Ep 97 – Strategies for Coparenting with an Absent Coparent

Subscribe on iTunes  ·  Spotify  ·  iHeartRadio

Welcome back to another episode of “Synergistic Stepparenting,” the podcast dedicated to helping you navigate the complex and rewarding journey of blending families. I’m your host, Maria Natapov, and today we’re exploring a topic that weighs heavy on many stepparents’ and divorced parents’ hearts, the struggles of coparenting with an absent coparent.

Another day begins, and as you sip your morning coffee, you can’t shake off the tension that’s been brewing for weeks. You’re not alone in this maze of emotions. I understand your journey because I’ve walked it myself. Today, I’m here to offer you a lifeline, a beacon of hope amidst the chaos. Let’s embark on a journey together, where understanding, validation, and solutions await.

Today, we’re exploring a theme that resonates with so many of you: the delicate balance of finding your role as a stepparent. Picture this: you’re eager to step in and help, to be the parent that’s missing, but suddenly you feel like an outsider, and your well-meaning efforts aren’t quite hitting the mark. It’s like trying to fit a piece into a puzzle where the edges are still blurry.

Let’s explore four common challenges that stepparents face in this balancing act, and I’ll share practical, neuroscience-backed solutions to help you navigate these hurdles with grace and confidence.

Common challenge #1: Feeling the Urge to Step In as the Absent Parent

The stepparent can feel for their partner having to coparent with an absent coparent and may want to step in to fill the shoes of the absent parent and can mistake that there is room for them to do so. This is an issue because their partner and the children are likely not ready for another boss coming in out of nowhere and doling out orders.

Kids are physiologically and psychologically wired to seek connection with their biological parents, regardless of treatment by them nor their history. And in situations where they’ve had to make the difficult task of creating a firm boundary, it still comes with a continuous emotional toll.

Moreover, in some cases, depending on the age of the children and if they remember their absent parent or if they have a painful history with them, the shear presence of a stepparent may bring up those gut-wrenching memories.

Solution 1.1: Practice Emotional Regulation

Before reacting impulsively, engage in deep breathing or mindfulness techniques to regulate your emotions. This activates the prefrontal cortex, enhancing your ability to make rational decisions rather than acting on impulse.

Solution 1.2: Foster Empathy and Understanding

Put yourself in the shoes of your stepchildren and their bio-parent. Empathy activates mirror neurons, fostering understanding and compassion. This allows you to approach the situation with empathy, recognizing that your stepchildren may need time to adjust to your presence.

Solution 1.3: Communicate Openly and Collaboratively

Instead of assuming the role of the absent parent, initiate open discussions with your partner and stepchildren about your desire to support them. Use non-violent communication techniques to express your intentions and seek collaborative solutions that respect everyone’s needs and boundaries.

Common Challenge #2: Partner Resistance to Stepparent’s Input

The partner in these situations is so used to coparenting with an absent coparent that they may not be open to sharing the responsibility. The partner may not be open to hearing your – the stepparent’s – perspective, input or suggestions even when you’re pointing out valuable blind spots they may have about their children or the situation.

Solution 2.1: Build Connection and Rapport

Establishing a connected relationship with your partner is essential for open communication. Neurochemicals such as oxytocin, released during positive interactions, promote trust and bonding. Engage in activities that strengthen your emotional connection, such as shared hobbies or quality time together. Additionally, being able to listen  to them with an open mind and being respectful of their perspective even when you may not agree with it, goes a long way in establishing trust and rapport and you’ll be more likely to receive the same curtesy in return.

Solution 2.2: Frame Suggestions Positively

When offering input or suggestions, frame them in a positive light to reduce defensive reactions. Positive framing activates reward circuits in the brain, making the recipient more receptive to your ideas. Focus on the benefits and potential solutions rather than criticizing or pointing out flaws.

Solution 2.3: Validate Emotions and Perspectives

Validate your partner’s emotions and perspectives, even if you disagree. Validation activates the brain’s reward system, fostering feelings of acceptance and understanding. Reflective listening and empathy-building techniques can help validate your partner’s experiences while gently introducing alternative viewpoints.

Common Challenge #3: Finding the Balance in Your Role as a Stepparent

Knowing what’s the appropriate line to walk in your role. What is too much and what is not enough? This is a common dilemma for most stepparents anyway but even more so when their partner is coparenting with an absent coparent.

Solution 3.1: Set Clear Boundaries

Establishing clear boundaries helps define your role within the family dynamic. Boundaries activate the brain’s threat detection system, providing a sense of safety and security. Communicate openly with your partner and stepchildren about your boundaries, ensuring they align with everyone’s needs and expectations.

