A blended family consists of a couple, the children they have had together, and the children they have from previous partners. While that may sound simple, blended families are as unique as their members and complex as the situations that brought them together.
What is a Blended Family?
The remarried or cohabitating couple in a blended family is defined by the couple's relationships with the children. Step or non-biological parents may be granted guardianship of a child
in some cases.
Children, either biological to one or both blended family's parents, are also defined by their relationships to the other children in the new family— as biological, stepsiblings, or half-siblings. And, depending on the custody arrangement between the two biological parents, a child can be a full-time or part-time member of a blended family, and may also be part of two stepfamilies if both biological parents remarry.
Challenges of Blending a Family
When you combine a family, you merge two sets of family dynamics and parenting styles, as well as long-established roles, routines, responsibilities, and rules.
You also add in individual personalities and possibly the adjustment to a new home, new friends, or a new school. All of these changing family dynamics happen while families continue to work through managing finances, schedules, and territorial and sibling rivalries.
Blended Family Bonding
The world is full of successful and rewarding blended family stories, and you, too, can experience that joy. Here are some tips to help you get there.
- Make parenting changes before the merge. Before bringing the families together, discuss parenting styles with your new partner, and agree on how you will parent together. While it's not possible to address how you will handle every situation, you can be clear about your expectations of the children and yourselves, your approaches to discipline and rewards, boundaries you will not cross, and the roles you will play.
- Don't fight in front of the kids. Agree to take arguments outside of your kids' ear- and eyeshot. Parenting expert Dr. Phil McGraw asserts that fighting in front of your kids is "nothing short of abuse," and when you do so, "you are putting your need to explode ahead of your kids' best interest and peace of mind." If the conversation can wait, cool down before discussing the topic again or move the discussion to a private space.
- Set house rules. One of the best ways to help kids feel secure is to let them know what's expected of them. As a couple, agree on a list of house rules and consequences that will happen if those rules get broken. Keep your house rules simple, so everyone understands. Include rules about being kind to each other, always being honest, and respecting the privacy, spaces, belongings, and feelings of others. You may also create a list of chores and schedules to keep everyone on the same page. Once established, review the rules in a family-wide meeting and hang a copy of the final list on the refrigerator where everyone can see it.
- Get to know all the kids. Develop a one-on-one relationship with each child. Take the time to build a relationship that is outside of your spouse. Don't expect instant results or give up because you don't get the reaction you're expecting. Be patient and persistent.
- Make new traditions. Children want and expect things to be "normal." Whenever you can, maintain the family traditions that are important to the children, even if you must work with your ex-partners to do so. At the same time, it's essential to create new traditions that blend cultures, interests, and ideas that are exclusive to your new family. It can be a regular holiday that neither family made a big deal about before or a unique holiday that belongs to the family alone. An example could be a celebration of your first dinner as a new family or the anniversary of a unique family milestone\
- Keep the peace. Your children could have as many as four parents now, so respect and patience are critical to successfully blending your family. Communicate openly and honestly, be flexible, and don't sweat the small stuff. Utilizing a co-parenting communication service like Talking Parents can allow co-parents between different blended families to interact in a secure and accountable tool.
- Embrace differences. Trying to replicate your first family, according to Jeanne Segal, Ph.D. and Lawrence Robinson of HelpGuide.org, can often "set family members up for confusion, frustration, and disappointment." Instead, they advise families to "embrace the differences." Among the primary elements cited for a successful blended family is having compassion for everyone's development at the various life stages and different needs.
- Think of your new family as a team. Apply all the qualities of a great team to your family. Great teams have good leadership; they communicate well and focus on goals. Successful team members all contribute to and support each other. Cultivating a blended family is work. Your positive results will be equal to the amount of time and effort you invest. Use your happy union to support your new partner and to build a healthy family relationship that will allow you to see all your children grow and succeed.
There are many organizations with additional information and resources for helping blended families, including: