Living together

Living together

Feel Like an Outsider in Your Family?

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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?

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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

stepsibling rivalry

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.

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Integrating families Living together

Who Comes First in a Blended Family?

blended family who comes first

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.

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Integrating families Living together

10 Reasons Why Stepparenting Is So Hard

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Parenting is a tough gig, no matter which way you look at it, but why is stepparenting so hard? (Dare we say harder than biological parenting?) There are many reasons why stepparenting can be challenging, especially if you step into the role after having children of your own. Here are 10 reasons why you might find it challenging.

1. You’re used to running your family a certain way

You probably like to do things your way, and that’s not necessarily how your partner does things. Parenting styles may need to be adjusted on both sides. Sometimes stepparents will have difficulty dealing with these changes because it feels like all their past parenting experience is being disregarded— and that can feel really frustrating.

To cope with this, step into the stepparenting role slowly. Be prepared to work together with your partner and be open to merging parenting styles where possible. It’s unrealistic to expect to make all the changes straight away, and perhaps some areas will be non-negotiable. The more time you spend getting to know each other’s children, the easier the process will be.

2. Your stepchildren may have a relationship with their biological parents

If they do, then try not to interfere. Expect that they will still have an ongoing bond with their biological parent even if they now live with you full time.  Respect this relationship and never badmouth this parent in front of your stepchild.  This relationship with their parent is likely to provide a feeling of security which is imperative to a child’s emotional & mental health.

3. You may feel like you never measure up

Your stepchild’s birth parent may be someone who is highly respected and admired by your stepchild. This can often make stepparents feel inadequate you might feel that you’re at a disadvantage because you simply can’t live up to your stepchild’s expectations.

How you can cope with this:  It’s important to remember stepparenting is not a competition. Your step child doesn’t care about how amazing their biological parents are, they only want to be loved and accepted by you. Furthermore, remember that blending families is challenging for stepchildren too! Work on building a good relationship first, and not so much on trying to be a “parent figure” right off the bat.

4. You feel insecure about your relationship with your partner

Have you sometimes wondered if they love their biological children more than they love you? Or does their co-parenting relationship with their ex make you feel insecure? Your feelings are normal! This can even be more predominant in the beginning.

Focus more on developing a good co-parenting relationship all together so stepparenting is about all of you working together as one cohesive unit. Everyone is one big team here, and the goal is harmony.

5. You find your stepchildren challenging

You’ve noticed some behavioral challenges with your stepchildren and you’re simply stumped about how to handle them. What now? When children behave in a challenging way, there is always a reason why. Sometimes it will be a developmental leap, which is very normal in younger children, or the transition to the teenage years with all the accompanying hormones. Perhaps they’re frustrated or confused by the new family situation, or something at school is bothering them. Other times it might be something more serious; your stepchild may be struggling in some way or experiencing stress. Discuss any issues with your partner and see how they want to handle the challenges. If it’s an ongoing issue that concerns you both you may want to consider turning to play therapy (for younger children) or counseling.

6. You feel left out sometimes

As the stepparent, you may feel left out or even excluded at times. You might feel that stepchildren favor your partner (their biological parent) over you, or listen to them more. This can lead to feelings of disappointment. Try not to take things personally. It’s normal that your stepchildren will feel more secure with their biological parent than they do with you initially, and that may change over time, or it may not. They too are trying to find their place in the new family dynamic.

7) Sometimes stepparenting is just really hard and tiring

You might find yourself tired of hearing “I miss my mom/dad…” or “Why don’t I live with them?” Your stepchild may bring up challenging topics about their biological parent (family law issues, finances, etc.). Dealing with this can be exhausting! Maybe you’re thinking, “I kinda wish you lived with them too!” and feeling guilty about that.

Know that you don’t always have to solve the problem. Sometimes, it helps just to lend a listening ear. And if you’re feeling frustrated and tired, it’s ok to give yourself a break and step away for an evening. Better to invest in some me-time and come back feeling calmer and happier, than to say something or behave in a way that you later regret.

9. You probably won’t have any legal rights over your stepchild

Unless you have adopted your stepchild, you likely have no legal rights. When it comes to making decisions about their education it’s the biological parents who have the say. If your stepchild is in an accident or seriously ill, doctors will need to seek consent from their biological parent/s before administering any kind of treatment.  Watching your partner make decisions alone, or in consultation with their ex can be hard. Offer your opinions if you have them, but legally the decisions are not yours to make.  Make sure you and your partner have discussed guardianship in your estate planning too.

