Step Families

By Neil Friedman on Feb 04, 2012 at 08:21 AM in Helpful Resources

Guide to Step-parenting and Blended Families

HOW TO BOND WITH STEPCHILDREN AND DEAL WITH STEPFAMILY PROBLEMS

Stepfamilies, also known as blended families, are more of a norm now than ever, with 65% of remarriages including children from previous relationships. When families “blend” to create stepfamilies, though, things rarely progress smoothly.  Some children may resist the many changes they face, while parents may become frustrated or disappointed when the new family doesn’t function like their previous family.

While changes to family structure require some adjustment time for everyone involved, with the right guidance and realistic expectations, most blended families are able to work out their growing pains and live together successfully. Open communication, positive attitudes, mutual respect, and plenty of love and patience all have an important place in creating a healthy blended family.

In This Article:

Print   Authors

Text Size

Planning a blended family

You and your partner have decided to make a life together and form a new, blended family that includes children from one or both of your previous relationships. Congratulations. What lies ahead can be both a rewarding and a challenging experience. It can take a long time for a blended family to begin to feel comfortable and function well together.

While you as parents are likely to approach remarriage and a new blended family with great joy and expectation, your kids or your new spouse’s kids may not be nearly as excited. They’ll likely feel uncertain about the upcoming changes and how they will affect relationships with their natural parents. They’ll also be worried about living with new stepsiblings, whom they may not know well, or worse, ones they may not even like. To give yourself the best chance of success, it’s important to start planning how a blended family will function before the marriage even takes place.

Laying the foundations for a blended family

Having survived a painful divorce or separation and then managed to find a new loving relationship, the temptation can often be to rush into remarriage and a blended family without first laying solid foundations. By taking your time, you give everyone a chance to get used to each other, and used to the idea of marriage.

  • Too many changes at once can unsettle children. Blended families have the highest success rate if the couple waits two years or more after a divorce to remarry, instead of piling one drastic family change onto another.
  • Don't expect to fall in love with your partner’s children overnight. Get to know them. Love and affection take time to develop.
  • Find ways to experience “real life” together. Taking both sets of kids to a theme park every time you get together is a lot of fun, but it isn’t reflective of everyday life. Try to get the kids used to your partner and his or her children in daily life situations.
  • Make parenting changes before you marry. Agree with your new partner how you intend to parent together, and then make any necessary adjustments to your parenting styles before you remarry. It’ll make for a smoother transition and your kids won’t become angry at your new spouse for initiating changes.
  • Don’t allow ultimatums. Your kids or new partner may put you in a situation where you feel you have to choose between them. Remind them that you want both sets of people in your life.
  • Insist on respect. You can’t insist people like each other but you can insist that they treat one another with respect.
  • Limit your expectations. You may give a lot of time, energy, love, and affection to your new partner’s kids that will not be returned immediately. Think of it as making small investments that may one day yield a lot of interest.

Given the right support, kids should gradually adjust to the prospect of marriage and being part of a new family. It is your job to communicate openly, meet their needs for security, and give them plenty of time to make a successful transition.

What makes a successful blended family?

Trying to make a blended family a replica of your first family, or the ideal nuclear family, can often set family members up for confusion, frustration, and disappointment. Instead, embrace the differences and consider the basic elements that make a successful blended family:

  • Solid marriage. Without the marriage, there is no family. It's harder to take care of the marriage in a blended family because you don't have couple time like most first marriages do. You'll have to grow and mature into the marriage while parenting.
  • Being civil. If family members can be civil with one another on a regular basis rather than ignoring, purposely trying to hurt, or completely withdrawing from each other, you're on track.
  • All relationships are respectful. This is not just referring to the kids' behavior toward the adults. Respect should be given not just based on age, but based on the fact that you are all family members now.
  • Compassion for everyone’s development. Members of your blended family may be at various life stages and have different needs (teens versus toddlers, for example). They may also be at different stages in accepting this new family. Family members need to understand and honor those differences.
  • Room for growth. After a few years of being blended, hopefully the family will grow and members will choose to spend more time together and feel closer to one another.

Adapted from: RemarriageSuccess.com

Bonding with your new blended family

Early in the formation of a blended family, you as a step-parent may want to focus on developing positive relationships with your stepchildren. You will increase the chances of success by thinking about what the children need. Age, gender, and personality are not irrelevant, but all children have some basic needs and wants that should be met as a precursor to a great relationship.

Children want to feel:

  • Safe and secure. Children want to be able to count on parents and step-parents. Children of divorce have already felt the upset of having people they trust let them down, and may not be eager to give second chances to a new step-parent.
  • Loved. Kids like to see and feel your affection, although it should be a gradual process.
  • Seen and valued. Kids often feel unimportant or invisible when it comes to decision making in the new blended family. Recognize their role in the family when you make decisions.
  • Heard and emotionally connected. Creating an honest and open environment free of judgment will help kids feel heard and emotionally connected to a new step-parent. Show them that you can view the situation from their perspective.
  • Appreciated and encouraged. Children of all ages respond to praise and encouragement and like to feel appreciated for their contributions.
  • Limits and boundaries. Children may not think they need limits, but a lack of boundaries sends a signal that the child is unworthy of the parents’ time, care, and attention. As a new step-parent, you shouldn’t step in as the enforcer at first, but work with your spouse to set limits.

Let the child set the pace

Every child is different and will show you how slow or fast to go as you get to know them. Some kids may be more open and willing to engage. Shy, introverted children may require you to slow down and give them more time to warm up to you. Given enough time, patience, and interest, most children will eventually give you a chance.

Dealing with the death of a parent

When a parent has died, the remarriage of the remaining parent may trigger unfinished grieving in children. Give them space and time to grieve and learn more about how to support them.

Neil Friedman, Santa Barbara Therapist

Neil Friedman, LCSW

I have an eclectic, holistic approach in working with people. I believe in helping people recognize and utilize their strengths to overcome any challenge they might face. In this process, we can explore any unconscious blocks that might be interfering with connecting with others and their environment to make the most of each moment. I believe that the “here and now” is where we experience life to the fullest. Along these lines, I try to help people find the balance between their emotional and reasonable minds to effectively problem solve issues to be addressed.

Please call or email me for an individual, couples or family therapy consultation today.

Neil Friedman, LCSW
123 W Padre, Ste A
Santa Barbara, CA 93105
(805) 319-0304 
[email protected]
Santa Barbara CAMFT Member

Santa Barbara Therapy


View Larger Map