put a wedge between my husband and I. I am getting better, but I really struggle to bite my tongue when I see them behaving this way.

    They have both also expressed that they feel like they have lost their dad. No matter what we do, from watching a movie at home to grabbing a bite to eat, to running errands, we always ask them to join. They always refuse. My husband has asked both of them to go to a movie or grab some dinner and they always have an excuse as to why they can’t do it. I know it really bothers my husband too because he sees his girls pulling away. For some reason I am also dealing with an awful jealousy bug when he does things with the girls. I don’t know why because I understand how important it is for them to have alone time together. I have a daughter from a previous relationship and I cherish the alone time with her so I fully support his time with his girls also. But for some reason the jealousy bug creeps in and I feel like they are rubbing their time with him in my face.

    Any advice would be appreciated.

    1. Amber.. I can relate to your struggle. I am not yet married, but about to be after dating my fiancé for 3.5yrs (newly engaged of 4 months). I was very accepted by his daughters, in the beginning stages of our dating, however life events have turned up “trigger moments” for all of us. And reacting to those triggers has been a downer for our relating to one another. A wedge had came between my fiancée and I for a time, but with continued “frank” discussions and my getting better at being transparent with him, has led us both to make a stronger commitment to making our life work (and we are in midst of a pre-marriage class and discussions of a couples survey of personal strengths and weaknesses). Id recommend finding a couples class for you & your husband to do together, as your still a fairly newly married. Also, I was able to have a frank discussion with one of the daughters, where I really posed questions, and made statements of my concerns, but then did most of listening, and NOT focusing on trying to defend myself. This was a good talk! Not that is has cleared the air, but it is a step that seems to have helped! As for jealousy, there are so many great passages to read in the bible that have humbled me, and assisted me as I need. Its very confusing how we can go where we don’t want to go.. I will pray on this subject for not only myself but for all the relationships out there that need mending and assistance from our GOD; that he put people in all our lives to help us each one come to the table with a fresh start and forgiving heart.

    2. I’m at a loss at times to know how to be. I have been supportive in my husband spending time with his children. He is very close to his son who is now in the military. His daughter I feel at times dangles his grandkids and then pulls back whenever we want to take them..We live a distance away but try to visit at least once a month. I think your right about him spending time with them without me, in fact as I get further into our marriage I think that is very important…I do understand the jealousy bug a bit, but I’m working very hard in trying to change that He is their Father and was that before I was ever his wife. And protecting my heart is what my focus is now. I was widowed and have three adult sons of my own, I’m realizing more and more that is where my attention should be instead of worrying so much about what my stepchildren think, or feel. I’m always open for he best for everyone. I’m just in the process of figuring out what that is…So glad I got on here. Just knowing that I’m struggling with is normal…Thank you!

    3. Lori A Neilson says:

      I like your comments. I am a step parent of 7 grown step kids. I have been married to there Dad for 23 years now. I try not to interfere with his relationship with his kids. I am not good at staying in contact with them. They live three hours away from us. We saw them more when they were little. They would come to our house and spend weekends with us. I find it hard for me to want to have a relationship with them. My heart has been hurt by some of the behaviors of his kids. So I distance myself from them on purpose. My husband only commicates with 3 of his kids. By phone. I am still learning my boundaries to this day with his kids. I would like to find a support group for someone like me.

    4. nonstepmum says:

      No matter what you do, those quasi teenage/ adult kids are feeling powerless to their father’s decision to be with you. Naturally, they might feel some anger that they cannot properly express, and you are the closest thing to expressing it. NO MATTER WHAT you do, do NOT let them know that they have gotten to you. They are cause-and-effect junkies, and they will continue to press your buttons and stress you out, aka parent trap. You have the right to love your man, and you also have the right to not like those kids. The KEY is to know that eventually they will grow up, and they might come around. So, you have to keep a candle lit in your heart. Just don’t be stupid about it. I commenced with an open door on my heart, and it is still ajar. I am dealing with ego, motivation, sarcasm, passive aggression, head games, insults at family gatherings. You have to prepare yourself before spending time with them, love yourself, and know your man loves you. When it clicks, they will wonder why their shitty ways are not having an effect, and everyone will look at them instead. You are not responsible for fixing their attitudes, only for being a responsible adult in their lives. Move forward with the relationships that DO work, in the family.