10. Stepparenting can be confusing for all parties

Adjusting to the new family dynamic takes time. It might be confusing that members of the family have different last names, or maybe they’re not sure how to introduce you or their stepsiblings to someone. You might be avoiding the ‘step’ label, but still feel the need to explain why you suddenly have an 8-year-old child.

Don’t overthink this one! Nobody needs an explanation. Your family is unique and beautiful no matter what everyone’s names are. If you notice any awkward moments, ask your stepchild about it—they may be too embarrassed on confused to bring it up. It’s better to get these things out in the open early, to defuse any awkwardness and let them know the family is a team.

Stepparenting is so hard but so rewarding

Most stepparents will find their stepparenting journey one of the most challenging relationships they will ever experience. It does take a lot of patience and by no means should be approached with a negative attitude. Keep your eyes open for any signs of tension and slowly work towards defusing these, slowly but surely!

It’s not easy, but the rewards are amazing. It’s an extraordinary feeling when your stepchildren start to look up to you as someone who can solve problems and offer advice—and most of all, make them feel safe and secure.

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Integrating families Living together

5 Tips For Blending Families With Teenagers

blended families with teens

Blending families with teenagers is an exciting and scary time. It’s undeniably challenging to bring together parts of two families into one household, but children are the ones who generally have the hardest time. In the US in particular there has been a rise in single-parent, unmarried, and blended family households. While younger children may have an easier time adjusting, young teenagers and adolescents can find it more challenging to accept a new person (or people) into their family. Here are some of the ways you can help your teenager make a healthy transition into your new blended family dynamic.

1. Avoid the blame game when blending families with teenagers

Younger teens often will often identify the new family or step-parent as the cause of the breakup, and turn the step-parent into a villain. To avoid this, be honest and upfront about the reasons that you and your ex-spouse are no longer in a relationship.

2. Communicate new family dynamics

Teenagers may find it harder than younger children to accept a new parent or learn to trust a new family dynamic after the dissolution of their old family. Reassure your child regularly that no matter what happens, you are there for them. Be clear about the role your ex-spouse will have in their life, and help them find ways to connect with your new spouse.

3. Discuss new routines and expectations

Teenagers are more set in their ways than younger children and can be resentful of any new boundaries or routines. Make sure you discuss with your new spouse what the expectations are around parenting or disciplining your teen, and make sure your teen is also clear on how the new relationship is supposed to work. Check in regularly with your teen and your spouse to make sure you can address any problems before they escalate.

4. Teens need time to adjust to blended families

Teenagers will need time and space to adjust to the new blended family. Give them the information and the emotional tools to deal with the situation, and then give them space to accept the change on their own terms. You’ll need to check in regularly, but letting them process things in their own time can benefit the transition.

5. Teens still need attention and affection

They may not be as affectionate or emotionally expressive as they used to be when they were little, but it’s so important to realize that teens still need your attention & affection. Assuring them that you are always willing to provide these things can help to ease the transition to the new family dynamic.

There is no doubt that blending families with teenage children can be challenging. But with time and constant commitment  (and possibly family therapy), your blended family can learn to live together in a loving and supportive way.

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How to Best Support Your Child After Re-Marriage

A divorce and a subsequent re-marriage isn’t just a stressful transition for you but also for your child. At a point in life, when you need utmost support and consideration from your loved ones, you need to be able to give the same to your child as well. This is especially true if you have a young child upset about your new husband/wife.

It is not easy for kids to become comfortable with a new person in their lives, especially a person who is going to have a more authoritative role in their lives going forward. Your last partner was their father or mother for a long time, and shifting that focus to a new person can be strange, uncomfortable, and stressful. Remember, you might be immensely joyful at the prospect of a new beginning of your life, but your child might not be ready for this new adjustment.

If you are constantly telling yourself and your loved ones ‘my child doesn’t want me to re-marry’, you must give this more thought. Where is there reluctance stemming from? How could you make your child more comfortable in the new situation? Here are some of the most important considerations you must keep in mind for the happiness and comfort of your child.


