The challenges of raising your partner’s child – when you are not the biological parent

I have so much respect for women and men that have made the choice to participate in raising children that are not their own. Once upon a time, I was a single mom and there were many moments where I struggled with issues related to my own child. I can only imagine what it takes to yield responsibility for someone else’s child!!

In the African culture, it’s not uncommon for both males and females to be raising “unbiological” children, whether from the local community, on behalf of a sibling or step children.


So just how do you go about raising this child?

Building a relationship with a child takes time, just like any other relationship. You need to earn each other’s trust, do this in stages and don’t expect things to be perfect all the time. Sometimes it will be difficult to build that bond, or it may not happen at all. Be sincere with the child, pretending and bribing with gifts can backfire.

Discuss role expectations with your partner. Your partner may not know how far to stick his/her hand out. Be inclusive and involve them around big and small decisions in your child’s life. If not, your partner may feel isolated in the process.

Don’t take rejection personally. Children don’t understand the dynamics behind the step-parenting issues, and most times they will show more favour toward their natural parent than to you, especially if the child is older or has experienced their parents in a relationship (e.g. post-divorce). Understand that the child may not be old enough to make sense of things and may need time to adjust. Try not to take everything personally although this may be testing at first.


It takes a whole lot of patience. You will most likely have more patience and tolerance for your own child than for somebody else’s. If you are raising someone else’s child, the disciplining process becomes complicated and it’s easier to lose your temper easier than you would with your own child. Once you have built the trust, it will be easier to be firm with the child when the situation calls for it.


Know when to speak up. Step parents or foster parents often struggle with communicating with feelings openly, at the fear of offending the other parent or child or being misinterpreted. An open and upfront discussion as issues arise should help you clear the air and avoid the build-up of resentment.


Ultimately, the aim is to ensure that the needs of the children involved are prioritised. Separation or divorce can be very traumatic and they need a safe and loving environment in which to express their feelings and be supported.

Are you a step mom or step dad? What are the best and most difficult aspects of this form of parenting?

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  1. I am also raising my partners little boy. I love him to bits,I haven’t had any problems with him.He even calls me Mama and he adores his little sister.

    I also haven’t had any baby mamas issues.. Really loved this article.

    1. That’s beautiful Kwanele, all children deserve that kind of love. He is very lucky to have you

  2. I had stars in my eyes when we started out 7 years ago…I had my 9 yr old daughter, he had his 7 yr old son (1st marriage) , and the little sister of 3yrs from his second marriage (I’m lucky nr 3).
    Growing up I always thought I don’t want children. My daughter was difficult after birth, until about 4 months old, when she grew into this friendly, lovable chubby little angel. I relaxed and loved motherhood so much I wanted 6 kids (never happened as I got divorced).
    I met my husband on my 40th birthday and fell in love with him and his children. Became wife and mother again…
    Wife nr 1 was ok, nr 2 was a bit of a challenge though…back and forth career woman and eventually agreed that we take 6 yr old daughter to stay with us as she was becoming too much of a handful and mom could not handle her. I was in my element ; I read bedtime stories, braided hair , rushed from work to help with schoolwork while cooking…all the “fun”stuff working mothers do…
    But every Sunday night it was a challenge to get little lady into OUR way of doing things…the other two adjusted so well… By Wednesday (after all the scoldings and crying) the little lady would eventually abide by our rules and by Friday she would not want to go to mom again…
    This changes with the moods however…when she’s got her way with us she wants to stay, otherwise she wants to go to mom (who spoils her with goodies and gadgets to make up for time not spent). They’re besties… Sometimes Daddy tries to compete, but we’re not that fortunate (what with 3 children to feed…)
    Needless to say she’s grown and at 10 years old she thinks she’s 20….and I’ve had enough…my house is always a war zone as she fights constantly with big brother who feels he’s not respected by her or the father (Dad always scolds big brother as he should bear with his little sister). Big sis is the quiet type and stays out of harms way (not healthy I know).
    I’ve really tried everything…sometimes she calls me mommy and my heart misses a beat…but mostly she doesn’t because I’m the teacher and she DOES NOT LIKE TO BE TOLD….
    It’s such a vast difference when she’s not there and I feel guilty for the way I feel…
    I have ONE question :” How do I tell her father I think she should stay with mother and visit us rather?”

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