6 Tips For Successfully Blending Families

My husband and I have a blended family. Between the two of us we share six children, and four live with us full time. They range in age from 10-18 years. If anyone says there aren’t huge transitional adjustments involved in such an undertaking, I would say they are lying and full of shit.

It’s one thing to be a blended family, and it is quite another to be successful at it. Trust me.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

1. Don’t be a disciplinarian to your step kids. You are not a dictator in the new regime, so to speak.  It is a tricky business because step kids aren’t going to automatically place you in the role of mom or dad. If you come in all hot and heavy by reprimanding them for using up all their data on their phone or flunking a civics exam, well chances are there is gonna be some resentment brewing.

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2. Don’t try to be a replacement parent. Chances are they already have one and more than likely don’t need another. A support? Yes. A Friend? Yes. Someone they can count on and trust? Absolutely.

3. I can’t stress the importance enough of FAMILY MEAL. For us, it was one of the reasons my step daughter chose to move in with us full time. She loved that opportunity to be together. There is something powerful that occurs at a table when family gathers around it to share a meal. Some of our best conversations have gone on at our table. It is more about getting together than the actual food eaten. It builds a spirit of love, safety and trust. It is something they can count on. It is a great way to reconnect after busy days, and ever so needed for a blended family to stay on track. I’m not going to lie, it can also be a tense atmosphere depending on what has been going on relationally in the home. The positive in it, however, is we all showed up.

4. I love the concept of ONE ON ONE DATES, if you are able. Both with your own kids AND your step kids. It gives them a feeling of worth and value. They don’t have to be huge expensive events. The library, a manicure or stopping for ice cream are great ways to incorporate some quality time with each kid.

5. DON’T TALK SMACK to your step kid’s about their bio mom or dad. It is just plain rude, and only looks bad on you. It is also something I believe kids don’t forget.  (I know I didn’t!)

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6. WITHHOLD FAVORITISM. No matter how hard you want your step kids to like you!

7. BE PATIENT. Blending a family successfully doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time, years even. We are all adjusting and it will continue to evolve and be rocky and be lovely and be scary and be uncomfortable, but hopefully (my fingers are crossed here) your kids will look back and find that it was all worth it.

Related post: The Top Five Things No Step-Parent Wants to Hear

About the writer

@Silverton_F_M

Jessica ia a urban homesteader mom with a blended family of 4 kids, 3 rescue dogs and 4 chickens named after Starbucks drinks. She has been known to wear her shirt inside out all day, forget to shave both legs and cook vegetarian meals that at times, her own chickens won't even eat. Her preferred mode of transportation is a 1961 Schwinn Cruiser bike from Montgomery Wards. You can visit her blog, The Dalai Mama at www.travelingmercies-jessica.blogspot.com 

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Gloria Lintermans 12 months ago

As a step and biological Mom, and the author of a book on stepfamilies which included not only my own experience but research with stepfamily authorities and other stepfamilies, I am aware, all to often, of the high rate of divorce among these families. One reason is that there are no understood guidelines for these families. Society tends to apply the rules of first marriages, while ignoring the complexities of stepfamilies.

A little clarification: In a stepfamily the child(ren) is of one co-parent; in a blended family, there are children from both co-parents; and, virtually all family members have recently experienced a primary relationship loss.

The Landmines
Three potential problem areas are: Financial burdens, Role ambiguity, and the Children’s Negative Feelings when they don’t want the new family to “work.” Husbands sometimes feel caught between the often impossible demands of their former family and their present one. Some second wives also feel resentful about the amount of income that goes to the husband’s first wife and family. Legally, the stepparent has no prescribed rights or duties, which may result in tension, compromise, and role ambiguity. Another complication of role ambiguity is that society seems to expect acquired parents and children to instantly love each other. In reality, this is often just not the case. The third reason for a difficult stepparent-child relationship might be that a child does not want this marriage to work, and so, acts out with hostility, since children commonly harbor fantasies that their biological parents will reunite. Stepchildren can prove hostile adversaries, and this is especially true for adolescents.