Be honest with your child

Having a child upset about your new husband/wife can be very sad and unsettling. However, remember that their reluctance to accept your new partner is not something they are doing out of spite. Things have been utterly confusing and unclear to them, and it is up to you to change that.

  • Keep age appropriateness in mind.
  • Be honest and have a discussion with them about what’s going on in their family.
  • Reassure them that it wasn’t their fault.
  • Explain to them if your ex-partner is going to be in the picture now or not.
  • Talk to them about how they feel about your new partner.
  • Encourage them to tell you what they like and don’t like about your new partner.

Keeping these things hidden from them will only backfire in the long run. They might hear something from an aunt in your family or from someone else’s kid at their school. Learning about your family’s business from someone else can severely undermine your child’s sense of security and make them feel as if you are not their best companion anymore.

To avoid all of this, be very honest about why your marriage failed and do not bad mouth your ex-partner. This is especially important if your ex-partner is going to be actively bringing up your child even after re-marriage. Other than this, be prepared to answer questions such as –

  • Where will I live now?
  • Can I still visit Mom/Dad?
  • Can I still do my favorite things?
  • Will I move someplace else?
  • Can I still keep my room?
  • Where will Mom/Dad live?
  • Can I still meet my best friend?
  • Will you send me to a new school?
  • Will we celebrate Christmas?
  • Will my new Mom/Dad scold me for this?


Reassure them that you are still their rock

Upon hearing that one of their parents will not be living in the same house as them anymore, children tend to blame themselves for the unrest. Make sure that you let them know that your divorce was not their mistake. Accept your own mistakes as well and help them understand that both their parents still love and care for them.

It is also common for children to talk about how their parents yell at each other or vividly remember the night one of their parents left the house without saying goodbye to them. Protect your child from such negativity and ensure that they do not blame themselves for the circumstances. If your ex-partner is not going to be in the picture anymore, help your child understand that the reason of re-marriage that has nothing to do with them.


Give your child time to adjust

There are numerous things your child is trying to get adjusted to.

  • Your re-marriage is solid proof for your child that his or her parents are never going to get back together.
  • If you have been divorced for a long time, your child might become insecure about sharing you with a new person.
  • Your child might think that you are leaving them for a new person and that they do not belong with either of their parents anymore.
  • He or she might believe that learning to love your new partner is some form of disrespect to their own parent.
  • Your child might begin comparing your ex-partner and new partner by excessively focusing on your new partner’s faults.

Parents often push their children too hard to accept a new person in their life. Rather than forcing them to do so, give your child time to address their concerns and help them do away with their insecurities. Do not force them to call your new partner ‘Mom’ or ‘Dad’. Do not force them to spend some time with your new partner. Let them set their own pace and allow their relationship with your new partner to grow rather than forcing it.


Be there for your child first and foremost

Things are changing around your child rapidly, and you must ensure that you are constantly there for your child. Answer their questions honestly, do not fight with your ex-partner in front of them, and ease your kid to your new partner slowly. Let them spend time with each other on their own accord and do not push their relationship. Be patient with your child and ask your new partner for their patience and understanding. Lastly, if your child is still becoming violently opposed to your re-marriage, seek professional help.

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Books for Blended Families

family reading

Every year, new blended families are formed – in the millions. The process can be stressful especially if you want to be sure everything goes as smoothly as possible.

Books are certainly a P to guide us through this. Just knowing there are books out there on this topic helps you feel a little less along. It’s a feeling of knowing that there is evidence out there that while blending families could be new to you, there are some actual people out there who have been there, experienced it, and have succeeded (and wrote the book on it, literally!). So, if you’re looking for insight into how blended families work, what to expect, and everything else around the topic, you can stick to this website, or grab a book!

Given how many books are out there, it could be overwhelming picking a book to read. In this article, we have made some selections for you. Read on to see our list of recommended books for blended families.

The following section is a list of books for everyone in the family. Everyone has been carefully considered – even the kids, so no one is left out. So, let’s get started with the kids!

