Blended Family: In its most basic sense, a blended family is one where the parents have children from previous relationships but all the members come together as one unit. However, as blended families become increasingly common, the definition of a blended family is changing. Understanding the basics of a blended family can be essential for ensuring your family can embrace its strengths and work through its differences.
The simple definition of a blended family, also called a stepfamily, reconstituted family, or a complex family, is a family unit where one or both parents have children from a previous relationship, but they have combined to form a new family. The parents may be in a same-sex or heterosexual relationship and may not have children with each other.
Blended Family Definition
A blended family or stepfamily forms when you and your partner make a life together with the children from one or both of your previous relationships. The process of forming a new, blended family can be both a rewarding and challenging experience. While you as parents are likely to approach remarriage and a new family with great joy and expectation, your kids or your new spouse’s kids may not be nearly as excited. They’ll likely feel uncertain about the upcoming changes and how they will affect relationships with their natural parents. They’ll also be worried about living with new stepsiblings, whom they may not know well, or worse, ones they may not even like.
Some children may resist changes, while you as a parent can become frustrated when your new family doesn’t function in the same way as your previous one. While blending families is rarely easy, these tips can help your new family work through the growing pains. No matter how strained or difficult things seem at first, with open communication, mutual respect, and plenty of love and patience, you can develop a close bond with your new stepchildren and form an affectionate and successful blended family.
Making your blended family a success
Trying to make a blended family a replica of your first family, or the ideal nuclear family, can often set family members up for confusion, frustration, and disappointment. Instead, embrace the differences and consider the basic elements that make a successful blended family:
- Solid marriage. Without marriage, there is no family. It’s harder to take care of the marriage in a blended family because you don’t have the time to adjust as a couple like in most first marriages. You’ll have to grow and mature into the marriage while parenting.
- Being civil. If family members can act civil towards one another on a regular basis rather than ignoring, purposely trying to hurt, or completely withdrawing from each other, you’re on track.
- All relationships are respectful. This is not just referring to the kids’ behavior toward adults. Respect should be given not just based on age, but also based on the fact that you are all family members now.
- Compassion for everyone’s development. Members of your blended family may be at various life stages and have different needs (teens versus toddlers, for example). They may also be at different stages in accepting this new family. Family members need to understand and honor those differences.
- Room for growth. After a few years of being blended, hopefully, the family will grow and members will choose to spend more time together and feel closer to one another.
Blended Family Quotes
Blended families are on the rise. According to Pew Research Center, 40 percent of new marriages include at least one person who was previously married. And 20 percent of weddings feature two people who have both been married prior.1
Many of those remarriages involve children who are thrust into a world of “steps”—stepmothers, stepfathers, step-siblings, step-grandparents. Of course, becoming a stepfamily doesn’t always go as seamlessly as it appeared to on the Brady Bunch. Bringing two families together under one roof can be quite challenging.
Don’t expect your families to meld together overnight. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, it can take one to two years for blended families to adjust to the changes.2 But parents who are proactive in reducing and addressing potential problems can make the adjustment period smoother.
What’s the Issue? It’s hard enough for a child to compete with siblings in a nuclear family. When it’s step-siblings that they’re not entirely comfortable with, the problem can magnify. For a child who hasn’t had to share a parent in a long time, that adjustment period might be a little bit longer.
How to Solve It: First, talk to your spouse so you’re on the same page about sibling rivalry. Nothing will work if one of you blames the other person’s biological child for causing the rift. If you have different disciplinary styles, you’re also likely to encounter problems.
Consequences and rewards need to be the same for all the children, no matter how it “used to work” before you two got married. Next, remember that in some way, your kids may be more like strangers than siblings. So don’t expect everyone to be “one big happy family” in the beginning. It will take a while to get to that point.2
If there was a change-up in birth order—that is, one child who was previously the oldest is now stuck in the middle—acknowledge the resentment that could cause. The previously eldest child probably felt like she had a little bit of power that’s now been taken away from her, while the former baby of the house might feel like he’s lost the attention he once had.