Stepmother Anxiety
Clinicians say that the role of stepmother is more difficult than that of stepfather, because stepmother families may more often be born of difficult custody battles and/or particularly troubled family relations.
Society is also contradictory in expecting loving relationships between stepmothers and children while, at the same time, portraying stepmothers as cruel and even abusive (Snow White, Cinderella, and Hansel and Gretel are just a few bedtime stories we are all familiar with).

Stepfather Anxiety
Men who marry women with children come to their new responsibilities with a mixed bag of emotions, far different from those that make a man assume responsibility for his biological children. A new husband might react to an “instant” family with feelings which range from admiration to fright to contempt. The hidden agenda is one of the first difficulties a stepfather runs into: The mother or her children, or both, may have expectations about what he will do, but may not give him a clear picture of what those expectations are. The husband may also have a hidden agenda. A part of the stepchildren’s hidden agenda is the extent to which they will let the husband play father. The key is for everyone to work together. The husband, wife, their stepchildren, and their non-custodial biological parent can all negotiate new ways of doing things by taking to heart and incorporating the information you are about to learn—the most positive alternative for everyone.

One Day at a Time
Now you have a pretty good feel for what everyone is going through. How do you start to make it better — a process that can take years? First you must be very clear about what you want and expect from this marriage and the individuals involved, including yourself. What are you willing to do? In a loving and positive way, now is the time to articulate, negotiate, and come to an agreement on your expectations and about how you and your partner will behave. The best marriages are flexible marriages, but how can you be flexible if you do not know what everyone needs right now. And, this may change over time, so there must be room for that to happen as well. In flexible marriages partners are freer to reveal the parts of their changing selves that no longer fit into their old established patterns. You couldn’t possibly have known at the beginning of your new family what you know now and will learn later. Spouses may feel the “conflict taboo” even more than in a first marriage. It is understandable that you want to make this marriage work. You might feel too “battle-scarred” to open “a can of worms.” And so, you gloss over differences that need airing and resolution—differences over which you may not have hesitated to wage war in your first marriage. Avoiding airing your differences is a serious mistake. It is important for you to understand your own and your partner’s needs because society hasn’t a clue how stepfamilies should work. Unless you talk about your expectations, they are likely to be unrealistic.

Living Well
Since roughly one third of stepfamilies do survive—even thrive—we know that stepfamilies can grow the safety, support, and comfort that only healthy families provide. Consider the following for living your step/blended family life well: You must assess, as a couple, how well you accept and resolve conflicts with each other and key others. Learn and steadily work to develop verbal skills: listen with empathy, effectively show your needs, and problem-solve together. The emotional highs of new love can disguise deep disagreement on parenting, money, family priorities, and home management, i.e., values that will surface after the wedding. Together, accept your prospective identity as a normal, unique, multi-home stepfamily. You need to admit and resolve strong disagreements, well enough for positive results. You must balance and co-manage all of these tasks well enough on a daily basis to: build a solid, high-priority marriage; enjoy your kids; and, to keep growing emotionally and spiritually as individual people. Know and take comfort in the fact that confidant stepfamily adult teams (not simply couples), can provide the warmth, comfort, inspiration, support, security—and often (not always) the love—that adults and kids long for.
Gloria Lintermans is the author of THE SECRETS TO STEPFAMILY SUCCESS: Revolutionary Tools to Create a Blended Family of Support and Respect.

Debra Brookes 1 year ago

My ex husband and his partner would do well to read this as they have moved in together about a month ago. She has 2 kids and my kids have been so upset by the new children taking over their time with their dad and their bedrooms there. It has caused jealousy and insecurity. There has been alot of upset and tears and when I tried to talk to my ex about it I was told it had nothing to do with me. He then told our children I just don’t want daddy to be happy!! Which is total rubbish as I have been with my partner 4 years now and we are expecting twins any day now. My kids call him by his name and always tell him they love him. We never forced the issue with them but let them come to terms with our new family set up gradually unlike their father who has told them they are all family now and they have to get used to it.