Blended Family Books for Little Ones

  • Do You Sing Twinkle? A Story About Remarriage and New Family by Sandra Levins and Bryan Langdo
  • The Family Book by Todd Parr
  •  My Fairy Stepmother, by Marni Prince, Jason Prince, and Susan Tegelaar
  • When Otis Courted Mama by Kathi Appelt
  • Step One, Step Two, Step Three and Four by Maria Ashworth
  • Annie and Snowball and the Wedding Day by Cynthia Rylant


Blended Family Books for Middle Grades

  • The Headless Cupid by Zilpha Keatley Snyder and Alton Raible
  • The Thing About Leftovers by C.C. Payne
  • Freaky Fast Frankie Joe by Lutricia Clifton
  • We Are All Made of Molecules by Susin Nielsen
  • Sarah, Plain, and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan
  • A Smidgen of Sky by Dianna Doris Winget
  • Ink Is Thicker Than Water, by Amy Spalding


Blended Family Books for Parents

  • 4 Essential Keys to Effective Communication in Love, Life, Work–Anywhere!: A How-To Guide for Practicing the Empathic Listening, Speaking, and Dialogue Skills to Achieve Relationship Success Kindle Edition by Leal III, Bento C.
  • Building the Bonds of Attachment: Awakening Love in Deeply Traumatized Children by Daniel A. Hughes
  • Stepmonster: A New Look at Why Real Stepmothers Think, Feel, and Act the Way We Do by Martin Ph.D., Wednesday
  • The Smart Stepfamily: Seven Steps to a Healthy Family by Ron L. Deal
  • The Smart Stepmom: Practical Steps to Help You Thrive by Ron L. Deal and Laura Petherbridge
  • The Smart Stepdad: Steps to Help You Succeed by Ron L. Deal
  • The Smart Stepfamily: Seven Steps to a Healthy Family by Ron L. Deal
  • The Happy Stepmother by Rachelle Katz
  • The Smart Stepfamily Marriage: Keys to Success in the Blended Family by Ron L Deal and David H. Olson
  • POSITIVE DISCIPLINE: THE COMPLETE GUIDE: Help Your Child Develop Self Discipline, Responsibility and Build Communication: From Toddler To Teenager by Susan Garcia
  • STEP PARENTING: 50 One-Minute DOs and DON’Ts for Stepdads and Stepmoms by Randall Hicks
  • Keys to Successful Stepfathering (Barron’s Parenting Keys) by Pickhardt Ph.D., Carl E. (Author)


Do you have any favourite books for blended families? We’d love to add them to our libraries too!

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Blended Families: When you know you need to seek counselling

Two hands scaled

You’re probably here because you’ve formed or are about to form a new family unit, where at least one other family unit already exists. In other words, when you know you need to seek counselling, you are blending families. This means at least one of the parties is bringing in children from a previous relationship and in order to start a brand new family. The desire is of course for  everything to work smoothly from day one, but more often than not, you will encounter some bumps in the road when starting a new blended family. But how do you tell if these are just bumps you need to ride in order to move forward, or if they are real issues that you will require help & support to overcome?

In order to know this, blended families must first understand what are healthy & unhealthy dynamics to be expected in  the new family. When the needle starts to swing towards unhealthy, that’s a signal for counselling or support to be considered. Disagreements, arguments and other issues are common in the beginning, but if this has progressed to unhealthy levels, it may be time to seek professional help.

Navigating the world of a blended family can be quite different to being in a traditional family. Often, a significant amount baggage can come along from past relationships and kids. Some families can find that they struggle to blend well. There is nothing wrong with seeking professional help to smooth out the creases and make it easier for everyone. Let’s take a closer look at the blended family, some common problems they face, and when they should consider counseling.

What is Blended Family?

A blended family can come in many different forms. It is basically a family that occurs when parents try to combine together with children from one or both of their previous relationships. It often results in a step-parent on one or both sides. Each family has already spent time growing and developing with their respective parents. When they try to blend with a new person, the step parent, or even with other children from the step-parent, there’s bound to be some kinks along the way.

Whether the original parent was ever married before or not, this blended family will cause children, as well as the adults, to go into a new family dynamic that they were not used to before. Whether both or just one partner is bringing kids into this relationship, it is important to give it time for the children to learn and understand the new dynamics they are in.

Keep in mind that these new relationship dynamics can get complicated. If Suzy were an only child with her parents before the divorce, she may not understand how to get along with Tim and Ben when they start living in her home with her mom and new step dad. This is a confusing time already, with Suzy trying to get used to a new parent in the mix, and she also has to adjust to two new step-siblings as well.

Things are tough for Tim and Ben as well. They now have to get used to having a sister for the first time, as well as a new mother figure in their lives. If you as the parent feel confused and overwhelmed by the changes and adjustments, just imagine how much harder this is for the children involved, regardless of how many.

Common Problems That Show Up In Blended Families?

There are many different problems that can arise in a blended family. With some of these families, some work and mutual understanding can help them to handle the problems on their own. For others, help from the outside might be necessary.

Regardless of whether the blended family should consider seeking help for their problems or not, some of the common issues that blended families may face include:

1. Not being on the same page

If you and your partner are not able to get together and agree on important things in the family, it will be harder for the children to get along as well. Right from the beginning, sit together and discuss how you will handle important decisions such as how to parent the children and what your discipline strategies are. Some blended families do better by allowing only the biological parent to be involved in discipline for their child.

2.  Trying to be the same as before

It goes without saying that going back to the way you were before is not going to be a reality at this point. Both you and your partner are now responsible for a family that is larger and much different than it was in the past. You can’t continue things as before because you have new people in the mix and the process is different. So sit down with your partner to see how you should handle how the new household should be run, from chores to errands to everything else, that will come up on a day to day basis.

3. Forgetting the ex

If there are children in the relationship, then there is an ex somewhere in the picture. And forgetting to factor this person in is probably not a wise move. Unless the ex is completely cut off from the children and hasn’t been seen in years, they will have some part to play in your family too. So what’s the healthiest way of going about this? Your ex will always be important to your children, even if you have re-married now. So it’s probably best to conduct the ex relationship in the most civil and friendly way that you can muster up in order to help the kids.

4. Not letting your partner parent your children

It can be hard to allow someone else to parent your biological children. As it would be difficult for your partner to accept you parenting or disciplining their children. However, there should be some agreement as to what could be acceptable for both parties. If Thomas the step-father is beginning to find that his step-son Max tends to be very messy, he should be allowed to raise this to his wife Sarah (Max’s biological mom). Sarah may want to try to be objective about this. The couple might want to discuss what Thomas should do in a situation like this. Would Sarah prefer Thomas to approach Max directly to address his messiness? Or would Sarah prefer Thomas to come to her so that she can address issues with her biological son herself? See if you can agree to be fair and kind in these situations and to not get offended as long as your partner keeps the conversation healthy & constructive.

5. Sibling Rivalry

The children from both sides of the relationship are not going to always get along. Even children from the same parents sometimes don’t get along. So be prepared, that with the added complexities of a blended family, that this can multiply.

6. Not giving your children enough attention

You have more children now. This means that you and your partner need to take extra time to really give each one some individual attention. Find even a little time each week to spend with each child in a positive way. Even 10 mins per kid per day will do at the start. This helps them to feel like they are still important in the family, even with all of the changes.

7. Forgetting that it takes work

No matter what fairy tales you have in your head, it is going to take work to make a blended family come together. There is a learning curve and you do not need to master it right away. But do realise that this is something new for everyone and it may not be easy at the start.

Do I Need a Counsellor?

Sometimes blended families can put in a lot of work to try and get everyone on the same page.  And to see success with their new dynamic and yet you find something  is still not working. There are too many arguments, not everyone feels like they are truly a family. Or you worry that you may need to break up with your partner just to get some normalcy back to your lives.

Consider seeking out the help of a counsellor for your blended family. Did you know that there are more than one type of counselling available to help you through this? Perhaps you and your partner just need some assistance with learning how to navigate your new parenting roles? Or perhaps you feel that a few of the children are struggling with this new dynamic and need help adjusting? Would the whole family benefit with coming in and learning about this new family and how to work together?

All blended families can benefit from working with a counsellor. However, there are a few red flags that show that counselling may be more urgently required. These include:

  • When the yelling and screaming is almost constant.
  • When a child tries to run away from home.
  • If physical violence, either from a parent or a child, as begun.
  • When a child has begun to exhibit self-harm.
  • When the parents are at the brink of splitting up to stop the insanity.

If any of these have occurred, and especially if several have already happened. It is time to get the blended family into counseling sessions to deal with the problems.

How to Make a Successful Blended Family

No matter how hard you try, be prepared for some hiccups along the way. Bringing together two different families and trying to make it work is no small feat. It is natural for the kids from each side to experience some pullback at the idea that some of their traditions and routines will now be different.