  3. Laura, I cant express enough how I feel so blessed right now. Before finding this website just an hour ago, I was writing a message in Family Life (Blended Families) asking for resources for my relationship scenario, which has been very difficult to find books, documents, sites in regards. And even though Im taking a pre-marriage course thru my church and meeting with pastor, it has been a very trying time over the last 2 years and I wonder if my engagement is going to come to fruition of the marriage. But here on this site, well it rings some “hope”. I believe I will learn, be humbled, and hopefully become a much better pre-step woman (“mom” doesn’t fit here as the pre-step daughters do not embrace me at this time)! My situation is one of never being married myself, with no children (in my 50’s) but engaged now to a widower in his 60’s with adult daughters. The youngest daughter, 23yr old, lives in my fiancés home with her boyfriend (which was also where he lived with his deceased wife) and it is the home I am to move into as well, as my fiancé doesn’t feel it is the right time to try to sell. The other daughters are married, but are still dependent on their dad for meeting various needs (financial and “fix it” man, which he is excellent in doing). I understand many of the dynamics, have attempted to been very compassionate, but I also feel I became frustrated & even somewhat “bitter” as I began to feel more invisible when at family events (more of nanny to the grand kids and cleaning up after all), and personal boundaries being invaded. Both my fiancé & I have felt confusion and exhaustion, in a struggle over time together versus with his growing family, whom also require time (as they need fix it man, and us to come over to play with grandkids, take them (all) on vacations and outings; by the way I early on encouraged my fiancée for us to spend time with his grandkids and for him to visit his oldest daughter more as she lives the furthest away. However, even though I don’t have children of my own, I was always involved with numerous relations, from my extended family nieces/nephews and friends and church! Now I have very little time to attend to these relations and I divide my time (more with his needs), and feel awkward when I want to invite my relations to my (future) and fiancés home (on the lake, so his family comes to spend much time in summer and all year long). I thought I had learned so much about relationships, while in college (as an older student) and from all the various housemates, and my relationships Ive been involved with over the 30 years of my adulthood, but this is such a learning curve for me!

  4. Stepmoms, I totally hear your pain and understand the complexities with adult step kids. I now live in a retirement community so I see divorce in second marriages with adult SKs ALL the time.

    Seeing a counselor is fine, but remember MANY counselors, churches, pastors, and marriage classes do not address or understand how the dynamics are radically different than first marriages.

    When you apply the same strategies as first marriages it often makes things worse, not better. So make certain the resources you apply are geared specifically for stepfamilies.

    I offer life coaching to stepfamily couples if you want to know more email me at

    Also, my web site has numerous FREE radio and TV clips that you and your spouse can watch together to help break down the barriers.

    I now host retreats for stepmoms , the next is in St Louis, but women travel from all over including Canada to attend because there is so little available to help these women.

    I pray all of this helps!!

    Under His Wing,
    Laura Petherbridge

  5. belinda blom says:

    My step daughter ignored a phone call and text I sent before the 4th. The words i chose started with hi girlie,also, not to take it personal, i am not feeling well, and please stay with her sister or brother. she came anyway. Am i right to say this was disrespectful, my husband of 15 years took her side. confused in Piru

    1. My step kids are around when I am sick. Are we talking about small children that you have to look after and you are too sick or teen or adult who can take care of themselves? then I would not stop them from coming. Unless they are toddlers and you are doing the caring.