Angela Buss 1 year ago

I agree with #1 in this situation these kids are half grown to just jump in and start disciplining right away could be bad, my husband has been in my son’s life since he was 2 he is now nine and my husband didn’t just jump in disciplining that was built up over time at first it was like an awesome babysitter and as the relationship developed so did the discipline. My ex just got married, she does not discipline to the extent of my husband but I know she would stop him from doing something unsafe unsafe and crazy and if he was out of line she would step in but probably not over little stuff that is up to his dad but he is only there every other weekend.

Rhiannon Proctor 1 year ago

I disagree with #1 and #2… would you tell these same rules to adoptive parents?? No. So imo a parent is a parent… it takes a village to raise a child and every adult in that village needs to know how to discipline and love that child as their own. If your village included a step parent… same rules apply.. I think HOW you go about placing that adult in the childs life depending on the age of said child makes a huge difference as well.

Bugamom 1 year ago

I rarely and I mean rarely disagree with something posted in the page.
But this one is different.
Involved with questions man with 4 daughters.
I have one.
If we are at my home my rules are followed.
At his home my child still has to follow my rules and his are exempt.
Quite honestly I’m not going to be their friend anymore than I want him to be my child’s buddy.
There’s a delicate line to cross in blending families and happy advice is good but there is not happy situations that come with it too.
Be prepared for door slamming and trash talking from the kids to their other parents. Friends. Grandparents. Etc.
Be prepared for at least once, no matter how long you’ve been there to hear, ” your not my REAL parent” for whatever reason it’s said it hurts like hell.
Than there are the inlaws. Either the divorce was nasty and they are overprotective of their kid and grandkids, they still love the ex, or just don’t want a new son/daughter in law, those are all very very real scenarios.
Loving someone is wonderful.
Blended family’s can be wonderul.
And very very hard

Katie Marchetti 1 year ago

Every weekend is a struggle with my step daughter. Clearly she runs the show at home and her bio mom treats her like a buddy. You nailed it Cheryl! You do have to discipline to dome degree I have standards in my house for both mine and the stepdaughter.

Cheryl Tania Beck 1 year ago

Disgree with no.1. You have to disclipine them, it’s part of it either wise you’re playing favorites and your own kid will resent you. However, the bio parent has to be the firmer one.

MyLove M. Barnett 1 year ago

I think husband and wife need to both be on the same page with regard to household discipline. We have house rules, and they are enforced, regardless of who it is–step kids, bio kids, visiting kids, etc. These are the rules, these are the consequences. Nobody has to be the bad guy when you’ve got a clear list of expectations and everybody works together to maintain order. We had a ‘family meeting’ with the kids when we all first moved in together, and they were a huge part of making the rules and consequences list. It gave them a sense of control, and a sense of responsibility, and let my husband and I sort of off the hook by not setting up a good cop/bad cop kind of relationship with the kids, doing it that way.

Amanda Donnelly 1 year ago

I love this, my boyfriend and I have been together and cohabitating going on 5 years. He has a 6 year old daughter and we now have one on the way. It took a long time for us to decide exactly how to make it all work. Somewhere along the line she sat down and asked us what I was to her along with different members of my family, ie, my mom, my sister. It was at this time that we did the most rational thing we could think of, ask her what she wanted us to be. She made the decision my family is now Grammy, aunt, great grandma; and I became her step mom. While I don’t agree with number 1 and have found that when I don’t discipline her andd wait for her father to get home she sees it as a reason to disrespect or ignore my rules, I think the others are great words of wisdom and the idea of one on one dates is something we will have to remember as the new baby comes. I know we are not a traditional blended family and some may say we are not one at all because we aren’t married, but we go by what the heart feels and I appreciate seeing articles like this!

Bryanna Ward Lemanski 1 year ago

I think this I good but I do disagree with #1 & #2. I don’t have any step kids, but my oldest daughter has a stepmom, and a stepdad(my husband). Bothe her stepmom and my husband have been in her life since she was 2. They are just as much a parent to her as her bio dad and I. I fully expect her to treat her stepmom and my husband no different than her dad and I, and I expect her stepmom and stepdad to parent her no different than her dad and I. I want to know that if anything were to happen to me that she has another “mom” to lean on, and be guided by.

Monica Heath 1 year ago

Blending is very difficult, my ex husband and I don’t see eye to eye but our children shouldn’t suffer for it, I don’t speak ill of his new gf because things can change I also don’t think the bio parents should be talking badly of step parents, my stepson who is five has been extremely rude to me and even said my mom told me I don’t have to like u or listen to u. I told him that’s fine but this is my house my rules if u want to play with my kids u have to fallow the same rules, let’s just say his mommy dearest keeps putting her nose were it doesn’t belong and she’s not going to like me. I don’t respect a mother who uses her child to cause problems at the other parents house!!

Kyri Halstead Smyth 1 year ago

I wish I had had someone to advise me. I failed miserably!

Amy O’Connell 1 year ago

#2 I agree is a must. I ex husband had my son call each of his new gfs mom. And his new wife he forced it. I have never forced my husband to be called dad to my son. Then again I’m not dealing with a rational person when I’m dealing with my ex husband.

Diana Bond 1 year ago

It is incredibly hard to blend a family. After 2 years of marriage I have moments I feel like we are a “real” family and it feels great. Gets me through the rough patches.

Amy O’Connell 1 year ago

Agree

Jessica Hoefer 1 year ago

Thanks Ladies – I love hearing all your input and thoughts. This article was challenging to write but I just did it from my own personal experience. Great to hear your experiences as well!

Crystal Camarda 1 year ago

Random- Just watched the movie blended last night-super cute!!

Brittany Reece 1 year ago

I’m sorry, but I completely disagree with #1. Don’t be a disciplinarian? Sorry but if any child is doing something I would get on to another child for, I’m disciplining. If you don’t, how is that any different than playing favorites?

Frida Splendido 1 year ago

I definitely agree. And that goes the other way around too! No kid who likes their parents new partner wants to hear the other parent trash talk them.

Lisa Wolfe 1 year ago

I disagree. I’m not here to be a best friend, I’m here to be a parent, a guide. I don’t treat the kids different, I don’t play favorites. We have rules here that some of the kids don’t have with the other parent. It’s hard trying to blend everything.

Ludmilla Banks 1 year ago

My ex would do well to remember #2. They were dating three MONTHS and he had the kids calling her mom

Valerie Ann 1 year ago

Well written – came from a broken family and vowed that no matter what happened if I were ever a step parent it would never be like that…

Holly Brett Masone 1 year ago

Oh how I wish my mom and step dad has followed these.

Laura Palmer 1 year ago

These are great but some of these are hard to apply when the bio parent is not in the picture at all

Eileen Teresa Laurent 1 year ago

Oh boy. Didn’t work for me. My son and his step dad have the worst actually no relationship now. Looking back there is a lot I would do differently.

Jennifer Lynn 1 year ago

Raymond I’m prepping!

Ella Louise Dorsett 1 year ago

It is the hardest thing we have ever done!! mistakes have definitely been made along the way!! We had 3 children between us when we met and now we have 2 of our own aswell .. 4 of the children are still living with us and 10 years on it is still not perfect between my daughter and her step dad!! it always seems as if everyone else has an opinion and often they don’t even have previous knowledge of how difficult the transition is!! I think the worst mistake we made was not strengthening the bond between my daughter and my new partner!! I recommend to anyone who is blending a family to pay enormous attention to this area of the relationship..things are alot brighter now but we still have stumbling blocks now and again.. But then again so does a ‘normal’ family!! what is normal anyway!! x

Kellie Tinant 1 year ago

#5 is a must. No kid wants to hear anything bad said about their parent.

Laura King 1 year ago

This is the best advise on blended families I have ever read.if you’re smart you will live by it