The good news is that there are things you and your partner can do to make your blended family work. Considering counselling when things seem to get out of control is a great first place to start. But some other things you can do include:

  • Be civil: If the members of the new family can be civil to one another, rather than trying to withdraw or be hurtful, then the relationship will go more smoothly. Make it a rule that no matter how angry or upsetting something is. Everyone is expected to be civil to one another.
  • All relationships are respectful: This includes everyone. Not only should the children be respectful to you, but you need to be respectful to them. Remember that this is hard on them. They are trying to adjust to changes as well. When you can be open and respectful to each other, the family will work.
  • Compassion for everyone: The children that come into a blended family are all at different life stages, meaning they all have different needs. Each one may also be at their own stage of accepting this relationship. Teenagers may adapt to this differently than a toddler for example. Keep an open mind and discuss with your counselor how you can respect and work with these differences.
  • Understand that things will change with time: The goal is that after being together for a few years, the family will be able to grow. Members will have time to adjust and when the rules above are followed. They can start to create their own bonds. If handled well, even if that means help from a counselor, the family will blend together well.

Final Thoughts

Too many blended families do not seek the counseling they need. This is often a combination of being in denial about any real problems in the family and the negative stigma that is left behind when it comes to visiting a counselor.

Seeking help from a counselor is not a sign that you are weak or that you did something wrong. It is a recognition that something is not working and you need help. Your blended family is important and if you can recognise that something is off and that the members of the family need help bonding and getting along. Then a counselor may be the best route to make that happen. Seeking help early on, rather than pushing it to the side. And forgetting about it is the best way to give everyone a voice in this new family dynamic.

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Becoming a Step-parent: What It Takes To Build a Successful Step Family

Becoming a step-parent is a process that can be considered to be both rewarding and challenging. Luckily, you fell in love with the right person, but you then discover that he or she has children. You may now be confused wondering how to approach the situation. Finding yourself in this scenario can be overwhelming, especially if you have never been blessed with children of your own.

A blended family has many challenges. Being a step-parent (or parent, for that matter) can be demanding and requires time and patience. Despite the fairy tales about how wicked and evil step-parents are, like the stepmother from Cinderella, many strategies can be used to create a conducive environment for both the parents and the children. Dealing with the emotions combined with good communication is one of the factors that can create a successful blended family.

First of all, it’s important to acknowledge that since both of you have decided to spend your life together, this mean that you will inevitably enter into the new role of being a step-parent. While you and your partner may approach the reunion with great joy, this may or may not be the case with your spouse’s kids. There is a likelihood that they may feel uncertain of the new changes in their life. The children may need time to learn to cope with the new parent who is not their biological father or mother. Additionally, they may need time to learn to live with new step-siblings.

Ways of strengthening a blended family

Creating harmony in a blended family is not an easy task. It is a journey that parents and children need to take some time for before the stepfamily can establish itself fully. The emphasis here is truly on the word: JOURNEY. There may or may not be an end destination. It’s a path all of you will walk together, and there will be laughter & joy along the way, but also struggles & challenges as well. As with many journeys that start off with parties not yet thoroughly familiar with each other, things may prove a little more challenging in the beginning but with time (and effort, as well as the right strategies, mindset  & skills) things get can better. Below are some steps that parents can take to help boost togetherness & harmony in a blended family:

Nurture your relationship – Maintaining a good relationship between yourself and your new spouse in a re-marriage is a key factor in building a healthy blended family. Most couples tend to have a couple childless years. At the beginning where they have the luxury to truly focus on each other and build a strong foundation. A blended family with children poses some challenges to that. Regardless of that, this foundation is still key to the family. And it would benefit all parties well if the couple do also focus attention on their own relationship alongside that with the children. How your kids perceive the happiness and stability of your romantic relationship with your spouse can truly impact their ability to cope with this change.

Solve problems together – Conflicts will always be part of the family life, but solving them appropriately brings unity in the family. Conflicts may arise between the parents, between the parents and the children, or between the children. Although it’s sometimes easy to pretend nothing happened, addressing these conflicts. And trying to look out for solutions may be rather confronting, but ends up better for the long run. For example, when listening, also ask questions without blaming and try to find out the root cause of the problem. Involve the conflicting parties when arriving at solutions.

