5 Tips for Blended Families
Written by: Catie Chun
In the United States, the term blended family has started to replace stepfamily to describe a family in which two existing families are joined through a new adult partnership. Some prefer the language of blended families because it avoids the negative associations that stepfamily holds. However, the language used to describe within-family relationships has not changed. The terms stepparent, stepchild, and stepsibling continue to be commonly used today. Growing up in a blended family is becoming more and more common –according to the Pew Research Center, roughly 16% of children in the United States are living in blended families today.
There are unique joys and challenges associated with combining families. While these big changes are often new and exciting for adults in the home, research shows that it can be a difficult adjustment process for children. Here are some things to keep in mind as your family begins this new chapter of life:
- Blending families takes time and teamwork. Parents need to work together to blend family norms, expectations, and discipline practices. In addition, children require time to adjust to new family members and to build connections with them. This process requires patience and time.
- Make time for parent-child bonding. It is important to maintain regularly scheduled parent-child time to reassure children that they are not losing their special connection with their parent to new family members. Assuring your child that they are still important to you can ease this transition.
- Additionally, stepparents and stepchildren should spend one-on-one time together to discover their common ground. Consider activities where the stepparent teaches the stepchild something they want to learn, like baking a cake or riding a bike. Alternatively, the activity can be one where the stepchild teaches the stepparent a new skill such as playing computer games.
- Sometimes children are hesitant to accept a new stepparent because it feels like betraying their first parent of the same role. Conversations that proactively address these concerns can ease confusion regarding this difficult topic.
For example, you might say, “These big family changes can be confusing. Your mom will always be your mom, and she will have a permanent place in your heart. I hope that someday your stepmom can have a place in your heart too… If she does, her place will be separate from mom’s. Accepting your new stepmom doesn’t mean that you can’t love your mom anymore.”
Similarly, it can be helpful for stepparents to assure children that they will never take the place of their other parent. These conversations can free children to care about all people in the family. While adults would prefer for stepparents, stepchildren and stepsiblings to love each other, it is difficult to require strangers (who did not choose each other) to love one another. For these new relationships, love might not be a reasonable expectation. Civility, however, is a reasonable request. Children should still be expected to treat others with the same respect they would like to receive.
In summary, blending families presents big changes for both adults and children. With patience, planning and time, your family can adjust to this new stage of life.
7 Tips for Parenting, Stepparenting, and Discipline in Stepfamilies
Videos with Dr. Patricia Papernow, ranging from 2 minutes to 2 hours
National Stepfamily Resource Center: Understanding Stepfamilies Free Online Training