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Welcoming a New Baby Into Your Blended Family

Family of 4 - 06 (with new baby)

Bringing a new baby into a blended family is exciting, but it can also be a little anxiety-inducing. It can be tough for the kids to understand the new dynamic. They may have struggled with creating your blended family in the first place; accepting a new stepparent, maybe a new house, and possibly new stepsiblings. Now there’s a new baby in the mix. You may also receive unwelcome input from family members, your ex, your partner’s ex, or other ‘well-meaning’ outsiders.

The important thing is to celebrate the news of a new baby, while doing your best to prepare your blended family for the changes that are coming. Here is some advice to guide you (plus a story from a mom who’s been there!).

How do the kids feel about a new baby joining the blended family?

You and your partner are probably over the moon about this news, but more likely than not, it’s tempered by concern over how the kids might react. If they’re young, they might be quite excited at the idea of a baby, since they don’t have the ability to anticipate how life will change once the baby arrives. Older children will quickly come to understand how this might impact them and therefore may not be very excited.

How might they react? On one hand, a new baby can feel like an anchoring point for the family. After all, he or she will be the first member of the family who is biologically related to everybody. This can give your kids a sense of togetherness that the family may have been missing before.

On the other hand,  children may feel threatened at the idea of welcoming a new baby. The fact that this baby will have both its biological parents in the same house may cause jealousy or resentment.  Common concerns for kids include the fear of losing your attention, as well as the possibility that you could love the baby more than them, or that the baby will be more part of the family than they are.  A new baby can heighten the feeling that while the blended family kids are ‘yours’ and ‘mine’, the new baby is ‘ours’.

It can be hard to hear that your children have thoughts like this, but  it’s important to talk to them so you can help them process any negative feelings about the new baby in your blended family.

How to prepare stepchildren for a new baby in a blended family

Before the baby comes:

You might feel like you want to delay the news as long as possible, in order to avoid uncomfortable situations.  But the earlier you talk about this as a family, the more time you have to process it together. It’s a good idea to speak to your children about the possibility of a new sibling if you decide to try for a baby.  Bringing it up early and speaking of it in a positive light can help give them time to get used to the idea and create positive associations.  That way if you and your partner do fall pregnant, they’ve already had the opportunity to process the idea and it doesn’t come as a shock.

If you and your partner are already expecting and haven’t had the chance to speak to your kids about the possibility of a new sibling, that’s okay. You’re not too late.  As a general rule, the more time they have to process, the better. So start NOW!

It can be a great idea to include your child in planning and preparations for the new baby. This can be everything from buying new baby clothes, picking colours for the nursery, aww-ing over ultrasound images, feeling the baby kick, and brainstorming baby names. Make sure that they feel included and like they are part of the new baby excitement, rather than just witnessing it from outside.

This can also be a great time to make your children feel special. Buying them a new toy, making them their favorite meal for dinner, or dedicating some special time to bond as a family can make a big difference. Talk about how much you love them, and how much their new sibling will love them too. It’s important that they feel your love so they don’t worry you will have less of it for them once the new baby comes.

If your children are experiencing anxiety or fear about what’s to come, glossing over it or pushing it aside is never a good idea. Instead, talk openly about their worries and make sure they feel validated and heard. These feelings are completely legitimate and they need to have the space to feel them. Your job is to create a safe environment for your children to feel and express their emotions and to address them as they come up. Listening – and some comforting words and hugs – can be incredibly healing.

After the baby comes

Once the new baby arrives, it’s only natural that a huge chunk of the parents’ time, attention, and energy will go toward caring for him or her. This means that you need to be extra careful that your older children don’t feel neglected. Doing your best to keep their routines as consistent as possible will help to minimize their feelings of disruption.

This is the perfect opportunity for your children or stepchildren to learn about being a good big brother or sister. No matter their age, you can let them hold and kiss the baby, learning how to be gentle with him or her. And if your kids are a bit older, get them to help out with things. Younger kids love to feel useful, so give them jobs like fetching diapers, finding a toy, or passing you things if you have a sleeping baby on you. Older kids can push the stroller, give a bottle, or read to the baby.

After the arrival of the new baby, try to continue having one on one time with your other children. Things as simple as going on a walk or watching a movie together can ensure they feel that they can still count on your love and attention. This can also be a good time to check in with your child about how they’re feeling and see if they need any reassurance. Remember,all feelings are valid!

Don’t overthink it!

We just gave you a whole lot to think about so this may sound counterintuitive, but it’s true! It’s an exciting time, and having a new baby entails enough logistics, so don’t overthink the other stuff. Prepare the kids, but don’t waste time worrying about what ‘might’ happen when the baby arrives. Don’t dampen your excitement because you’re worried about upsetting other people. You and your partner are allowed to celebrate this, and if you try to mute it you may end up feeling resentful.

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Integrating families

Blended Family Holiday Season: How to Maintain Your Sanity

blended family taking a selfie during Christmas meal

Forget the most wonderful time of the year; in a blended family, the holiday season can be the most challenging time of the year! Whatever holiday you celebrate, if you have to negotiate shared custody these events can be full of emotion. There are some commonly faced issues, and we’ve got tips on how to navigate them.

Blended Family Holiday Tips:

  1. Which parent are the kids spending the holiday with?
    If you share custody with your ex-partner, you’ll want to have this conversation early! Open with your suggestion, but make it clear you understand that your ex also wants to spend time with the children. Some families opt for alternating who gets the kids each year; this is probably the most practical solution if you don’t live close to each other. If you do live in the same area, you may be able to split their time over the day/s.
  2. You can’t please everyone, so don’t try
    It can be tricky to organize holiday logistics at the best of times, but with a blended family, you may have twice as many stakeholders! Your parents may put pressure on you to bring the kids to family celebrations, even though it’s your ex’s turn to have them. Maybe you have bio kids and stepkids and they have to separate for the holidays even though they’d rather be together. If you try to please everyone, you’ll likely spend your time caught up in logistics (and still everyone won’t be happy). Prioritize what you need to, and try to ignore everything else.
  3. Don’t communicate through your children
    Telling your ex your plans for Christmas day might be the last thing you want to do, but relying on or forcing your kids to pass information to your ex isn’t fair on them. Keep it as brief as you need to, but make sure you and your ex communicate directly about any logistics.
  4. Acknowledge the stress of blended family holiday celebrations
    Your kids might be more anxious than they’re letting on, so it’s important to let them know you understand that holiday time can be stressful. They might be worried about missing the parent they’re not spending time with or stressed about having to move around to different houses and families during holiday celebrations. Letting them know that it’s ok to feel stressed and that they can talk to you will help.
  5. Respect everyone’s traditions
    Not everyone celebrates in the same way; perhaps you and your kids had a certain holiday routine, but your partner and their kids did things differently. Try to incorporate both traditions, or have a family chat to talk about how you can merge your traditions.
  6. Compare notes on gifts
    For holidays like Christmas where gift-giving is involved, it’s a good idea for you and your ex to go over your kids’ wishlists together. This way you can make sure you’re not doubling up and can discuss spending limits if necessary.
  7. Remember why you celebrate
    It can be easy to get caught up in trying to make things perfect, trying to make sure everyone is happy, and the sheer logistics of it all. Christmas, Hannukah, Thanksgiving, Deepavali, Hari Raya… these holidays are harder to navigate as a blended family. But focus on why you celebrate, and what you want to pass on to your kids. Help your kids celebrate, even if it’s over FaceTime because it’s not your turn to have them.

Your blended family holiday season might be challenging, but there will be moments of joy in amongst the chaos. Don’t let the petty disagreements and tricky logistics weigh you down, find the happiness and lean into it!

Image via Pexels

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Integrating families Living together

Blended Family Problems: When Your Blended Family Won’t Blend

happy blended family sitting on the front steps of their house

Blended families are common but that doesn’t make them easy; so what do you do when your blended family problems seem insurmountable?! Despite all our hard work and good intentions, sometimes two families just don’t mix together well. If you find yourself in such a situation, it may feel a little scary and daunting. How can you make everybody get along and, well… blend together smoothly?

The good news is that this situation is not unusual or impossible to solve. If you know what red flags to look out for, you can identify what to work on in order to resolve the problems that are standing in the way of allowing your blended family to thrive. Here are some tips from parents who’ve been there…

Signs of blended family problems

The first step to improving your blended family problems is to identify if things aren’t blending well. Here are some signs to look out for:

  • When stepsiblings don’t get along
    Sibling rivalry is standard in all families, but it can get especially problematic in blended families when brothers and sisters don’t have the bond of a lifelong relationship to help them set aside their differences.
  • When jealousy rears its head
    There are many ways jealousy can manifest in a blended family. Maybe your children are jealous of your new partner, feeling that they are taking your attention away from them. Maybe there is jealousy between the stepsiblings. Heck, you may even feel jealous of the blood bond between your partner and their children that you don’t have with your stepkids.
  • When parenting styles don’t mix
    There are so many different approaches to parenting and the one you have may not automatically go hand-in-hand with that of your partner. Your blended family may experience some hiccups and confusion if your parenting styles are at odds.
  • When new behavioural problems appear
    If your children suddenly show signs of behavioral problems like defiance or aggression that weren’t there before, it may be related to the growing pains of a blended family.
  • When there is an obvious split in the household
    The goal of a blended family is to blend. If you find that everybody keeps to “their” side of the family, it’s most likely an issue.

Red flags for blended families

All of the problems listed above are on the general side, so here are some specific examples of red flag scenarios that may point to a need to work on the “blending” part of your blended family.

  • Your stepchildren don’t listen to you or respect your authority, or the same is the case for your biological children and their stepparent.
  • Family gatherings and meals are tense and uncomfortable.
  • Stepsiblings don’t speak to one another.
  • Siblings gang up on and exclude their step-sibling(s).
  • You and your partner can’t agree on rules for the household.
  • Your step-children only ask their biological parent for permission and help and don’t come to you – or vice versa with your partner.
  • Your blended family has a hard time agreeing upon things such as what activity to do, what places to go to, and so on.

