5 Common Blending Family Issues and How to Avoid Them

Expanding your family through remarriage? Follow these tips from a parent who’s been there so you can avoid typical blending family issues.
Chelsea Williams
November 17, 2022
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f you've been divorced and dating a new partner for a while, you could eventually decide to move in together or become a remarried couple. If both of you have kids, you may come up against some blending family issues — even if you've introduced the children and things seem to be going well. 

You can sidestep potential conflict or misunderstanding by predicting what could go wrong and taking some simple preemptive measures.

In this article, I'll talk about five common problems your new blended family might encounter:

  • You or your partner could feel out of practice and have trouble adjusting to being married again
  • It could take time to build a solid bond with your stepchildren
  • Each member of your newly formed stepfamily may have different ideas about household rules
  • Your children could have a difficult time getting along with their new stepsiblings
  • The energy it takes to successfully blend a family could take you away from your co-parenting responsibilities

1. Apprehension About Remarriage

Blending family issues: couple having a sweet moment

After you've grown accustomed to being divorced — especially if you've been going it alone as a single parent for some time — some factors of married life could now feel foreign to you. And even though you love your new spouse, there's a chance you could have mixed feelings about getting married again. 

When I got remarried, all kinds of doubts surfaced. Would this time be more successful than my previous relationship? Is it going to sound crazy to say I've been married twice at my age?

I was also aware of the societal stigma around divorce, and I felt a bit embarrassed to be entering my second marriage and worried that I'd have a difficult time again. Not to mention the additional concerns this time around about our relative co-parenting commitments.

The key to overcoming these worries was to look inward and learn to stop judging myself. Deep down, I felt I was doing the right thing for myself and my kids, and I had to trust that. There's no way to predict the future, and we're all doing our best with the information available to us at any given time.

Change can be scary, and there will always be an adjustment period, but you can get through the awkward early stages of remarriage. If the relationship is right for you, you'll soon feel a sense of ease and fall into the routine of married life.

Tips for addressing your doubts: 

  • Be honest with your partner about how you're feeling. There's a good chance they have some of the same concerns, and mutual openness could bring you closer together.
  • Spend plenty of time reflecting on the reasons you've decided to remarry. Aside from building a new family for your kids, what is it about your connection with your partner that gives you confidence in the relationship's potential? You'll probably see that you're following your heart and that your doubts are only in your head.

2. Conflict With Stepchildren

Blending family issues: stepmother trying to talk to her angry stepdaughter

You're not alone if you find it hard to see eye-to-eye or start a casual conversation with your stepchildren. If you're walking on eggshells around them, it can help to put yourself in their shoes.

They could be hesitant about whether forming a relationship with you is equivalent to being unloyal to their other biological parent. Even though you may not be asking them to take sides, they could feel pressured to choose.

Your stepkids might have lived a good portion of their lives in a nuclear family arrangement or as children of divorce. Now, they're being asked to accept a stepmom or stepdad — and possibly new siblings — into their lives. Especially if they've had to move or change their routines, it's going to take time for them to adjust.

How you approach a relationship with your stepkids will depend a lot on their ages. Teenagers could have a tougher time with a new stepparent's presence than younger children, and you have fewer years to get to know them. A younger child might be more likely to eventually trust and love you as a stepparent.

Regardless of age, your stepchildren will respond to your authenticity and willingness to show up for this high functioning blended family relationship.

Tips for creating a strong bond with your stepkids:

  • Try not to push them to be your best friend. Follow your stepdaughter or stepson's lead in deciding how to interact with them.
  • Don't engage in parenting behavior yet. Patricia Papernow, psychologist and stepfamily life expert, says stepparents should think of themselves as adult babysitters rather than parents. They can enforce an existing rule, but they don't have the final say about what's OK for their stepchild to do — at least not while the relationship is new. Staying clear about your role will help the children understand how their new family fits together.
  • Avoid displaying favoritism toward your biological children. Even though you're likely to have a different kind of connection with your own kids, your stepkids shouldn't feel that they're neglected or treated poorly in comparison. You might have to consciously practice treating them equally, since you likely feel more comfortable with your biological children. But it's important to stay aware of the messages you're sending to avoid hurt feelings.

3. Disagreements About New Family Rules

Blending family issues: son covering his face as his parents argue

Some blending family issues are the same ones you'd encounter if you weren't combining households. Namely, arguments over rules and consequences.

Kids generally gripe and push back against parents in a nuclear family dynamic, too, but it can be more difficult to stay consistent if you and your partner are new to step-parenting.

