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Stepparenting or Blended Families

When people remarry or share living arrangements and blend families, it can be challenging. Here are some suggestions that might help if your family includes children under 18 years old.

  • Talk about things before you blend the families. Talk openly with your children and future partner about what they expect and what they fear. Ask each of them how they picture future family life. You may be able to calm some fears, but it is realistic to expect some tough times ahead. Let everyone know that they probably will feel awkward around one another and that it will take time to adjust to the changes. Don’t ask your children for permission. Children may feel disloyal to your ex-partner if you expect them to say it’s OK to marry or live with someone else.
  • Give children a special role in the wedding ceremony or the move into a new home. Letting children feel like they are part of the process can help make things go smoother for everyone.
  • Do not expect everything to be perfect. Children will likely have some anger, fear, or hurt feelings about your new partner and new living arrangements. These feelings are common and natural. Let children express them. If children can't tell you what's bothering them, you can't figure out solutions.

    It’s OK for children to think of the new person in your life as a friend rather than as “mom” or “dad”. Shared memories and experiences help build trust and close relationships. It takes time, so don’t expect children to accept your new partner right away.

    When you first blend families, it is usually best for the birth parent to discipline the children. In this way, child and stepparent are not set up for fights and hurt feelings. As the relationship between child and stepparent grows, discipline may be shared.

  • Stay patient and flexible. Your children have a lot of adjustments to make. They may go back and forth between 2 sets of homes and families. They may have new brothers and sisters, as well as parents who are paying attention to someone new. With more people in the house, there may be less privacy. The new family may have different ways of doing things than what each child may expect or prefer. Give children some time and space to adapt.
  • Teach respect. Although you can’t make family members like each other, you can make sure that they treat each other with respect. Make sure that you and your new partner model respectful behavior for your children.
  • Start new traditions. You will keep some traditions from each family, but it is also good to start new traditions. Children may spend holidays with another parent, or expect that everyone in your new family will do the same things in the same way. Everyday traditions such as hugs before school, pizza nights, or notes in a lunch box are important too. Keep doing some things that everyone is used to, but don’t be afraid to try new ones.
  • Spend one-on-one time with each family member. A strong bond between you and your new partner is important. While parenting issues will be a challenge, don't let your relationship suffer. Spend time together away from the children. Plan a weekend getaway or go out for lunch or dinner.

    Plan individual activities with each child in your new family. Spending time one-on-one helps you talk about things that might not come up in front of other family members. It also helps you get to know each other better.

  • Don’t expect the stepparent to replace the birth parent. It is normal for children to still feel connected to birth parents. Death or divorce does not change the feelings that a child has toward birth parents. Let children know that loving the birth parent does not mean hating the stepparent. And loving the stepparent does not mean disloyalty to the birth parent. Older school-age children seem to have the most problems with this.

    Both birth parents and stepparents need to accept the fact that each will play some role in children’s lives. It is important for all parents to communicate and cooperate for the good of the children.

  • Read books together about stepfamilies. There are books on the subject for children, teens, and adults.
  • Find support. Locate a support group in your area. You can learn how other families are dealing with blending their families. Healthcare providers or mental health professionals can help if serious problems develop. They can also answer questions you may have about blending a family.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Pediatric Advisor 2015.2 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-09-29
Last reviewed: 2014-09-29
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
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