Naturally, there are many more red flags that can be cause for concern, but these examples should help you get a sense of what to watch out for.

Resolving Blended Family Problems

If you’re reading this and finding yourself nodding along to some of the problems and red flags listed above, you don’t have to panic. Your blended family may not be in its ideal place right now, but there are solutions to every problem. Here are some steps you can take to address the issues you may have mixing your families.

Show a united front

Children will follow their parent’s example and if you and your partner aren’t completely unified, chances are the kids will also feel comfortable acting like they’re not a solid family unit. Make sure that you and your partner put in the effort to stay consistent and act together. Don’t contradict each other’s rules or negate each other’s parenting styles. It may take a lot of long, even difficult, conversations to get on the same page about the rules and standards you want to put in place for your household. This is an effort that is not only worth making but is absolutely critical to make in order to allow your blended family to truly blend.

Respect the old

Transitioning to a blended family can be threatening for children who may fear the loss of a previous lifestyle that they were attached to. Your kids might miss how things used to be, leading to a rejection of the new. Make sure that you don’t try to pretend the past never happened. Respect the traditions that you had before. Sure, some things will have to change, but that doesn’t have to mean letting go of everything your kids loved about your family’s previous iteration. Letting them hold on to some traditions can be a great comfort.

Build the new

That being said, building new family traditions can be incredibly exciting! Finding common ground between what both sides of the family like can be a fun process that leads to exciting revelations. Maybe you’ll start doing taco night every Tuesday or playing soccer together on the weekends. The future is full of possibilities for your blended family, so why not enjoy the process of discovering what your new traditions and customs will be? Let your kids take an active part and even lead the way forward so they feel invested in and excited by their family’s future instead of alienated by it.

Take your time

Of course, change takes time. Getting used to the new isn’t easy for anybody, especially not kids who haven’t experienced too many major life changes. It’s okay if things take a while and there are some bumps in the road. Respect and validate your children’s feelings. Try to talk things out openly instead of sweeping them under the rug. You’re all in this together, and the process may be slow-going. That’s perfectly fine.

Ask for help

Sometimes family problems go beyond what you can handle on your own, and that is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. If you’re at a loss and none of what you are trying seems to help, it’s a fantastic idea to reach out and seek professional help. Family counselors and therapists are trained to help you overcome difficult issues. Even just one or two meetings with a counselor might make you feel much better.

Alls well that ends well

It’s no secret that getting a blended family to cooperate and get along can be challenging. If that’s your experience, you aren’t alone. Many blended families experience problems like a lack of harmony or even jealousy, bullying, and defiance. But if you know what signs to look out for and approach your issues with patience, candor, and good intentions, you’ll be able to get through this.

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Integrating families

Are Stepgrandparents Important in Blended Families?

stepgrandparents and their grandchildren sitting outside and smiling

Being a child in a blended family can be tough enough at times, even before you add confusion over new relationships like stepgrandparents, step-aunts and uncles. It can be a lot for kids to handle, so if you’re introducing stepgrandparents, take it slowly and be patient. Here are some of the top questions people ask about stepgrandparenting and blended families…

Are stepgrandparents important in blended families?

There is no right answer here, it depends on your own family situation. If you’re close with your parents, or your partner is close to their parents, then there’s a good chance you’ll want them to form a relationship with their stepgrandchildren. It doesn’t mean that this is an essential relationship though, and it’s not worth forcing a closeness if your or your partner’s parents are not already part of your life. But if you have a good relationship, grandparents can bring a wealth of experience, love, and richness to your children’s or stepchildren’s lives.

What are some good names for stepgrandparents?

One topic that comes up again and again with grandparents in all families, but especially blended ones, is the issue of what the grandchildren call their grandparents. It’s best not to force children to call their stepgrandparents anything in particular but let them do what feels right to them. Don’t worry if the children don’t end up calling their stepgrandparents the same thing as the biological children do. It’s important to let these things unfold naturally, but feel free to make suggestions if there’s something that appeals.

Name suggestions:

Classics: Nana, Grandma, Pop, Grandpa, Nonna, Nonno, etc
Classics with a twist: Grandma/Nana Mary, Grandpa/Pop Joe
Something more unusual: Grandmama, Grandpapa, Gigi, G-ma, G-pa
First names: If you’re comfortable, a variation on your first name

Is a stepgrandparent considered a relative?

Not for legal purposes, but it’s entirely up to you how you choose to prioritize the relationship. One of our favorite blended family quotes says, “Family is not defined by our genes, it is built and maintained through love.”

Tips for stepgrandparents

  • Be patient and take it slowly
    Both stepgrandchildren and stepgrandparents may feel uncomfortable with the idea that there is pressure to find affection and closeness. It’s okay to be a little hesitant and apprehensive at first. After all, it can take years to develop the trust and acceptance that characterize the best family relationships, so take things as they come.
  • Don’t play favorites
    It may feel more natural to be closer to biological family members, however, it is important for kids, parents, and grandparents in stepfamilies to make the effort to be as fair and equitable as possible. Children do notice and are affected when their stepsiblings are favored over them.
  • Don’t gang up
    It’s important for the different “sides” of the family not to gang up and take sides against one another. It can be easy for the grandparents to back up their biological grandchildren over their stepgrandchildren or their child over their child’s partner. The grandparents might have a hard time letting go of their child’s ex-partner, always comparing the stepparent to the biological parent. These behaviors are unhelpful and will create plenty of resentment.
  • Show interest
    Show interest in your stepgrandkids. While they may be shy toward you initially, it will mean a lot if you’re proactive about building a relationship. Babysit occasionally, join in events if you’re invited, and be supportive of the blended family dynamic.

