Secrets of Successful Step-Families: 10 Tips for Blended Family Bliss

While blended families are incredibly common, the adjustment of merging two households is never easy. About 65% of remarriages include kids , and terms like step-parent, step-sister, or step-brother may not feel warm and fuzzy at first. But with time, understanding, and tact, step-relatives can begin to feel more like “bonus-relatives,” providing an extra source of support, mentorship, and love.

So what can parents do to strengthen the blended -family bond?

1. Consider the kids’ perspective

If your kids are acting hostile, defiant, or downright mean, it can be hard to keep your cool with them. When you feel frustrated, remember that your kids are experiencing a rollercoaster of emotions as they adjust to their new family. A remarriage emphasizes that there’s no chance of their bio-parents reconciling, and that can be very hard for them to accept. Remember that your kids may feel a mix of sadness, anger, grief, fear, and confusion that will lessen over time.

2. Prepare a parenting plan

Unlike couples who become parents together, those who remarry are often more set in their parenting styles. It’s important to discuss parenting philosophies and get on the same page early on. If your new spouse tends to be stricter than you are, discuss ways that you can meet in the middle. Set a few family rules that you can both agree on. Consequences and rewards may vary a bit if the kids are different ages, but try to keep consistent with enforcing rules and granting privileges for teens and young kids alike.

3. Let discipline wait

As you develop your parenting plan, keep in mind that it’s generally best for step-parents to take a less disciplinary approach for the first year or two. This doesn’t mean they need to be walked all over, but they can keep the other parent informed and allow them to take the lead in enforcing consequences. As your child or teen adjusts to the new family dynamic over time, the step-parent can gradually take on a more authoritative role.

4. Involve your ex if possible

Sometimes it isn’t safe or possible for kids to have relationships with both bio-parents. If it is feasible, your child will probably adjust better if they’re able to maintain a positive relationship with both their parents. Do your best to put aside differences for recitals and sporting events and try to plan visitation schedules in ways that don’t disrupt your child’s schooling, activities, or friendships. If your kid lives with you most of the time, keep the nonresidential parent informed of what’s coming up. If you are the nonresidential parent, express to your child that even though they don’t live with you, you are dedicated to supporting them.

5. Avoid badmouthing bio-parents

Even if your ex acts like a complete four-letter-word, try to take the high road by not speaking badly about them to your kids (but feel free to shamelessly vent about them to your friends!). If you continue to show your ex respect and civility, they’ll be more likely to return the favor down the line. Remember that positive co-parenting is crucial in putting your child’s best interests first. Speaking badly about the other parent can damage your kid’s self-esteem and cause them to resent you.

6. Treat each sibling as special

The more siblings there are, the more mom and dad’s attention becomes divided. This can make kids feel resentful toward their new brothers or sisters. Assure each child that both parents are dedicated to quality time with them. If you share custody, plan family vacations and activities when all of the kids can attend. Keep lines of communication open and make your kids feel comfortable to talk about their feelings.

7. Honor all traditions

Kids may resent having to go along with someone else’s traditions, so try to find a middle ground that respects both sides’ practices. For example, if your family always opened gifts on Christmas Eve, and your step-kids are used to doing everything Christmas Day, compromise by opening a few special gifts on the 24th and opening the rest on the 25th. Create new traditions together as well, such as sledding, baking, or volunteering at a toy drive together.

8. Give safe spaces

Merging families means merging space which can make kids feel territorial. For this reason, it’s often ideal to move into a new home where your family can have a fresh start. If that’s not feasible, clear out all drawers, closets, and bedrooms and start dividing up space from scratch so that each family member has a clear idea of what space is theirs. Create a schedule for things that need to be shared such as computers and bathrooms. Remember to praise your kids for sharing and compromising.

9. Nurture your marriage

For the first few years, a lot of your focus will be on helping the kids adjust. This can make your marriage take a backseat. While it’s important to tend to your kids’ feelings, they’ll benefit from your marriage staying strong and connected. Plan occasional kid-free date nights and make time to talk alone on a regular basis. Celebrate family wins and talk openly about concerns and challenges.

10. Get support

Blended families can take several years to fully adjust, and younger kids often adapt quicker than older ones. Sometimes, however, it can feel impossible to make your new family feel stable and connected. If you or your spouse is struggling to get along with the kids or if family challenges are straining your marriage, our specialists can help.

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How to Cite This Blog Article

Shinn. M.M. (2019). Secrets of Successful Step Families: 10 Tips for Blended Family Bliss. Psychologically Speaking. [Variations Psychology blog post]. Retrieved from