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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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