Finally, have a grand old time

Let’s be honest, the stepgrandparent role in blended families is not an easy one but can be a very fun and rewarding one. Things can get complicated and messy in all family situations, let alone ones in which there are exes and steps and grands involved. So, it’s okay if things develop slowly, feel a bit unusual, or have their challenges. Have fun, where possible, or aim for things to be fun. Begin with grand intentions and generally grand things will happen.

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Integrating families Living together

What To Do When Your Stepchildren Disrespect You

Sulky young girl looking at camera, Stepchildren Disrespectful

Have you ever watched a movie about blended families? Most of the time there’s a barrier to overcome, but by the end of the movie everyone understands each other and gets along like a house on fire. Often these movies are comedies, which make everything look even more lighthearted and fun. If your stepchildren are disrespectful these movies may have you wondering why you don’t have the same relationship with your stepkids. Maybe instead of being precocious and sassy like the kids in the movies, they behave as though they don’t like you, or even disrespect you. But let’s be clear, these storylines are not the reality of most families.

Adjusting to a new family takes time and effort, both for the stepparent and the stepchildren. If you want to improve the relationship between yourself and your stepkids (or your partner and your kids) don’t worry, we’ve got some tips on how to inject some blended family comedy goodness into your home life.

If your stepchildren are disrespecting you

Disrespect in a family is not acceptable, blended or otherwise. No one can or should be forced into a relationship they’re not ready for, but it should be clear to all family members that respect is a basic right.

1. Get the rules straight at the start

Start as you mean to go on! Although you can’t force your stepchild to love or even like you immediately, you can require a certain level of respect. This means you and your partner have to lay down the rules right from the start so that your stepchild knows what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior. You should be clear that you will also respect them and their boundaries.

2. Be firm about disrespectful behavior

Once you lay the ground rules, you and your partner should be firm in enforcing them. It’s no use if you make the rules but you don’t enforce them, because then your stepchild will see that you’re not serious. Being consistent is the best thing you can do for the family. Your partner plays an important role here and should back you up if your stepchildren are disrespectful to you.

3. Get to know your stepchild

It’s crucial that you get to know your stepchild. As you get to know them, you’ll get a deeper understanding of the emotions they are going through. If there are situations that consistently cause them to behave disrespectfully or act out against you, getting to know them better may help you get to the bottom of this.

4. Don’t try too much too soon

Don’t try to rush the relationship. Wherever you are on your journey to know each other better, try to enjoy the process instead of always trying to push ahead to the next stage. Your stepchild has been through a lot and will need time to adjust to the marriage, and learn to trust you as their stepparent. Some research shows that it can take four to seven years for a stepfamily to function like a biological family.

5. Keep talking to your spouse

You and your spouse should be a team in navigating this relationship. Your stepkids will look to them especially and if their parent doesn’t call them out on their behavior they may feel like it’s acceptable. Talk to your spouse about what’s happening, what you’re feeling, and what you’re going through. Discuss what’s working and what’s not and from there you’ll be able to face these challenges together.

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Should Blended Families Take Separate Vacations?

young kids from a blended family running along the beach with a ball on separate vacation

Separate or joint—which is the best type of vacation for a blended family? When it comes to vacations, opinions can be divided on whether blended families should take separate vacations or joint vacations.

So should blended families take separate vacations?

It’s a tricky question; it might seem easier to split into your familiar, comfortable groups, but a vacation can be a great way to bond and spend some really fun time together.

Benefits of a joint vacation for blended families

  • Children get to spend more time with each other
  • Children get the opportunity to know their stepparent
  • It gives the whole family opportunities to enjoy new experiences together
  • Being outside their home environment allows everyone to see their new family members in a different light
  • It allows the family to create new memories together

Overall, there are far more benefits to a joint vacation. A split vacation will give everyone the feeling that although the family lives together, they do not have the same status. It reinforces the ‘yours/mine’ distinction and may create resentment between stepsiblings.

Benefits of a separate vacation for blended families

  • The children (and adults!) might find it easier to relax with their biological family
  • There are fewer disagreements since there are fewer people involved
  • Can be more affordable

There may be times when a separate vacation is necessary, such as scheduling issues, different interests, financial considerations, or age differences. We’ve heard that separate vacations sometimes work best if the stepparent can also join the holiday—perhaps while their children are with their previous spouse. This avoids the ‘yours/mine’ feeling, even if not everyone in the family is on the holiday. Of course, you’ll know what works best for your family; just make sure the idea of a separate vacation is genuinely embraced by everyone involved.

Planning for blended family vacations

A joint vacation for a blended family will not be without its stresses (although don’t forget, the same often goes for traditional family vacations too!), but planning will help. Here’s our step-by-step guide to a successful blended family vacation.

Vacation Budget

Decide on the budget of the vacation with your spouse before discussing ideas with the kids. This should include a total budget, plus a breakdown of what you expect to spend on accommodation, dining, and any spending money.

Vacation destination

This is possibly the trickiest step!. Going with the preferences of any one family member or child can make the others disgruntled. The easiest option is that you and your spouse agree on a destination and inform the kids. Simple! But if you want to involve the family in the decision, here are some of our suggestions for making this part as painless as possible.

  • Ask everyone for their favorite vacation spot and why they want to vacation in that spot. Every suggestion is valid and important, listen to all their suggestions carefully.
  • List out all the venues that are within your budget. Venues outside the budget will have to wait for another day.
  • If you are planning a vacation every year then you can rotate the list. Each holiday you can vacation at one family member’s favorite spot.
  • If you are not planning another vacation for some time then you can decide the venue by doing a lucky draw and pick one at random from the list of appropriate suggestions.

Whatever you do keep the venue selection process logical. Avoid any bias and don’t succumb to any emotional blackmail.

Preparing the kids for the vacation

It will probably be necessary to prepare your children for the first blended family vacation. Emphasize the fact that since you are now a family, your vacations are going to be together. If the children have separate bedrooms at home but you expect them to share a room with their stepsiblings, inform them in advance. If there will be an opportunity for separate outings for parts of the family (such as the biological families) then raise this before you go.

Flexibility on vacation

It is not necessary that the blended family spends every minute of their vacation together. Enforced time together is not the measure of a successful vacation. Perhaps the children will go off together while the adults relax, or the older kids will go hiking while the younger ones swim. Don’t schedule things too much, allow for some flexibility, and give the kids some space to have input and take the lead when it comes to activities.

Enjoying your blended family vacation

So should blended families take separate vacations? Planning a blended family vacation can seem tough but the benefits are worth it, and it should become easier each time. Don’t let concerns or fears prevent you from taking a chance on a holiday together— you likely have a wonderful experience waiting for you. Traveling and letting go of your daily routine will, and creating brand new memories together is a great way to forge new and stronger bonds. When you return ask children what they liked most about the trip, their answers might surprise you. (And if they are ungracious, don’t take it to heart; what may seem like a problem for them today may turn into a funny memory some years down the line.) Lastly, frame some vacation photos as a reminder of good times spent together—and start planning for your next vacation, it’ll be even better!

Lead image via Pexels

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10 TV Shows About Blended Families

kids watching tv shows about blended families

TV shows about blended families or single-parent families aren’t as rare as they used to be. And while we all enjoy a bit of escapism, sometimes it feels really validating to see a version of your life played out on screen (even if most of them are highly unrealistic). Here are some of our top picks for TV shows about blended families.

The Brady Bunch

The original, if not the best, and certainly the most famous blended family. A widowed mom and her three daughters and a widower dad and his three sons join together to become the ultimate blended family with the help of housekeeper Alice. A lesson is learned in each episode.

Full House (and Fuller House)

A widower’s two brothers move in to help him raise his three children. Bob Saget and John Stamos were especially great in this sitcom, which also offered a life lesson in each episode. In the new version, the kids are all grown up, and the eldest daughter DJ is now a widow with three kids. She returns to her family home to live with her sister and best friend; heartwarming moments and hilarity ensue in both versions.

Modern Family

Modern Family features a blended family, a gay married couple, and a nuclear family, all as dysfunctional and loving as each other. Despite the comedy nature of the show, Modern Family addresses real issues and offers insight into the struggles faced by all families, regardless of how they’re formed. Plenty of laughs to be had!

Duchess

Single mom Katherine is raising her daughter in London, and offending almost everyone around her at the same time. Having conceived her daughter after a one-night stand with a member of a boyband, she is now ready for another child and spends much of the first season trying to pressure her daughter’s father into getting her pregnant again–despite the fact that they despise each other. This series is far from realistic, but silly and fun. (But NOT one to watch with the kids, there’s plenty of swearing and sex!)

Single Parents

Featuring (unsurprisingly) a group of single parents as they navigate parenting, work, dating, and life in general. This was canceled after two seasons but received positive reviews for its depiction of life as a single parent. It’s also worth watching to see Gossip Girl’s Leighton Meester on screen again.

Drake and Josh

This one focuses on the relationship between two very different stepbrothers. One is cool and popular, the other is smart but awkward. A funny and endearing take on teen problems as the boys navigate life in a blended family. A good one for younger kids to watch.

Step by Step

An oldie but a goodie, this ran through most of the 90’s so it’s dated but worth a watch. A divorced man and a widowed woman, each with three children, come together to create a blended family (sound familiar?). There are plenty of arguments and resentments within the family, but they grow to become a loyal and loving family.

Girlfriend’s Guide to Divorce

Abby is a successful self-help author who turns to her friends for support as her impending divorce threatens to derail her career. Abby has been the main breadwinner in the relationship and we see her struggle with co-parenting, child support payments, and her ex-husband’s new partner playing a part in her children’s lives. The struggles are realistic (even if everyone is unnaturally beautiful and wealthy) and relatable. Later on in the series, we also see Abby struggle to deal with the ex-wife of her new partner as Abby develops a relationship with his kids.

The Fosters

Stef and Lina are an interracial, lesbian married couple with five children. Brandon is Stef’s son from her previous marriage, and the couple have adopted twins together. They also foster two other children who they go on to adopt later in the series. The premise alone tells you that this show is going to be exploring all the possible dynamics of blended families. Jennifer Lopez was an executive producer for The Fosters, so it has JLo’s stamp of approval!

Sister, Sister

Featuring Tia and Tamera Mowry, Sister, Sister is about identical twins separated at birth and reunited as teenagers. It sounds like Parent Trap, but with a more tragic back story. The girls are adopted out separately at birth, and meet by chance in a shopping mall. The two girls and their parents end up living together in a blended family of sorts, although their adoptive parents are not in a relationship.

You may not see yourself and your family depicted accurately on-screen, but it’s comforting to see the struggles, the joys, and the ups and downs of blended families play out on TV. Let us know if you have any other favorite TV shows about blended families to recommend!

Read more:

Blended Families with Teens: 5 Things You Should Know
Should a Stepparent Discipline Their Partner’s Kids

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Integrating families Living together

Should a Stepparent Discipline Their Partner’s Kids?

Step-Parent Discipline

Does a stepparent have a right to discipline their stepchildren? It’s a tricky path to navigate, and almost certainly there’ll be missteps along the way. After all, being a stepparent is undeniably challenging, but with time and effort, it can be equally rewarding and joyful. Understanding the role you are to play in establishing and reinforcing boundaries for your stepchildren is crucial. We discuss some of the dos and don’ts of stepparent discipline.

Discuss your stepparent role with your partner

Before you jump in the deep end of parenting, discuss your role with your partner. Find out what their expectations are from you, and be honest about what you think you’re capable of. This may evolve over time, but it’s crucial you’re both on the same page. Once you both agree on how involved you’ll be in setting and maintaining boundaries you can have a family meeting to share with the children. The more communication, the better!

There’s no doubt you’ll probably hear the words, “You’re not my real mom/dad!” thrown your way at some point. Try to calmly explain that you’re not trying to take the place of their bio-parent, but that you do have their best interests at heart. It may not defuse the situation but it will help you both remember the role you play in their life.

Is it okay for stepparents to discipline?

The most important thing is that the whole family understands what’s expected of them. If you and your partner agree that curfew is 8 pm and that the consequence of breaking curfew is no devices (and your partner’s teen knows this rule), you should feel confident enforcing it. It’s not new information, the rule wasn’t created by you, you are simply being a responsible guardian. Be fair, be consistent, and above all, be patient.

You should have a very good understanding of how your partner chooses to parent and respect their choices. If they have chosen the respectful parenting path and you feel their children need more discipline, this is NOT your choice to make. If they are strict about screen time and ‘junk food’ and you think the kids should have more freedom to watch and eat what they want, this is NOT your choice to make. As a stepparent, you are in a position to help discipline your stepkids in line with the parenting choices your partner has deemed best.*

*This does not apply in situations where discipline has become child abuse. If you are concerned about your partner’s treatment of your children or stepchildren you should reach out to a child abuse prevention service.

Stepparent Discipline vs Punishment

Over the years, discipline has been conflated with punishment. There is an idea that children need to be ‘disciplined’ in order to learn how to behave well. It may come as no surprise that we at Blended for Life are big fans of respectful parenting. What this means is that we are constantly having an open dialogue with our kids, helping them learn, role-modeling the behavior we want to see, and setting and gently enforcing healthy boundaries.

There’s no need to fall into the role of disciplinarian. You might find that you stepparent most effectively simply by role-modeling being a thoughtful and caring person. You might become the ‘fun one’, more like a cool aunt/uncle than a replacement parent. Or maybe you are the boundary setter, calmly reminding the kids when they have pushed things too far, and being a safe place for them to retreat to.

This is not a “first-marriage” family

Both parents should come to terms with the fact that “ours is a blended family”. The functioning of the family unit differs from a family where the children live with their biological parents. Try not to idealize how a blended family “should be” or mimic a traditional family dynamic. It’s an unrealistic expectation and will make life harder for everyone involved.

So should a stepparent discipline their stepchildren?

  1. Understand what you mean by discipline
  2. Agree with your partner on your role as a stepparent
  3. Be consistent and be patient

A personal story from our founder

“My daughter refers to her bio-dad as ‘Daddy and her step-dad (my husband) as ‘Papa’. Papa is a little bit of a clean freak, and he can always be seen wiping up someone’s mess or complaining about someone’s mess!

One day, after dinner, my daughter got up and put her plate in the sink. She then proceeded to wipe her placemat and even the chair on which she sat (because her greasy fingers have been all over it!). I asked why she started doing that. And she said, ‘Because Papa does.’”

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Integrating families Living together

How to Manage Stepsibling Rivalry in Blended Families

two young boys playing in shallow waves

Stepsibling rivalry can challenge the most dedicated and loving of parents. Blended families are increasingly common, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to create one. Sibling rivalry can be tricky enough to manage in a traditional family, but navigating this dynamic in a blended family can be far more complicated. If you’re struggling to manage stepsibling rivalry in your blended family, we’ve got some tips that might help.

1. Communication is key to resolving stepsibling rivalry

It sounds clichéd, but communication is essential to a successful blended family. Organize a regular family meeting where all members of the blended family will be given the chance to voice their opinions and fears. To begin with, you and your partner can reassure everyone that they are all loved and valued members of the family. Make it clear that mutual respect and kindness are core values in your new household. You should also check in with your child/ren regularly, to allow them to express how they are feeling about the new family dynamic. A family breakup or a new family setting may challenge their worldview and they will need to talk about how they feel. Let them know how you’re feeling too, and how proud you are of them for being brave and open to these new relationships.

As well as communicating with your kids, talk regularly with your partner about any issues you are worried about. Hopefully, you have already discussed the parenting roles you will play for each other’s children, so you should both understand what’s expected of you. It’s not as black and white for the kids though. If they need help establishing their new relationships and boundaries, feel free to help facilitate opportunities to bond over shared interests. But where there’s conflict, don’t assume that every fight is a stepsibling fight. It’s completely normal for siblings to fight, so take a moment to try to assess whether they really need you or if they can figure this out between them.

2. Parenting stepchildren only works if everyone has the same expectations

Let’s face it; disciplining your own children can be hard at the best of times. So, when the children are not your biological offspring, things can quickly get more complicated. As much as you may love the children of your spouse, they are not your own. You and your partner should be clear about the role each of you expects the other to play in the parenting of your children. And importantly, your children should also understand this role.

You may worry that your discipline is too harsh, or (more likely) too lax compared to the way you parent your own children. It may be tempting to be more lenient with your stepchildren in order to keep things pleasant, but try to fight that urge! Parenting the children differently will only lead to a perception of unfairness.

It is quite possible that you will have a different parenting style from your partner, so it is important to discuss what you both feel is appropriate discipline (and keep having this discussion as the kids get older). Ideally, you should have an understanding before you move in together, but as long as you are both willing to make compromises you should be able to find a strategy that works for everyone.

3. Avoid taking sides

Although it may be very difficult, do not take sides or compare the kids. If you always take your own child’s side when arguments arise, you will very quickly alienate your spouse’s kids. Staying neutral and making an effort to stay free from bias will make a world of difference. (You may want to check out Amy McCready on Instagram for really helpful tips on doing this—for all parents, not just stepparents.) Where possible, let the children try to navigate and resolve these arguments themselves. Remember, all siblings fight, it’s perfectly normal.

Your child may feel betrayed by you not taking their side in an argument. Reassure them of your love for them, and their important role in the family. Don’t say one thing publicly and another thing privately to your child. Let them know that they can always come to you with any problems, but that you have to remain fair to all the children in the family.

Stepsibling rivalry FAQs

Q. What is the root cause of sibling rivalry?
A. Children have a strong sense of what is fair and what is not fair. It’s challenging enough with biological siblings, but when you throw the blended family dynamic into the mix it gets even harder. It may be harder for the parents too, to understand if they’re really being fair or favoring one child over another.

Q. How do you deal with stepsiblings not getting along?
A. Our tips should provide a good starting point. There are also plenty of books and podcasts you can refer to, from those who’ve been there. Don’t take all the advice to heart, there’s no one way to deal with it. You’ll have a sense of what you think will work in your house and what won’t. It’s not easy, it’s not particularly fun, but reassure yourself that they are learning from the experience (even if they’re driving you crazy in the process!).

Q. How do you help stepsiblings get along?
A. If it’s less about rivalry and more that they just don’t get along, try to find some opportunities for them to connect. Don’t force it, of course, but there may be a common interest or a common dislike that they can bond over. Maybe even a TV show that everyone likes to watch and can laugh about together.

Q.How do you stop sibling competitiveness?
A. Competitiveness is a little different from rivalry. It can be tricky if the kids are of similar ages as this leaves them open to comparisons to their stepsibling. Try to celebrate everyone’s successes, and don’t value one type of ability over another (eg. academics over sports, social skills over academics, beauty or looks over musical talent).

Stepsibling rivalry is normal, give it some time

It’s a challenging time for everyone; there are new relationships to navigate, maybe a new house to settle into, and new boundaries to establish. It’s only natural the kids will need some time to figure out how they feel about all these things. You may find there are additional challenges if some of the children are sharing their time between two households while others live permanently in your house. This can lead to a perception that the child who lives there all the time is getting more time, love, and attention from the parents.

Problems can arise if one part of the family moves into a house that was already home for another part of the family. Birth order also plays a big part in sibling disharmony; perhaps a child that used to be the eldest now finds they have an older brother or sister, or the youngest now has to deal with an even younger sibling. Every family is unique and has a different dynamic. Be patient and you’ll find what works for your family too.