  6. Thank you for writing about this difficult topic. My stepkids are 22, 20, and 18 (they were 18, 16, and 14 when their parents split up). My husband’s ex-wife is bipolar (type 1-manic) and hard to deal with on a good day. It was my experience that when a parent leaves a toxic marriage, they want to experience happiness in a new adult relationship and “move on” from the pain of the broken marriage. In my case, the kids were always welcome and I didn’t try to restrict access to their dad; the ex-spouse poisoned the well with the kids, though, and sometimes being with them was just difficult due to the bad attitudes the mother cultivated in the kids. Our problem was in figuring out how to “antidote” the ex-spouse’s poison as far as how hubby and I were dealing with his kids/ my stepkids./

  7. Our family is different. My ex husband passed away 9 years ago and my husbands ex wife passed away 7 years ago, but i still feel like an outsider with my adult step children. I am not sure why it feels this way and it hurts.

    1. Deb – this is VERY normal. people think because its a death, not divorce that they wont face the same struggles, but thats incorrect. I address all of this in my stepmom books. its too complicated to address in one post. PLUS this year at our SM retreat we are having an entire workshop on adult stepkids. Blessings, Laura

      1. Folks! There is NO such thing as s blended family or step parent! The best a non-biological person could get would be friendship! My my experience with five stepchildren is to totally disengage and be happy in my life! And I am!! Let the biologicals be the parents and enjoy your life!!

  8. My problem is my father, I feel as though he tries to hard to be “in ” his wife’s (my step-mom’s) family and not spending any time with his biological family. I understand that her grandkids, who I love very much, are his “real” grandkids as well, but he never comes to visit my daughters. I have a 7 year old and a 3 month old, my youngest he has only seen twice, once in the hospital and once at his step granddaughter’s birthday party. They would drive past my house almost everyday to take his step grandson to his baseball practice and I live 4 houses down from the baseball field, but they never stopped by to see my oldest, she would see their Jeep go by and say,”there went Mimi and pappy” then sometimes her and I would walk down. He makes it a point to say that he loves all the kids equally and although I believe he does my daughter is starting to take notice of the “favoritism”. My step sister likes to run around a lot and party and I would rather spend time at home with my kids so I don’t ask them to babysit, but I still think they should call and see if my oldest would like to come stay or do something, we live a few blocks away and I’m tired of being the only one who tries to have them be involved in my daughters lives my dad has at least one of the step grandchildren at their house everyday. Even when I was younger this went on. My dad taught my step sisters how to drive, but never took me even after asking he always had other things to do, my little brother quit visiting because our step mom would argue with my dad about doing something with my little brother that my dad didn’t do with my step sister so from even then I feel as though dad has distanced himself to please her. He’s even this way about his mother vs. mother in law.
    I’m just upset especially now that my daughter is now old enough that she’s realizing this as well even though I’ve never said anything to her or around her about it. I don’t know how to confront my dad without creating war, any advice?

    1. As you can tell from reading the article, your comment/situation is VERY common. I hear it often from daughters w dad in particular. Many SMs dont realize they are monopolizing dads time. Some do it intentionally.
      The only answer is you must privately sit down with HIM–not her. The key is don’t accuse, badger or guilt dad about how you feel. Merely explain what has occurred, present FACTS and then share how his choices are affecting you and your child, and then ASK SIMPLE QUESTIONS !!
      “Dad were you aware that since you married Susie you no longer visit us?” Dad, I love you and I want us to have a great relationship. So help me to understand why you spend so much time w Susie’s family but we rarely see you? You might not realize it but your granddaughter is starting to notice favoritism and I’m not sure what to tell her? I want her to have a relationship w you.”
      The Key is to be kind, gentle and available. DO NOT BASH his wife. Address the situation, your pain, your sadness. but avoid attacking your stepmom bc that will backfire. it will force him to defend her.
      Sometimes men don’t realize they are being neglectful. If you share this w him, and nothing changes, than all you can do is continue to reach out a little and pray for God to heal the pain.
      Answer your daughter with truth, “I guess G has decided to go to the park w Mimi. I don’t know why he didn’t stop here. Would you like to walk down and see him?” And leave the results to God. Easier said than done–I know!!

  9. U talk good sense when u say adult step children who become step children when a man and woman marry, it is best to not insert yourself into a relationship or family life style with them. I have several adult step children and I have been generous with them, but for the most part I do not ever insert myself into any trips or holidays my husband has with them. Adult children have parents, and they r adults which means they will only choose apart from work those people they want in their lives, same as us same as anyone. Depending on the maturity levels of adult children a step parent can also be set up for taking advantage of and being used if they force themselves into an adult child’s life. Over all the decision to marry a person with adult children should be more of a weighty consideration than say a man with no or small children. There r no rewards for step parents and typically in the end of life of a marriage the step parents with the most step kids looses more than the one with less, this includes death. I have seen widows loose their home to step children who believe even her part of the home is somehow theirs for the right of a deceased father. I have almost never seen a step child step parent relationship end in sweetness such is life.

  10. I have a different situation. My husband does not include me in any communication between he and his children (he says he doesnt have to) such as when they can use our beach house. Im a teacher and they have the same school breaks and holidays I do, thetefore come when they want. They call my husband to tell him when theyre coming. It’s usually the same times. We have been married 23 years and it has always been that way. We’ve argued a lot about it. He gives the baby daughter (33 years old) secret money and gifts. I don’t know what to do. It’s not going to change. help….desperate!

  11. Kim Lopez says:

    Hi my name is Kim and I have been married to my husband for little over a year now. We have been together for 4 years all together. He has 2 adult daughters (22 & 24) that live in Mexico and I have never actually meet them. His youngest daughter he stays in contact with she messages him every few weeks when she needs money but that’s about it. The oldest daughter hasn’t communicated with him for over a year time.

    My problem is when his youngest daughter reach’s out to him I get so jealous. I know this is awful and I not sure why it happens. I don’t know if because I see how much it hurts him when they talk to him for money.

    Do you have any suggestions of what I can do to help myself get over this?

    1. My case may be somewhat different in that I am the first wife but I am the step mom of a thirty seven year old adult male. My husband’s child from a relationship he had while still seeing me. My step son is married and now has three kids. We seemed to get along….until my husband and I retired. I retired at fifty three after 28 years in law enforcement and my husband after thirty eight years with UPS. At any rate, since we have retired, my step son and his wife seemed to think that ME and me alone should stay at home and babysit their kids. I have babysat in the past, but I don’t want, nor did I plan, nor do I think it’s MY responsibilty alone or at all for that matter to provide child care. They both are gainfully employed with full time jobs, and our town is FULL of day care centers. Since I have refused to be a “stay at home step grandmom”, they have not visited and brought the grandkids around for two years. I see the hurt in my husbands face. But I have feelings, wants and needs too. I just think that when you are a step mom or dad, that you are expected to have zero feelings, and that is simply not true and is WRONG! The step kids are supposed to have all the feelings. This article also makes it seem that way. A step mom needs to “step back”, or we need to always try to mend things, or apologize even when we didn’t do anything wrong, and it was the other way around. Well, I for one am tired of “pretending” that my life doesn’t matter, and that I only exist to provide some type of service, and must always keep the peace. Who’s peace is it really…sure not mine. Oh I know, some may say well, you knew what you were getting into, or you knew he had a child, etc., etc., etc. People act like by saying that erases the fact that I am STILL a human being with my own wants and needs. Enough this nonsense!!!! We ALL feel hurt, pain, happiness and sadness, NOT just a select few! Have a nice day! 😊

      1. Faye- somehow you are assuming I’m saying selfish, rude and hurtful behavior from a stepchild is OK. I’m not. Dad needs to communicate with his son and have a heart to heart. If the only reason son wants a relationship is so he can get FT childcare then that is no relationship at all. I would never endorse such behavior. BUT DAD needs to be the one to communicate with his child. Not stepmom. I have a strong suspicion there is a much deeper issue happening here. And it likely has nothing to do with you as the stepmom at all. I’ve been a Stepmom for 31 yrs and I fully understand the pain stepkids can cause. And I would never encourage a stepmom to minimize, ignore or tolerate rude behavior. You misread the post. I’m so sorry you are hurting. Under Grace, Laura Petherbridge The Smart Stepmom

  12. Frustrated says:

    My future step daughter never invites her dad or allows him to join things with her husband and granddaughter it hurts him terribly. I am a widow and my daughter is especially close to her stepdad they both just dad at age 7. Future step daughter not speaking to dad because he spends time with 14 year old. Where do we go she uses granddaughter a a weapon asks for money weekly refuses to work spends more than we do.

