Strengthening Families Through Counseling, Education and Mediation

Blending Families

Blending Cultures, Customs, and Traditions

Do not change too much too fast

Humans are creatures of habit and find much comfort in habits.  Remember that changing habits is hard and takes time.

Find out what is realistic to expect

Love does not conquer all.  As such, be realistic about the challenges of blending two families, each with its own history, rituals, and problems.

When it comes to blending a family, “it helps to do some research into what you can realistically expect step/children to do at certain ages.”

Be aware of common unrealistic expectations such as:

1-Stepparents are to jump right into the existing framework of a family and be happy.

2-Everything has to change.

3-Step siblings should love each other instantly.

Decide: What’s worth fighting about?

“If you make “let it go” a permanent part of your vocabulary and you can start to see that your children can handle difference and often even grow from new challenging,differences. Separate the big things from the little things.

Ask yourself if the disagreement is worth the cost.  There are some situations that are worth it.  When you believe the child’s actual well-being is at stake, you need to act in the child’s best interest always.”

Regulate your emotions

When you are discussing something you would like to see happen differently, it helps to come with a humble attitude, and not a blaming and expectant attitude.  The more space children are given to make choices about their lives, the more likely they are to feel trusted and understood and respond in a cooperative way.”

Find what works for you to regulate your own emotions.  It may be giving yourself a time out to cool down and think things through.  For others relaxation/mindfulness training can be extremely helpful.

A different kind of parenting

What is not helpful is pointing out the fault of the other parent.  The important thing is to allow your child to feel what he/she is feeling without imposing your own feelings on the situation.

Create a family identity

There is great need for the new step-family to create a shared identity.  A family identity is the cement that holds the family together; it is the sense of belonging that family members share, the feeling of “we-ness.”  It can be created though shared times, rituals, customs, vacations, fun, etc.

There is no “right” way.  Some of these new rituals may seem strange or unfamiliar or be in direct conflict with the ones observed by the former family unit.  Discuss this until everyone feels understood and comfortable.

Three suggestions to resettle the nest in time for the holidays

1.) Hold a family planning meeting and assign duties among children and be sure the older children are included.

2.) Consider alternating holiday visits from year to year.

3.) Create new family traditions.  Rituals then become shared experiences that can help solidify a blended family.

Be open to non-holiday rituals

Be open to creating non-holiday rituals too, such as non-birthday parties, a Fourth of August celebration (for the month with no holidays in it), or a special dinner for the night before school begins.

Children are master adapters (if the grown-ups help)

Children can adjust to a new adult in their home, take on new siblings, navigate between two homes, and still be fully functional, well-adjusted, interesting, and kind children.  But it doesn’t just happen effortlessly.  It takes the adults’ help.”

Blending Rules/Discipline/Structure

“One of largest tasks we have in stepfamilies is disciplining children well.”

Have Hope-It can happen

Children can figure out different rules and different belief systems if the adults present the differences and changes constructively.  In schools, different teachers have different rules and the children manage just fine.”

Know What You Want

Parents and stepparents need to spend time thinking about how they want to run their house.  You might think about breaking behavior down into three categories:

1.) Behavior that is unpleasant but not worth fighting over

2.) Behaviors that may be negotiable

3.) Behavior that is completely unacceptable

United We Parent

In stepfamilies, presenting a united front to the children is critical.  There are already obvious alliances between the child and their biological parent.  If the family is going to function well, it is a lot easier to do with two adults who agree about how things should run.

The Tolerance Gap-Be patient

Parents have advantages over stepparents when it comes to raising children.  Almost all parents have a deep well to draw on when it comes to loving their child no matter what kind of attitude or behavior the child has at the moment.  Stepparents do not have that deep well of love to draw on.  Without this cushioning buffer, stepparents might be appalled by what their stepchild does.

When we know that stepparents and parents are likely to view the same behavior in very different ways, it can defuse a lot of the defensiveness on both sides of the argument.  It also helps ease tensions to clearly define who will do what when it comes to discipline.

Let the (Biological) Parent Be the Disciplinarian in the Beginning

The biggest thing that the parenting team can do to create a successful discipline strategy is to have the parent take the lead.  Parents need to be the ones, particularly in the early days of a stepfamily, to lay down the law and enforce the consequences.

