Relationship Thesaurus Entry: Stepparent and Stepchild

From Writers Helping Writers:

Successful stories are driven by authentic and interesting characters, so it’s important to craft them carefully. But characters don’t usually exist in a vacuum; throughout the course of your story, they’ll live, work, play, and fight with other cast members. Some of those relationships are positive and supportive, pushing the protagonist to positive growth and helping them achieve their goals. Other relationships do exactly the opposite, derailing your character’s confidence and self-worth or they cause friction and conflict that leads to fallout and disruption. Many relationships hover somewhere in the middle. A balanced story will require a mix of these dynamics.

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Stepparent and Stepchild

Many factors play into the dynamics of the stepparent/stepchild relationship. The child’s age and receptiveness to the stepparent will have a lot of impact. Similarly, the stepparent’s willingness to fill a parental role, their experience with children, and their relationships with the child’s biological parents can all determine how things play out. This relationship is anything but simple, making it fertile ground for plot and character development.

Relationship Dynamics

Below are a wide range of dynamics that may accompany this relationship. Use the ideas that suit your story and work best for your characters to bring about and/or resolve the necessary conflict. 

  • A stepparent and stepchild who deeply fulfill relationship needs for each another
  • A stepparent who pursues harmony with the stepchild’s biological parent for the benefit of the child
  • A stepchild who is treated the same as the stepparent’s biological child
  • A stepparent filling a void for a child who has no relationship with their biological parent
  • A stepparent who fully embraces their role, regardless of the child’s feelings toward them
  • A stepparent being introduced into the life of a young adult child—smoothly, without much upheaval
  • A stepparent who tries to be the stepchild’s friend more than their parent
  • A reluctant stepparent who is playing the role of father or mother out of obligation
  • A stepparent whose efforts are largely controlled and limited by their spouse or the child’s other biological parent
  • A child rejecting any notion of a relationship with the stepparent 
  • An apathetic stepparent who is more interested in gaining a spouse than being a mom or dad
  • One party struggling to accept or love the other
  • A stepchild actively seeking to sabotage their stepparent’s success or marriage
  • An estranged relationship between the two

Challenges That Could Threaten The Status Quo

  • The stepchild becoming injured or ill on the stepparent’s watch
  • The stepparent separating from or divorcing the child’s biological parent
  • A situation in which one of the two parties is lying, forcing the biological parent to choose who to believe
  • The stepparent and biological parent having a child of their own
  • The death of the stepchild’s biological parent
  • The stepparent needing to relocate for work, resulting in a major move for the child
  • The teenaged child rebelling against the stepparent and rejecting their authority
  • One of the child’s parents dealing with mental illness or addiction
  • The stepchild being treated differently than the stepparent’s biological children
  • The stepchild being diagnosed with a physical, learning, or mental health difficulty that the stepparent doesn’t understand or accept
  • One of the stepparent’s biological children bullying or abusing the stepchild
  • The stepchild discovering a harmful secret about their stepparent
  • The stepparent abusing the child’s biological parent
  • The stepparent taking a work-from-home job, resulting in them being around all the time
  • The stepchild preferring the stepparent over their biological parent

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers