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When Your Partner & Your Child Don’t Get Along

Your partner and your child don't get along

It’s not easy when your partner and your child don’t get along, and it can have a real impact on your own relationships. You might feel angry or disappointed in your partner for not being able to get along with your child. You might feel frustrated with your child for rejecting your partner’s attempts to get along.

What to do when your partner and your child can’t get along

Do they not get along, or does your partner just not love your child as much as you do? It is completely natural for you to desire that your partner will love your child in the same way you do. However, we need to consider the fact that this bond may not be possible to achieve.  You have seen them grow, watched them laugh, watched them achieve various milestones, and celebrated each one of them. You’ve read books together, taken trips together, were there on their first day of school. Your partner cannot expect (or be expected to) develop this kind of bond overnight.  You could argue that a stepparent and stepchild’s relationship has a distinct attribute to it; that love is ultimately a decision. They have to choose to love each other.

But they REALLY don’t get along

Your child might still be missing not only their own parent (who is now living separately from you) but also missing all of you being together as a family unit. As long as they’re still processing this, and grieving the loss of this family unit, they will likely display some unwillingness to bond with your new partner. Grief doesn’t just happen when someone passes on—grief happens with any kind of loss.  Let your child grieve this loss before you expect them to fully embrace their new family situation.

Your partner may need support finding ways to connect with your child. If they don’t have children of their own, the relentlessness of parenting will probably take them by surprise. They may need more guidance from you than either of you anticipated; this is ok. It’s better that you take the lead here than leave them feeling unsure of how to proceed.  You should absolutely discuss what their role is as a parental figure, including how you approach matters like discipline.

It’s not like it is on TV

Has the media ingrained false images of what a stepfamily should be like? No doubt about it! The Brady Bunch seems to have stepfamily life all worked out. Jake and Josh, Modern Family, and other shows make it seem like stepfamily life only has beautiful sides and no ugly ones. The truth is, real life looks a little different from what’s on TV. Being a stepfamily can be complicated and it can be messy. So don’t beat yourself up if you’ve been trying to live up to TV standards.  We’re here to tell you it’s OK for your blended family to be imperfect. Hang in there – you got this!

Think about how your partner and your child feel

It can be upsetting for your partner if they feel like they’ve been working hard to develop a relationship and your child keeps rejecting them. Jealousy can arise when they observe the time and love that you give to your child, and the way your child responds to you. They may just now realize that they will probably always come second in your eyes.  These feelings are valid and allowed! Your partner might even not like your children sometimes, and this is ok. It may not be ideal, but it’s not unusual. It might give you less stress to understand that it’s OK to have both positive and negative feelings between stepparents and stepchildren. What’s important is that your partner and children are treating each other with respect.

Accepting your partner and your child may never love each other

And what if even with time and work, love never develops between your child and your partner? Maybe they end up just caring for each other, with mutual respect. What if you let go of all expectations for love and deep-rooted bonds to develop? Aiming for mutual care & respect can lift a weight from everyone’s shoulders and lead to a more harmonious life. And of course, love may still develop in time.

Things you can try (but don’t force anything!)

  • Look for natural opportunities to do family activities together.
  • When you create opportunities for bonding, do it without expectation. Trying something new that none of you have done before can be a great way for this to happen.
  • Throw out some ideas and allow them to land naturally. Forced interactions will only lead to more tension and unwillingness.
  • Make sure both parties feel like they’re important to you by spending quality one-on-one time.
  • Keep talking to both parties about how they’re feeling, and make sure you step in before resentment or disrespect becomes an issue.
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Integrating families Living together

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 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.

Image via Pexels

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Living together

50 Blended Family Quotes That Will Make You Feel Seen

blended family quote written on a wall, it says make people feel loved today

Whether you’re a stepparent growing to love your stepchildren, a child accepting a new parental figure, or a bio-parent welcoming a new partner into their family, your version of a blended family is unique and beautiful. Here are some of our favorite blended family quotes to honor this amazing (sometimes maddening) journey.