Image via Unsplash

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Integrating families

I Don’t Love My Stepkids: What Now?

two children walking along a path, what if I don't love my stepkids

They’re words you probably can’t bring yourself to say out loud; “I don’t love my stepkids.” Marrying someone who already has children is a big thing. In fact, it’s a gigantic pile of expectations and pressure and a whole lot of nerve-wracking. The truth is, it takes a lot to truly love someone else’s kids. Here are some reasons why you might feel this way, and what you can do about it…

Is it normal to not love your stepkids?

Adjusting to married life can be challenging enough, but doing so while navigating your relationship with your partner’s children can be a minefield. You may go into the relationship expecting the love to happen automatically, so it might come as a shock when you don’t love your partner’s children the way you thought you would. After all, you love your partner, why wouldn’t you love their kids too? In fact, it’s totally normal to feel detached, jealous, or lack affection for your stepchildren initially.

Why don’t I love my partner’s children?

You know the Phil Collins song, “you can’t hurry love, no you’ll just have to wait, she said love don’t come easy, well it’s a game of give and take.” He was singing about romantic love, but the same goes for the relationship with your new stepchildren. Depending on how quickly you and your partner got together and how well you already know the children, you may have to work on the relationship for some time before you start to feel affection or love for each other. It also takes effort from both parties; if the kids aren’t interested in developing a relationship with you or are disrespectful, it’s perfectly understandable that you will struggle to feel love for them.

Is it me?

Sometimes there’s a genuine reason why you can’t love your stepchildren. Here are some reasons why you might find it hard to develop a loving, affectionate relationship with your partner’s children:

Traumatic Past
Many people who shy away from parenting—of any kind—actually find their trigger in their past traumas. As a result, they want to avoid the concept of a traditional, child-centric family because they fear what may happen to the children in case the marriage doesn’t work out.

Prior Experiences
If you have already experienced the end of a relationship or marriage where children are involved, you may not be ready to open yourself up again. Your new partner and their kids constantly remind you of the rollercoaster you just got off. The emotional toll that comes with loving kids is scary, which is why you find it hard to open up to your partner’s children.

Social Influence
You may have witnessed someone you know experience difficulties with children or stepchildren. You’ve seen the fallout and vowed to never make yourself vulnerable by having or loving kids.

Biological Causes
The biological connection cannot be overstated. Planning to get pregnant, going through a pregnancy with your partner, witnessing the birth—these are things that connect a parent to a child before they’re even born. Without this preparation and without the biological connection, you can expect the relationship to need time to develop rather than be overwhelmed instantly with love for your stepchildren.

What if there is no reason?
But what if none of the above apply to you? You’ve had a happy childhood, you’ve seen blended families successfully role-modeled, you don’t bring any relationship baggage with you, you don’t feel too fussed about the biological aspect, and yet you still don’t love your stepchildren. Are you a bad person? No!

The bottom line is, there may be no particular reason. It’s just not possible to force love.family with young kids holding hands and walking along the pavement, but what if I don't love my stepkids

How to develop love for my stepkids

Here are some tips to help you work on your relationship with your partner’s kids:

Face your feelings
Be completely honest with yourself about how you feel towards your partner’s children, and examine whether there’s a reason why. If there is and it’s something you have the power to change, speak to your partner or take steps to improve the issue. If there’s no reason, acknowledge your feelings and accept that time and patience will be required.

Have a heart-to-heart
Talk to someone. If you can talk to your partner openly and honestly, this can be really helpful—being open about how you’re feeling means you can avoid bottling things up. Otherwise, speak to a trusted friend or family member, they might help you find some perspective.

Find common ground with your stepkids
Once you’re clear about your feelings towards your partner’s children, it’s time to begin improving them. Try to find common ground with the kids and use that to begin developing a bond.

Understand how the kids feel
Think about how the kids are feeling about their new environment. Did you move into the family home, possibly taking the place of a loved parent (in their eyes)? Did they move into your home, and now feel like it’s your house and not theirs? Do they seem shy around you, ignore you, or feel anger or resentment? Getting to the bottom of any reluctance on their part can help improve the relationship.

What not to do as you improve your relationship with your stepkids

These are the things you want to avoid doing—if you can manage this you’ll make your life (and theirs) so much easier.

Don’t keep score
If you’re really trying to establish a bond of love, make sure any actions you take are done selflessly and without expecting something in return.

Don’t push too hard
It takes time to become a part of someone’s life. You may want to love your stepkids and your stepkids may want to love you back, but you cannot force things to speed up. Every conversation, every fight, and every tantrum will eventually bring you all closer together. In the meantime; embrace the awkwardness, welcome the shyness, respect the boundaries!

Don’t listen to every opinion
Take the advice that works for you, discard that which doesn’t. Unsolicited advice can be the most unwelcome (and judgemental) so take it with a grain of salt. Other people do not know the ins and outs of your family dynamic; you know yourself better than anyone else and this is your family now.

It gets easier

It’s normal to go through an adjustment period when you become part of a blended family. Remind yourself that it will take time, and you can only do your best. Join support groups, talk to others in similar situations, and just continue to be patient—both with the kids and yourself. If you’re really worried about your relationship you can consider counseling.

Images via Unsplash

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