Avoid placing labels on your kids as well. Even positive labels like, “She’s the musician in our family,” and “He’s our star athlete,” can increase tension among family members. Point out that everyone has many skills and talents and it’s healthy to keep exploring new areas of interest.
Blended Family Lyrics
Dads who remarry often expect their new brides to assume a similar role to their former wife. The new wife, on the contrary, steps into the marriage ready for romance and quality time together as a couple. Instantly filling the role of wife is challenge enough; being interim Mom is often overwhelming. Wives in this situation often feel frustration and disillusionment when they are handed someone else’s kids to care for (and the kids don’t like it, either!).
In this scenario, Dad must step up to the plate and handle the disciplining of his children to avoid conflict with his new wife. He should also teach the kids to treat their stepmom with respect and talk through (or even write down) household duties with his new wife until a fair arrangement is reached.
Entering this marriage, Mom’s relief at having a new partner in life might result in her handing off too many responsibilities to her new husband. The kids, then, usually will rebel. They have a dad (or had one); they don’t think they need a new one. Tread lightly with any stepparent administering discipline. Biological parents are the ones who should handle rules and punishments, at least initially.
This couple needs to bond and show solidarity to the children. The wife must be careful not to shut out her new husband in favor of her children. Avoid inside jokes with the kids and subtle put-downs that would cause the kids to disregard their new stepfather altogether. There is a fine line between handling the discipline and devaluing the husband’s position in the home. Require children to show the same respect for their stepdad that they would any teacher, law enforcement officer, or another adult in authority. Don’t try to force love.
When To Call It Quits In A Blended Family
What’s the Issue? When the number of children increases, as it frequently does in blended families, one or all the children might feel like they’re not getting the attention that they’re used to.
Additionally, blended families sometimes have less time and money for each child’s extracurricular activities or for family outings because of the increase in family size.
How to Solve It: As with so many other issues, this problem can be resolved—to the best of its ability, anyway—by working together as a family. Create a set schedule that everyone has weighed in on, with each child choosing an activity within a certain budget throughout the month.
Additionally, both adults should attend each child’s activities, such as sporting games, plays or concerts, so it doesn’t feel like any child is being favored over another.
Give each child individual attention as well. Whether you play a quick game together for 10 minutes every day or you schedule a once-a-month outing, giving biological children and stepchildren plenty of positive attention can strengthen your bond.
What’s the Issue? Whereas once the biological parent’s boyfriend or girlfriend was someone to have fun with, now you’re an authority figure—and that might cause a few problems.
If you both have children already, there’s a good chance you have somewhat different rules. So it’s important to come together to create the same rules for everyone so that you don’t live like two separate families under one roof.
Identify how you’re going to discipline and what type of consequences you’re going to use. It’s imperative that the two of you present a united front on disciplinary issues.
Sometimes, one parent wants to be the “fun one.” At other times, one parent hopes the new stepparent can lay down the law and get things on track fast.
But coming together as a blended family means both parents need to work together as a team. Remember, kids quickly learn who the “easy target” is when it comes to getting their way, and can grow to be masters of manipulation to pit one adult against another.
Next, call everyone to the table. Take out those notes that you jotted down, and go over them as a family.
Your young ones might have some thoughts that they want to contribute, and having it all written down means that everyone will know exactly what the household rules are, as well as the consequences for breaking those rules.
Explain to the children that, in your house, both adults can enforce consequences to any of the children, and it’s expected that the children will obey the stepparent as they would any other authority figure.
With all of that said, it’s important for stepparents to focus more on building a bond rather than disciplining the children initially. Without a healthy relationship, discipline won’t work. This is especially true with adolescents.
Will ideas for blended families?
A “blended family” is a family where one or both spouses each have children from a prior marriage. In a Will for a traditional family (one where the children are children of both spouses), most Wills will leave all assets to the surviving spouse and upon the death of the surviving spouse to their common children.
What are the statistics of blended families?
According to the U.S. Census, 16 percent of children live in a blended family as of 2009. There’s also a possibility this number could be higher. The U.S. Census is done every 10 years, and there are also 1,300 new stepfamilies forming every day.