Family structure in the United States is changing. The number of couples divorcing, remarrying, and cohabitating (living together, but not marrying) is growing. The result is an increasing number of families that no longer fit the “traditional” mold. Today, one out of six kids lives in a blended family. Blended families have become so common that they’re even celebrated with their own holiday: Stepfamily Day.
Yet adjusting to life as a blended family can be challenging. It helps to prepare your children as much as possible for the upcoming changes. Recognize and plan for dealing with potential issues that occur in blended families.
What is a Blended Family?
Blended families include children from one or both spouses’ previous marriage(s). Blended families can also be referred to as “stepfamilies.” Both terms appear in print and online when describing families that include stepparents and stepchildren.
How to Prepare Your Kids To Be Part of a Blended Family
If you expect to become part of a blended family soon, help your children get ready for the upcoming changes. Blending your families may be a joyful and natural progression of your relationship with your new spouse, but the children might have some reservations and questions.
Tell them as far in advance as possible to let them get used to the idea. Be proactive by telling them how their lives will (and won’t) change before you and your new spouse move in together.
Four Steps for a Smooth Transition to a Blended Family
Talk About It
Prepare children for living in a blended family by encouraging them to ask questions about anything that concerns them. Prepare yourself by thinking about your answers to typical questions.
Expect questions like:
- What to call their stepparent
- Where they will spend the holidays
- How and when will they see their “other” family members (other biological parent and his/her family)
- Where they will live
- Will they have to share a room with stepsiblings
Take It Slow
Lay a strong foundation for your blended family. Don’t expect your kids to immediately adjust to this new chapter of your lives. Experts note that it may take anywhere between two and five years for a stepfamily to really establish itself.
You may have enjoyed several “fun” outings while dating your soon-to-be spouse, real family life isn’t a series of trips to the amusement park. Help prepare your children for life in a blended family by spending time together doing typical family things like:
- grocery shopping,
- yard work
- hanging out in the kitchen talking about your day
This lets children see future stepparents in a family/parenting role, instead of “Mom’s fun boyfriend” or “Dad’s cool girlfriend.”
Create a List of Family Rules
Everyone appreciates knowing what’s expected in a new situation. Creating and communicating new “Family Rules” helps kids in blended families adjust. When two families come together, it’s important to set out the rules of what’s acceptable—and what’s not—to head off misunderstandings and potential issues.
Your blended family rules list may include some rules from each of your previous households, as well as new rules. Areas to address could include:
- Being respectful of each member of the family
- Identifying each family member’s chores
- Setting curfews or bedtimes
- Restricting screen time and cell phone usage
- Determining rules for having friends over
Develop Family Routines
Family traditions, routines and rituals help unite members of all sorts of families. Establishing new enjoyable traditions may help smooth your children’s anxiety over the transition to their new role as a member of a blended family.
Developing family routines, rituals and traditions shows children they’re an important part of a new, stable family unit. Activities can be simple or elaborate, here are some examples:
- big pancake breakfast each Saturday morning
- annual family weekend getaway or camping trip
- celebrating birthdays by serving their favorite meal
- shopping for seedlings to plant in the family garden
Handling Blended Family Issues
Blended families deal with many of the same issues traditional families face; yet, given the more complicated relationships involving stepparents, stepchildren and stepsiblings, these issues may escalate more quickly.
For blended families with younger children at home on a full-time or part-time basis, disciplining kids can pose difficulties. Together with your new spouse, discuss the who, what, when, where and how of disciplining all your children before you combine your families. That way you’re prepared when someone misbehaves.
Another important issue that blended families, especially those with older children, often come up against is finances and inheritance. Talk to your new partner about how you’ll manage your bank accounts and bills. Update beneficiaries on insurance policies, and make arrangements to get new or updated wills. Address this early on by meeting with a lawyer to discuss your options, rights and obligations when it comes to leaving an inheritance to your children and/or stepchildren. By making legally-binding arrangements well in advance of your death, you may head off or at least minimize future legal entanglements and family arguments.
- Updating Your Insurance Policy When Your Relationship Status Changes
- Breaking the Habit of Giving Money to Grown Children
Not everyone in a blended family always gets along. This may be due not only to the introduction of new rules, but also to the additional relationships—the stepparent-stepchild relationship and the stepsibling relationships—your kids have to contend with. Disagreements and miscommunications may come about as each member tests his or her place in the new family unit.
Try to identify the specific issue causing the bad feelings and then talk about it at a family meeting. If an incident becomes repeated behavior, try to work out a solution. Your stepson won’t take out the garbage when you ask? Make it a standard nightly chore he’s responsible for so you don’t have to keep asking him. Your new husband “hogs” the TV every Monday night for football when your daughter’s favorite show is on? Ask that they take turns or look into getting another television. Address any problems immediately to prevent ongoing resentment. If the issues can’t be resolved within the family, consider seeking help from a professional family therapist.
Blended Families Resources
Creating a nurturing, healthy blended family is challenging. But, like many of life’s challenges, the end result can be wonderful. Use these online resources to help your new family succeed:
Forming a blended family isn’t always smooth going, but neither is life! Even in traditional families, spouses argue, kids misbehave and siblings fight. However, when you understand the potential issues facing blended families, you can better prepare both adults and children for their new roles and how to deal with situations that may arise. That makes it easier for everyone to transition into this new chapter of life, building a strong and healthy new blended family.
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