For example, your partner wants to implement an earlier weekend bedtime for your 8-year-old son to align with the time their younger daughters go to sleep. Your son is upset because he was allowed to stay up until 10 p.m. on weekends when you were single parenting.

Because bedtime disparities are something you may not have discovered before moving in together, it wouldn't have been easy to prevent this upset. Now, however, you have an opportunity to compromise and come to a fair resolution for your son.

Tips for preventing disagreements about household rules:

  • Talk about parenting styles with your new spouse before you move in together. You may not be able to describe how you handle every little thing, but you can figure out how each other operates as a parent and be less surprised by their choices later.
  • Don't leave rules open for interpretation. Sit down with all of your children and explain what you've decided is fair for your blended family setup. For those who are old enough, you could decide to include them in some decisions. Even if they're not happy with everything you say, they won't be blindsided by rules that weren't communicated.

4. Tense Relationships Among Step-siblings

Stepsiblings arguing with each other

A blended family situation can take sibling rivalry to a whole new level — if you're not diligent about stepping in before it goes too far.

In the early days after moving your families in together, there could be an element of fun and novelty about acquiring new family members. Then, reality often sets in. Your kids might rebel against having to share space and attention with siblings they don't know well yet. They could push their stepsiblings away or pick fights that seem unjustified.

But feeling uncomfortable around new brothers and sisters isn't necessarily rivalry. It could be an indication of emotional turmoil around recent family changes.

You know your children best. If they're getting into squabbles more than usual or otherwise acting out of character, it's probably a sign that they need some support and reassurance. Adjusting to having a stepfamily could simply be the catalyst for a reaction that was bound to bubble to the surface anyway.

Tips for minimizing issues amongst your children and stepchildren:

  • Think of them as peers, not siblings. You wouldn't force your children to engage beyond their comfort zone with brand-new acquaintances. That's essentially how they feel about new step-siblings in the beginning: like they're living with classmates they barely know. Your vision of all the children interacting like siblings might be a bit ambitious at the start.
  • Keep up with important routines and traditions for your children. When your kids feel they're getting their emotional needs met and that they aren't losing you to this new family you're building, they might feel better about going with the flow. Try not to let the little things you've always done with your kids — which are actually the big things — go by the wayside. If you used to stop at their favorite park after school on Fridays, keep it up. And if you loved making a pancake breakfast together on each child's birthday, remember that it will be even more special to them now.

5. Neglecting Co-Parenting Responsibilities

Father helping his kids with homework

Busy as you might be trying to make a blended family arrangement work, it's important not to forget to also stay dedicated to co-parenting with your ex-spouse. 

This responsibility is a blending family issue many people overlook, but co-parenting has a significant impact on your day-to-day life and can't be ignored. 

It can be helpful to establish some co-parenting strategies before you attempt blending families, but it's never too late to try a fresh technique to make things go more smoothly.

One particularly important element to pay attention to as you build your new household is your legally determined parenting time. Be sure to prioritize the time you spend with your child, and don't allow new family responsibilities to take precedence over this time. 

If you request frequent schedule changes, start showing up late at pick-ups, or otherwise change your co-parenting habits, your child and your co-parent will get the message that the agreement is not as important to you as your new partner and their kids. That could create a whole host of problems.

Tips for simultaneously co-parenting and step-parenting:

  • Find simple ways to communicate with your co-parent. When you're balancing a stepfamily and co-parenting, you could easily forget about a plan or overlook details. Make communication about shared expenses convenient and lower your stress with the Onward App.
  • Notify your ex-spouse about any upcoming changes. If you're moving, getting married, or otherwise going through a big change that will impact your child, their other parent should know about it. While you don't have to share private details, they will likely appreciate knowing when something big is coming up before they hear about it from your child.

Stay Compassionate to Bypass Blending Family Issues

While a lot of families face challenges when trying to come together, there are also many wonderful outcomes of building a new life with people you care about. 

Every member of the family plays a unique role. Allowing them to come to terms with the changes on their own time, and staying flexible as your children and stepchildren adjust, will make the ultimate story that much more beautiful. 

By co-parenting with compassion, your blended family — as unconventional as it may seem to some — can be as great as you want it to be.

Start managing shared expenses with your co-parent easily!

Chelsea Williams

Chelsea is a twice-divorced mom of two boys. She is happily single parenting and doing her best to balance two simultaneous co-parenting relationships. Despite the complications, Chelsea can see the beauty in her story and believes healing is possible for the whole family.