Solution 3.2: Practice Self-Compassion

Strive for a balance between selflessness and self-care by practicing self-compassion. Self-compassion activates regions of the brain associated with emotional regulation and resilience. Prioritize self-care activities that replenish your energy and foster emotional well-being, such as mindfulness, hobbies, or seeking support from a coach, like me, or a support group.

Solution 3.3: Collaborate with Your Partner

Work collaboratively with your partner to navigate the complexities of your role as a stepparent. Collaboration activates neural circuits associated with cooperation and problem-solving, enhancing your ability to find mutually beneficial solutions. Regular check-ins, shared decision-making, and a united front can strengthen your partnership and family cohesion.

And I have a guide with loads of practical tips and strategies for this. So, if you haven’t grabbed your copy of Family Fusion: 6 Steps to Collaborative Co-Parenting, don’t wait, and go get it right now.

Common Challenge #4: Addressing Necessary Issues with Your Partner

By now, you’re probably wondering – Maria, how do I address important and necessary issues with my partner? If, for example, my partner is tempted to coddle the child and out of guilt is preventing my stepchild from learning age-appropriate tasks or taking on more age-appropriate responsibilities.

Well, for one, you may want to share this episode with them or maybe even listen to it together and discuss the common challenges and suggested solutions we just went over.

And you definitely want to grab your copy of Family Fusion: 6 Steps to Collaborative Co-Parenting to get strategies you can implement right away. But also, this will get on my list which you definitely want to be on because I’ve got something amazing cooking to address this very question that I’m beyond excited about. And I’ll be sharing all about it with you all soon, and my list members get first dibs on everything and you don’t want to miss it! So go hit that subscribe button today!

Solution 4.1: Invite Your Partner to Encourage Autonomy and Competence in Your Stepchildren

Research in neuroscience suggests that autonomy and competence are essential for intrinsic motivation and self-esteem. Discuss with your partner ways to involve your stepchildren in decision-making processes and assigning them age-appropriate tasks, empowering them to develop skills and confidence.

Solution 4.2: Use Positive Reinforcement and Constructive Feedback

The brain’s reward system responds positively to reinforcement and constructive feedback, facilitating learning and behavior modification. Praise your stepchildren for their efforts and provide gentle guidance when necessary, emphasizing growth and progress. This is also useful when interacting with your partner.

All people like positive reinforcement no matter their age. So, when you see your partner trying to embrace a new approach or being more receptive to your suggestions or feedback, thank them for their efforts. Let them know that you notice their hard work and that they’re doing a great job.


As the day draws to a close, I invite you to take a moment to reflect on our journey together. From acknowledging your struggles of stepparenting in a blended family where your partner has been coparenting with an absent coparent to embracing neuroscience-backed strategies, we’ve covered a lot of ground. But remember, this is just the beginning. The path to blended family bliss is a marathon, not a sprint, and I’ll be here every step of the way to support you, guide you, and cheer you on. So, take my hand, dear friend, and let’s unlock the harmony that awaits us on this beautiful journey called life.

Remember, you’re not alone, and together, we can create the happy, harmonious blended family you’ve always dreamed of. If you’re ready to take the next step towards a brighter tomorrow, and you haven’t done so, grab your free copy of Family Fusion: 6 Steps to Collaborative Co-Parenting, and let me support you on your journey to blended family bliss. Your story is waiting to be written, and I’m here to help you turn the page to a new chapter filled with love, laughter, and endless possibilities.

Until next time, be well!

Click here to listen!

Rate, Review & Follow on Apple Podcasts

“Tons of value in this episode, love and appreciate your authenticity in all of your content.”

“Maria is amazing! Very well rounded insights.”

“Your podcast is awesome!”

If you like the show, please consider rating and reviewing us. This gives us the ability to reach and help more stepparents – like you – move towards the life and relationships that they desire with their blended clan.

Click here, scroll to the bottom, tap to rate us with 5 stars, and select “Write a Review” then be sure to let me know your favorite thing about the episode.

Also, if you haven’t done so yet, follow the podcast so you don’t miss a thing. Follow now!

Related Episodes:

Looking to strengthen connection in your blended family? Have a listen to Ep 82 – Step Talks: Navigating Stepfamily Bonds

Feeling stuck in a monotonous and ineffective autopilot grind? Check out Ep 14 – Get Out of the Stepparenting Autopilot Grind

Understand your stepfamily’s beliefs to find common ground with Ep 10 – Feel Out Your Blended Family’s Traditions and Beliefs