Read more: 10 TV Shows About Blended Families

Blended family quotes for every type of blended family…

    1. Families don’t have to match. You don’t have to look like someone else to love them. Leigh Anne Tuohy
    2. The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other. Richard Bach
    3. The secret to blending families is… There is no secret. It’s scary and awesome and ragged and perfect and always changing. Love and laugh hard; try again tomorrow. Mir Kamin
    4. Sometimes families are created in different ways but are still in every way a family. Unknown
    5. You’re facing one of the most important challenges of your life. Yet, being a member of a blended family can be an exciting adventure for all concerned. Kathie M. Thompson
    6. We aren’t “step”, we aren’t “half”, we’re just a family. Unknown
    7. Family means putting your arms around each other and being there. Barbara Bush
    8. The blended family isn’t just an ordinary family times two. It’s a special kind of family with special needs. Maxine Marsolin
    9. Children can never have too many positive adult role models in their lives. Unknown
    10. Co-parenting is not a competition. It’s a collaboration of two homes working together with the best interest of the child at heart. Work for your kids, not against them. Unknown
    11. There is nothing so rewarding as bringing two families together and making it work. Unknown
    12. Anything is possible when you have the right people to support you. Misty Copeland
    13. Family is not defined by our genes, it is built and maintained through love. Unknown
    14. The last names may not match, but the hearts certainly do. Unknown
    15. Blended families: woven together by choice, strengthened together by love, tested by everything, and each uniquely ours. Unknown
    16. Thank you for blessing me with a great family, not a perfect one, but a great one. Unknown
    17. Blood makes you related; love makes you family. Unknown
    18. We had grown into one another somewhere along the way. We were officially a team. Shannon A. Thompson
    19. The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life. Richard Bach
    20. Being happy in your family is more important than being perfect. Unknown
    21. All families are different and unique, but they all have one thing in common—love. Unknown
    22. Bringing two families together is never easy. But in the end, it’s more than worth it. Unknown
    23. Blended families are beautiful. Every member has their own color, but it’s only when you bring them together that you can see the rainbow. Unknown
    24. Every family has a story to tell—blended families just have more chapters. Unknown
    25. Family isn’t defined only by last names or by blood; it’s defined by commitment and by love. Dave Willis
    26. Sticking with your family is what makes it a family. Mitch Albom
    27. Being part of a blended family means you’re part of something very wonderful. Unknown
    28. No family is perfect… We argue, we fight. We even stop talking to each other at times. But in the end, your family is your family. The love will always be there. Unknown
    29. It doesn’t matter how big or small your family is; it matters how much love you’re willing to put into it. Unknown
    30. Bright families are just like bright colors: When you blend two, you get something beautiful! Unknown
    31. There will always be steps you can take toward unity in your blended family. You will make—one step at a time! Donna Houpe
    32. Blended families are a beautiful mix of diverse people who each serve an important role in our lives. At times, it can be challenging to appreciate everyone’s unique beauty. Deana Keller La Rosa
    33. Family means hugging and supporting each other. The word “family” brings to mind a group of people who love, care for, support one another. Unknown
    34. We all have different views on how we should live our lives but nothing comes before your loved ones – they’re always by your side as long as you need them. Unknown
    35. You are not blood; you’re family. As long as we respect and support each other, our bond will never be broken. Unknown
    36. When two families combine, they create a new definition of love. Unknown
    37. Becoming a blended family means mixing, mingling, scrambling, and sometimes muddling our way through delicate family issues, complicated relationships, and individual differences, hurts, and fears. But through it all, we are learning to love like a family. Tom Frydenger
    38. The first key to balancing your busy life and creating a peaceful environment for your blended family to thrive in, lies in defining your family values—first as a couple, then as a family. Kellye Laughery
    39. There is no such thing as a ‘broken family.’ Family is family, and is not determined by marriage certificates, divorce papers, or adoption documents. C JoyBell
    40. Family is family, whether it’s the one you start out with, the one you end up with, or the family you gain along the way. Unknown
    41. Families are the compass that guides us. They are the inspiration to reach great heights, and our comfort when we occasionally falter. Brad Henry
    42. Behind a lot of great kids is a stepparent who stepped up, stepped in, and gave a sh*t. Unknown
    43. DNA doesn’t make a family—love does. Unknown
    44. Any man can make a child, but it takes a special man to help raise a child. Tony Gaskins
    45. Blood doesn’t always make a parent; being a parent comes from the heart. Unknown
    46. Don’t worry if you’re not an instant, happily-ever-after blended family. Expect to endure ‘I give up’ days and rejoice in the ‘I can do this,’ days. It will take work, dedication, an excellent sense of humor, and strong resolve. But hey, since when has any family taken the easy route? Don’t do ‘easy’—do ‘worth it!’ Jessica James
    47. Remember why you chose to come together in the first place—the love that you have for your partner. Your partner’s children are an extension of them and this makes them just as important to your happiness. Beth Happiness
    48. Live one day at a time (or one moment, if you have to). Blend little by little and celebrate even the smallest breakthrough. Andi Parker-Kimbrough
    49. One of the most important lessons our children have learned from divorces is that some things in life can come to an end, but that’s okay because something new is manifested. In our case, it’s a blended family that has respect, love, trust, authenticity, and a sense of fun. Jennifer Kessler
    50. Being a stepmom means they grew inside of my heart instead of my tummy. Unknown

We hope some of these blended family quotes resonated with you! The adjustment might be hard, especially for the children, but with proactive parents and some work, it’ll all be worth the effort. You’ll soon see that every member of the blended family will become a strong support for each other. And that’s the beauty of being a family.