For example, when step-children refuse to take instructions or guidelines from a step-parent, instead of “laying down the law”, ask the child what he thinks would be fair. Challenge them kindly if their proposed solution is not one you can agree to until you come to a place where all parties can agree.

Maintain the perspective – Of course you want everything to be smooth. But it’s also important accept that this is new for all parties involved. Take time to really get to know and understand each other and try to let go of the unrealistic expectation that everything should fall into place. Fantastic if it does, but if it doesn’t right way – relax – it’s all a matter of time. Research has shown that it can take anything from 2-7 years  before blended families fully unite. So give yourself a break if you’re starting to feel the uphill battle.

Be a team – Seems pretty obvious, but as much as you can, try to be ONE team with your partner. Concretely, this may mean letting go of control over the little things. Not everything has to be done the way you know it. The less you disagree on, the more united you will come across as a team. If you can get your spouse on board, schedule a special time of the week, perhaps every Tuesday night for 30-60 mins after dinner, to talk about the kids together.

Stay connected – Make it a point to touch base with the kids everyday, showing them that you’re interested in their well-being, feelings & opinions. If you can’t help them with solutions, at least be a listening ear, whether they are sharing something joyful or sharing a pain. Ask them questions about theirs schooling, friends and activities. You might be met with resistance, but release expectations when asking these questions. Simply do so to stimulate connection and release expectation of elaborate answers, especially at the start.

Share with others – Know any other step-parents in your friends circle? If not, ask your friends if they know any. With today’s divorce & re-marriage statistics, someone is bound to know another step-parent or step-parent-to be. Don’t hesitate to call them up for a coffee.  You’d be surprised how desperate they could be to talk to another step-parent too. Sometimes, just getting to understand more about their experiences. And can help you learn ways to handle some of the challenges that you’re encountering yourself. And if not, your simply sharing with them can already help you feel a little less alone.

Challenges that blended families face

A stepfamily does not bond overnight. It can take anything from 2-7 years for the parties to adjust to the changes. However, those who are proactive enough (like you, since you are reading this!) can address the issues and make adjustments quite smoothly. So when entering into your new role as a step-parent. Here are a few challenges you may want to keep in mind:

Parental inexperience – If you’re completely new to parenting, becoming a step-parent all of a sudden can be even more challenging. So remember to cut yourself some slack if things aren’t smooth in the beginning.

Mixed feelings concerning the step-parent This is a common issue for the children, they get confused on how to relate with the new parent. In some cases, the kids can even tend to dislike the new parent. At the start, without even getting to know them. The reality is that they themselves are struggling to sort out their feelings. The kids may not want to open up to you yet, at the start. So encouraging this has to be done delicately. At this stage, it’s probably best to let them know that you’re approachable and it’s OK to have mixed feelings about you. Why not even acknowledge their feelings, even if negative, and tell them you understand this?

Sibling rivalry – While competition between siblings is common in all families, the potential for conflict between step-siblings might be even higher. Step-parenting will involve not just navigating dynamics between you and your step-children, but also navigating the relationship between all step-siblings. See our article on step-sibling rivalry for more information on this.

Changes in family traditions – When two families come together, you will have two different ways to do everything. From Sunday dinners to favourite family games, all the way to how Christmas is celebrated. Some toes will be stepped on for sure, but in order to really move forward, perhaps consider following some traditions of your spouse’s family & kids, then also keeping some of yours, and having fun creating new ones. Do this as a group, with all involved, so that the kids feel invested in the changes too.

Everyone needs attention – As imperfect humans, it would be impossible for us to give exactly equal attention to each and every child. Especially if there are 2 or 3 coming from each spouse! It may be a good idea to discuss with your spouse. And distribute kid duties such as caretaking, driving them to sports. Or other classes so that each parents can get some face-time with each child. Mix things up a little and have your spouse. Sometimes do duties or spend time with your kid or vice versa. But don’t forget to make sure you also get face-time with your own kids.

Step-parenting unfortunately doesn’t come with a manual (although we’re trying to put something together to help you on this site!). You may find that the children have expectations that you may not be able to fully satisfy. Maintaining a healthy step-family requires a lot of patience and dedication. Keep the communication open and bear in mind that step-parenting may need a little extra effort. With time you will have a perfectly imperfect and yet harmonious step-family!

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