lended families (a family made up of a couple and their children from any previous relationships) have gone from being a rarity to becoming the new norm in American culture. Many second marriages involve children from both spouses. Since 2019, over 3.9 million children in the U.S. alone have lived in a household that includes a stepparent, according to official data.
Successfully blended families redefine union and togetherness in many ways. However, harmony doesn’t come overnight, and it’s important to understand that coming together as a family takes time, patience, and lots of compromises.
In his popular book “Stepfamilies,” Dr. James H. Bray says that the foundations of every functional blended family lay in a stable, loving relationship with your new partner.
Remarriage and stepfamily life come with certain challenges, and couples need a strong foundation of open communication and trust to overcome them. Of course, it may sound easier said than done. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, it usually takes around two years for everyone in a blended family to adjust to the changes. However, parents who proactively address potential family issues can help make the transition smoother for everyone involved.
Let’s go through the common challenges of blending families and how to navigate the ups and downs of this new family life:
You may need to sit down with your partner and set some basic house rules for your new family before he or she becomes your new spouse or live-in partner.
If you both have children from previous marriages, chances are you don’t have the same rules for your kids. Coming together to create new rules that seemingly merge your parenting styles is a good way to make a clean start.
Here are some basic household rules to talk about before creating a new blended family:
Both parents must be on the same page when it comes to establishing rules and taking disciplinary actions. A good way to stay on track is to create a shared list of values and use it as the foundation for your new family dynamic. Once you’ve noted everything, you might call everyone to the table and discuss each point as a family so the kids feel included and appreciated.
Once you’ve agreed on the basics and started putting your new household in order, it’ll be time to turn it into a happy, nurturing, well-blended home. Your new stepfamily will need time together to bond and figure out the new relationships and dynamics. When you consider your different visitation rights and custody schedules, it may seem like a tall order, but you’ll get there with patience and understanding.
You won’t have to carve out gigantic blocks of shared time to bond with one another. Watching a movie together every weekend or reading goodnight stories as a family can help kids feel loved and appreciated — and that’s the cornerstone of harmonious blended family life.
Children in blended families usually spend a lot of time moving from household to household, especially when ex-spouses share co-parenting responsibilities. One easy way to make the returning transition smoother and show your stepchildren that you’re not just their parent’s new partner, but a caregiver too, is to establish some feel-good rituals.
For example, make a habit of stopping for some ice cream on your way home when doing a house switch. It will give the kids and you enough time to get reaccustomed to one another through a positive, uplifting experience instead of jumping right into a different routine.
When the number of family members increases, as it usually does in these situations, the children may feel like they aren’t getting all the attention they used to get. And because of the additional family members, blended families sometimes struggle with having enough finances to support regular family outings or afford each child’s extracurricular activities.
As with most other issues, the solution lies in working things out together as a family. Try to create a schedule that caters to everyone’s interests by letting each kid choose their favorite activity within a specific budget.
Additionally, it would be great if both you and the stepparent attended each child’s activities, so none of the children feels excluded or less-favored.
Giving each kid individual attention may also take you a long way. Whether it’s a quick 10-minute game every day after school or a nice one-on-one outing once a month, quality time alone with each kid can give your biological children and their stepsiblings enough positive attention to strengthen your family bond.
For kids, it’s often challenging enough to compete with siblings, let alone stepsiblings they aren’t comfortable with yet. The transition period may last longer for teenagers or children who haven’t had to share a parent before.
Try openly talking to your new partner about sibling rivalry and make sure you’re on the same page. There can be more household conflict if the kids rely on their biological parent always taking their side. Different disciplinary rules can also add to the problem.
Regardless of how everything worked before you blended your families, rules, consequences, and rewards need to be equal for each kid in your new household.
It’s crucial to understand that the kids may not see their stepsiblings as siblings yet — especially during the initial period. They are more likely to see them as strangers, and expecting everyone to turn into a big happy family at once is likely a long shot. It may take a while.
Try to avoid placing labels on the kids or overly praising one of them for a certain success. Praise alone may increase tension between stepsiblings. However, pointing out that each child has specific talents and skills will give them a sense of acceptance and appreciation, making the adjustment period easier.
Being part of a blended family includes stepkids, your own children, and your new partner. However, whether we like it or not, your previous marriage or union and everything that follows the separation doesn’t disappear once you establish a new family. Co-parenting while in a new relationship has its challenges.
No matter how hard you and your new partner work on stepparenting and your new household harmony, if your ex doesn’t cooperate, it may cause recurring issues.
In a perfect world, all households have the same rules and values. However, in reality, the easiest way to juggle inevitable household differences is to sit down with your ex and choose what’s most important for everyone — and agree on those rules in a documented parenting plan.
Being a good stepparent includes ditching negative remarks about your ex-spouse and removing any rivalry between yourself and your new partner’s co-parent. A remarriage may make it easier or it may make it more difficult for everyone to act as one big happy family. However, giving your exes the benefit of the doubt will help you navigate the initial change.
Even if your ex tries to create a battle zone, try to focus on keeping your new home as harmonious and peaceful as possible.
Not all communication with the exes needs to be face-to-face, and this goes especially for money talk, which brings most misunderstandings between co-parents. Using the Onward App, you can manage all shared expenses with your co-parent and reduce tense communication, freeing up time to be present with your new blended family.
You can suggest new ways of sharing future expenses with your ex without having to talk to them. The app will send the proposals for you, along with photos, screenshots, receipts, or anything else of importance. All your ex has to do is accept your proposal or make their own proposals on the matter — and all of it with no direct communication whatsoever.
Blending families is a long-term investment. Instead of looking for quick fixes, it’s best to look at your new family’s harmony as a long-term goal. As a new stepparent, you will probably face many challenges, but everything gets easier with an understanding partner by your side. With patience and a willingness to compromise, your new household may become the big, happy family you’ve always wanted.
Diana is a writer who specializes in blogging. She's on a mission to inform and uplift people in complex and confusing life situations she's been through herself. When not working, you'll find her at the seaside or in the mountains.