What Not To Do When Blending Families

by Michelle Dempsey
Originally Published: 
Blended family
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty

In my 30-something years of life, you could say that I’ve successfully fucked things up a time or two. Thanks to my masochistic penchant for consistently having to learn things the hard way, I’ve been accused of being slightly impulsive and making mistakes so major, I’d never forget the lessons they taught me. And then I got divorced.

Divorce, in my opinion, was the most royal fuck-up of all, or maybe it was marrying someone I only knew for less than year and hoping for the best. Having left my now ex-husband with a two-year-old in tow, I learned a cold, hard lesson about thinking things through.

So, when it came time to for my fiancé and I to blend our two daughters and create a new family dynamic, you can imagine why I was determined to get it right.

Perfection has never been my goal – that went out the window a long time ago, around the same time I tossed all the skinny jeans I saved from my pre-baby life. But happiness, harmony, and contentment were the new goals, even if it seemed impossible in a home built after two divorces, with two daughters in two very different age brackets.

Hearing horror stories from friends, articles we googled, and even the child psychologist who helped us with the transition, put my fiancé and I on edge. Our anxiety was through the roof as we prepared the girls for the move, made arrangements for movers, and started the official blend just four months ago.

Liuda Lebedz/Reshot

But as it turned out, our visions of miserable, angry children and our fairytale love story turning to resentment and anger never came to fruition. All of our fears dissipated when we saw the happiness in our girl’s faces each time they entered our home.

Maybe it was our level of care and attention, or the self-awareness that comes about when you realize you have little room for error, but whatever it was, we’ve learned a ton in the last few months. I’m not saying our way of doing things in this new blended life is on-point 100% of the time, but we’ve definitely learned what NOT to do to keep the recipe as close to perfect as possible.

1. Hanging on to expectations and assumptions

Get rid of these – ASAP. Your expectations and assumptions of what your blended family should look like, feel like, and sound like need to not exist. Why? You cannot expect anything from a situation you’ve never been in before. You cannot assume your child, new partner and/or his children are going to do things the way you’re used to them being done. You’re blazing a whole new path here, one that requires a lot of bravery, and also a whole lot of patience.

Your partner’s bedtime routine with their child is going to be different than yours. Their discipline habits, ideas on how much dinner needs to be consumed before dessert, rules about TV and technology will to. Your child may leave her wet towels in places your new partner will balk at, and vice versa.

Expecting anyone to do anything the way you did before you lived with them is like expecting to know tonight’s winning lottery numbers – six thousand percent impossible.

2. Brushing issues under the rug to avoid confrontation

There will be things that piss you off about your new blended situation. There will be things that piss your partner off about your new blended situation. There will be days that suck so hard even though the days before seemed like heaven. You need to be able to confront these issues to move on from them – building resentment has no place in your new blended home.

Communication is your lifeline. If you and your partner have not learned how to successfully communicate before moving your families in together, I suggest you learn quickly. You may be scared to have any moments of discord with your new partner in front of their child, knowing full-well that you now live in a fish bowl and everything that happens will go back to that child’s parent, but so what? Who cares? This is your new life, and you have to do what it takes to make it right.

3. Fearing the fish bowl

Yes, it sucks, I know. You now live in a world where everything you say or do will be repeated to a person who likely doesn’t support your new living situation all that much. From the way you look when you wake up, to how you parent your own child, to how you messed up your new stepchild’s favorite dinner recipe, to how cranky you get at the end of the day – this will all be discussed behind your back at one point or another.


The worst thing you can do is live in a way that is unnatural just to avoid being talked about. This is your home now, your world and comfort zone, and if you can’t live in it peacefully because you’re scared the gossip might fly, there is no way you’re going to enjoy this new adventure.

4. Not being mindful of the other parent

My child has a father. My stepdaughter has a mother. Both of these people still play crucially important roles even though they are not under our roof. Moving in with someone else’s child and thinking that you, for one second, can replace the parent who is missing them on the other side of town is a huge mistake.

So is trying to be the “fun” stepmom or stepdad.

For example, my fiancé and I make a conscious effort, every single day and in every situation, to remind our children that their parents matter too. When my stepdaughter asks me for something or wants my advice, I always check with her mom first before giving my opinion or purchasing anything. When my daughter wants to do something that my fiancé knows her father would not approve of, he reminds her of that. This is not only crucial for your relationship with your partner’s ex, but for your stepchild to understand that even when they are not with their biological parent, that there is a level of respect that must be maintained.

5. Trying to spend every minute together

Newsflash: before you blended your family, your partner and his child(ren) got endless alone time together. Having divorced parents often means that children get their parents all to themselves for a while, so having to share them again is tough.

Being a blended family is exciting – it is so damn nice to have a family unit again. But it’s important to remember to allow for some space too, and that overkill is deadly here. I am a staunch supporter of my stepdaughter’s alone time with my fiancé. I encourage daddy/daughter dates, days, trips, and anything that reminds her that she is still the number one lady in his life – and he does the same for me and my child, which makes for a lot more love and respect in our new blended life than we ever anticipated.

Look, blending a family is a constant work in progress. Just like in a typical family dynamic, issues will always arise – but it’s in how you handle them that determines your success, and of course, remembering what not to do.

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