    1. I can relate. My husband spends a lot of time with my kids and our grandson. We have been married for sixteen years and together for twenty. They treat with the utmost respect and appreciation. He has a good relationship with his two sons. His 27 year old daughter is toxic. She causes nothing but drama, has a my way or the highway attitude. When he distances himself from her she blames me. Just because someone is your child does not give them the right to dictate the relationship. He is accepting of the fact that if he must step back he will. It makes me sad, and anxious. I have however finally realized she uses emotional blackmail as a tool. She is a medical resident, smart but a narcissist and manipulative. Yet is able to fool most people. She treats us one way and the world another. I don’t know how much more I can take.

  13. Hi laura i would like your advice on my case. I am a mom of two beautiful daughters. I am with my married to my husband a year now and he has a daughter almost my age. I know you will ask yourself what where your husband and you thinking well we love each other and we have gone to many rough times and that has make us stronger. We believe in the Lord and he has blessed us so much. My husband has to leave to the U.S and work I stay in my country with my our kids this is becuase his daughter doesnt like the idea of having a stepmom close to her age. If she would give me a chance to show her how much i want to be in her life and how much i love her. What are the best ways to show her?. She is so mature and i know i should be able to guide her and be more mature.what should i do? What can i offer her as a stepmom?

  14. Its funny how people always assume its the step parents fault. My adult step daughter who I raised since she was ten years old is toxic. I try, and try and try. My husband distances himself from her because she does nothing but cause drama and upset in our family. Yet she blames me, my children, and her own two siblings just blow it off because they don’t want to deal. At some point when do the children take any responsibility for the distance they cause.

  15. Hi,

    I dont even know where to begin?? I’ll try, but hope to mend this stepmoms heart as we approach another one of my stepchildren getting married.

    I’m not new to this, as my husband’s adopted daughter was married ten years ago and left us both out….due to her mother’s request. As we have been married 17yrs now, it has taken on a new twist with his 24yr old approaching marriage in a few months, to his girl friend/fiance from high school. But this time, i am the outcast. I am excluded from tge “announcement” and from any help to organize their day. I have never kept nor excluded my husband from being the father he is or should’ve been. They have a Great relationship and I let them do there thing, along with spending holidays together. We have two children together and we never exclude either end sharing family time but his stepson limits his time with us throughtout the rest of the year!?!? College, work has alot to do with it but he still has younger siblings who seems of no value?? Along with me as his Stepmom seems to be an inconvenient!?!? I’ve been in this family 17yrs and tired of feeling excluded by both my husband, his family and his now adult children!! I’ve made my husband a better father, husband and an individual with my devoted support as his wife and life partner, i think i deserve a little in return after 17yrs!?!?
    I’ve asked for him to stand up for me, to not only his parents but others in the past through sessions with our pastor. It seemed to help but only temporary. Please help, lost and heartbroken!!

  16. Marie Mmarquis says:

    What do you say when you are told by your husbands daughter that the only reason she loves me is because I am good to her kids. Hurt beyond belief!!

  17. That’s good advice, but what would you do if the step daughter grew up jealous of her own mother, and daddy let her do anything she wanted, then he goes and marries the stepmom when she’s an adult and the daughter sees the stepmom as competition ,no matter how nice or accepting the stepmom is the daughter continue s to be rude, manipulative, jealous and her daddy doesn’t see it at all, whereas every third party can see it even?