Image via Unsplash

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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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Integrating families Living together

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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Living together

Feel Like an Outsider in Your Family?

woman sitting alone on the rocks looking at the sea. Feel like an outsider in her own family.

It can be tough getting stuck in the role of observer, where you feel like an outsider in your family. Do you struggle to build a rapport with your stepkids? Or feel left out of traditions that were established before you were part of the family?

The ‘stuck outsider’ role for a stepparent

In a biological family, children go through phases of preferring one parent over the other. This can be tricky to navigate, but generally, both biological parents experience being the insider (the preferred parent) and the outsider. In stepfamilies, stepparents often get stuck in the outsider role, with the biological parent being stuck in the insider role. You and your partner may both struggle with this dynamic.

Try not to let this feeling of being an outsider overwhelm you or affect your relationships. It will take time to develop trust and intimacy with your partner’s children. If the kids are more comfortable cuddling with their biological parents, it does not necessarily mean they do not like you. Put yourself in their shoes: would you be comfortable in such close proximity to someone new? Most likely not.

How to feel less like an outsider with your step-family

Luckily, there are some simple steps that will help you to feel more at home with your new family.

1. Make time for your marriage

Remind yourself how much your partner loves and accepts you, even if their children don’t yet. You married this person, accepted their family, and it is not wrong for you to celebrate your lives together.

Make a big deal about your anniversary, schedule date nights or a romantic vacation, or anything else that makes you feel more loved and at home. If anyone makes you feel as if you are throwing your happiness in their face, stop and reflect on why they would feel that way.  You deserve to celebrate your love, regardless of what others think.

By making time for your marriage, you are creating a deeper connection with your spouse. This can help you feel more at home and shows your partner’s kids that their parent has faith in you, which means they are more likely to trust you as well.

2. Change things around the house

When you enter the house your spouse shares with their kids, you are entering a home you played no part in making. You’ll feel more at home if you play a part in decorating the house but proceed with caution. You may want to start with the master bedroom (a space that doesn’t impact the children) or something small like a new rug.

Here are some small changes to consider:

  • Changing cushion covers
  • Putting up artwork
  • Rearranging some furniture

Avoid touching the children’s personal spaces (such as their bedrooms) or making any big changes without discussing it with the family first. The kids may have attachments to things that you are unaware of. If they’re interested, involving them in the process of redecorating could be a good bonding activity and help create some neutral spaces in the home.

Doing some chores around the house can also make you feel more at home. Try putting together a shopping list or doing the grocery run with the kids. This will allow you to get a sense of their likes and dislikes as well, which can benefit you in the long run.

3.    If you feel like an outsider, enlist your partner’s help

If you don’t have any kids of your own, there is one thing you must keep reminding yourself: you are living in a stepfamily, but your partner is not. They may not realize how you are feeling or what difficulties you are facing.

This is not due to ignorance or a lack of wanting to understand. Your spouse does not know what it’s like to feel like a third wheel at family events. They haven’t had to make their own space in an existing family dynamic.

The best thing you can do is to communicate how you are feeling. It’s important to address your concerns instead of bottling them up; if you let them fester you may start to resent your partner for not recognizing how you’re feeling. Your partner may respond by facilitating activities to help you feel more included in family events. If your partner makes a point of initiating the events, it will help take the pressure and focus of you.

4.    Don’t try to be a biological parent

When you marry someone who already has a family, you do not replace anyone. Your stepchildren already have a mother or father, and if you try to take over completely, they will start resenting you. Additionally, if the biological parent is still in the picture, they may be uncomfortable with your actions.

Instead, make sure your stepchildren understand that you are a new addition, not a replacement. You want to establish your own place in their lives, not take anyone else’s place.

5.    Develop new traditions

All families have traditions. You may have had some with your family growing up, and chances are, your partner and stepchildren probably have some too, which you may or may not be privy to. You should never ask them to stop their traditions. Rather, you should create your own new traditions with them.

Here are a few fun traditions to consider

  • Making gingerbread houses for Christmas
  • Weekly movie nights
  • Weekly game nights
  • Baking together on the weekends
  • Daily bedtime stories
  • Friday night pizza parties

Encourage your partner to take part in these traditions too, so that you and your stepchildren can start to feel more like a family. You can ask if your stepchildren want to do one of the activities listed above so they feel more in control.

6.    Connect with your own friends and family

If you’re finding family life tough, it’s a good idea to immerse yourself in your own support system.  Spend time with close friends or your own family members. This will give you some space, and help remind you that you are your own person, and also give the kids some space from you.

It is a good idea to introduce your loved ones to your stepchildren as soon as possible. It shows them that they are important to you, and also that you are here for the long haul and are going to be a part of their lives.

You can avoid feeling like an outsider in your own home

There is a lot that you can do to feel less like an outsider in your own home. Remind yourself constantly that this is not about things being anyone’s ‘fault’. Transitions of any kind come with some challenges and a need to think differently for a while; be kind and consider everyone’s feelings, including your own.

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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 Living together

Who Comes First in a Blended Family?

who comes first in a blended family, your child or your partner

It’s a dilemma faced by many parents across the world; who comes first in a blended family, your partner or your child? In traditional relationships, the couple develops a relationship first, then becomes parents together. Blended families flip this, and it’s the parent/child relationship that has the history and the deeper connection. It’s easy to rationalize that the emotional and physical needs of your child are always the most important, but there will also be times that your partner will need to be prioritized.

Living in a blended family can be challenging. The mix of different personalities, needs, and expectations can be difficult to navigate, and at times may cause conflict. It’s important that you are able to spend quality time with both your new partner and your child – to maintain your bond with your child, and to nourish the relationship with your partner. But should you have a process for deciding who comes first when? Is it possible to avoid having to choose between your partner and your child?

Read more: Blended Families With Teens: 5 Things You Should Know

Putting your children first in a blended family

Parents have a unique bond with their children that is generally unconditional. This is different from adult relationships, which often have limitations and conditions. The child is dependent on their parent, and parents will naturally prioritize their child – not only is it a natural reaction, but it’s also what the child will expect. A new partner cannot and should not try to compete with the parent/child bond and relationship.

Most parents make their child or children the top priority in life. And as you create your new blended family, you will want to provide consistency for your child, whether they live with you full time or come to stay at the weekend or on holidays. If your children or your partner’s children are living with you, you may find that when you and your partner want to spend time together the children will want to get involved as well. Many blended families will do things together and find a way to make sure everyone feels welcome and involved, but it’s not always easy.

Your child always comes first if:
– Their health or safety is at risk
– Your partner is trying to discipline them in a way that you didn’t agree on as a family

When your partner comes first in a blended family

While the health, safety, and emotional wellbeing of the kids are vital, sometimes you will need to put your partner first. Your kids may be less than impressed by this, but it actually demonstrates to them what a loving relationship looks like. Young children learn about life through observation, they learn how to develop strong relationships by watching their parents and other adults. While your previous marriage may not have worked out, you still have the chance to show your kids what a great relationship looks like. This will help them develop resilience and good relationship skills in the future.

You are also role-modeling the way you want your partner to be treated by your children, and demonstrating their importance in all your lives. Blended families can be complicated. But loving each other, showing support, and understanding when your partner needs you to put them first will show your children that this relationship is important to you.

There are many ways that you can put your partner first, and it’s often small gestures that are the most meaningful. Supporting your partner’s decisions and their argument if you feel it is the right thing to do for the whole family can help them feel like an important and valued part of the family dynamic. It’s a good idea to set ground rules in a blended family to help with decision-making and discipline. If you have any issues with your partner, it’s best to discuss them in private so they don’t feel undermined. You can then talk with your children later if necessary.

Your partner always comes first if:
– Your children are being rude or disrespectful to them
– They are being undermined by your ex-partner or other family members

It’s not about who you love more

Who you put first in any given situation doesn’t depend on who you love more. You’ll likely find there are some situations where you put your child first and others where you prioritize your relationship with your partner. If your partner and your kids (and you!) can begin to understand this, it will make life much simpler. Your children will always be important to you, but you deserve the opportunity to enjoy and prioritize your relationship with your partner too.

Remember to offer praise to your family; let your children know when they’re doing well and tell your partner you appreciate their efforts. You can also offer specific praise to family members in front of everyone in the household as this will help you all encourage each other and strengthen your family relationships. In blended families, often the small things can make a significant impact.

My partner prioritizes their kids over me

It’s easy to feel like an outsider when you’re in a blended family but you’re not the biological parent. You don’t want to compete with the parent/child relationship, but it’s hard to feel like you’re part of a family unit if your partner is always putting the kids before you. Rather than feeling left out, try to understand your partner’s role as a parent and see things from their perspective. Discuss your concerns with your partner before things escalate – let them know how you’re feeling and make suggestions for how things might be improved.

Lead image via Pexels

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