Parents Agree

Partners need to agree on who does what and when “The less you talk, the more angry you’ll get.”

Acknowledge Each Other’s Challenges

Even when a stepfamily is going through big changes, a lot of tension can be minimized and hurt feelings avoided if you work to understand and accept what is difficult about those changes for each person.

-Equal Treatment of Children

Children are always on the lookout for favoritism from the adults in their lives.  There can be his children, her children, and our children all in one household.  When it comes to enforcing the rules of the house, the adults will find that the household runs with less conflict if the rules are equally applied to all children.

Stay Out of Other People’s Fights

In stepfamilies, relationships happen in triangles.  Ex: A child and a stepparent are arguing and the biological parent jumps in.  Stay out of those triangles by allowing the two people to work it out.

Structure is Essential

For the stepfamily to be successful, structure is essential, particularly during the first few years.  The parents must take charge by setting limits and guidelines.  Children should take an active part in the household chores as soon as possible.

Feedback Allowed

Once the husband and wife have decided on family rules, they should discuss them with the children. After the rules are stated, the couple should listen for feedback, discuss feedback as husband and wife, and then make changes afterward.  Even if there is resistance the rules should go into effect immediately.

Few More Thoughts. . .

Explain the rules in an age appropriate way, lower your voice which forces children to listen, speak to the act-not the actor, and teach cause and effect. 

Blending Relationships

Even in the best of circumstances, there are problems-and the likelihood is that they will always exist in one form or another.  Address problems in the best way possible with a kind heart and a willingness to be flexible and forgiving.”

Reasonable assurances

If your husband/wife’s divorce from his or her former spouse was agreeable, try offering reassurance that the new parents is not trying to replace the previous parent.  Express the change as a hope to be another loving and nurturing adult in the child’s life.

Remember to convey love or fondness for the family member

Understanding each other’s style and their motives is a first move in breaking any destructive cycle.

Men and women have different sensitivities

Typically, a man who fears losing freedom pulls away at the first sign of any attempt to control him.  However, his pulling away is just the signal that sets off alarms for the woman who fears losing intimacy.

Get to know your prospective stepchildren

Prior to marriage, spend enough time with the children of the person you intend to marry so that you will be fully prepared to live with these children as a part of your own family.  When there are children from a previous marriage, engagement is even more important, because now there are more people to get to know well-your fiancée and his or her children.  If you see serious behavior problems in these children, remember they could be potentially damaging to your own children.  You might even want to reconsider the prospect of marriage.

Separate the kids before causing a child to lose contact with the noncustodial parent

If there is a strong reason to prevent the stepsiblings bad influence on another child, allow visitation to occur elsewhere, or, when possible, send the children who permanently reside in the house to visit other relatives during visitation.

Be aware of the increased risk for inappropriate attractions between step-relations

Be vigilant and make certain that the members of the step family are not in intimate contact with other another.  Prevention here can go a long way and help to set healthy, appropriate boundaries for a happy family.

Parents Manage the Family

One problem with unhealthy families is the children being in control instead of the parents.  Parents can and should learn how to “manage” the family at all times.

Few More Thoughts. . . .

Common and important characteristics found in healthy stepfamilies include: caring, listening, confrontation, happiness, individuality, sharing, commitment, unconditional love, guidance, and sacrifice. 

Blending Daily Life

Neutral Ground

Whenever possible, it is always best to pick a neutral territory, a house, condo, or apartment that neither parent nor stepparent has lived in before.  In any case, redecorating can become a sensitive situation and must be handled with care.

What’s in a Name

If you give them enough time, kids often devise their own name for a stepparent.  As your relationship with your stepchildren becomes closer and the youngsters feel more comfortable with you, they may one day, rather nonchalantly suddenly surprise you with a new name/nickname.

Remember the Rule of Three(when blending daily life) ask yourself:

1.)   What are my needs?

2.) What are the children’s needs?

3.) How can a compromise be achieved here?

Regularly Scheduled Family Meetings

While it’s vital to be open to input from the children on a daily basis, especially as they move into their preteen and teen years, the parents must be responsible for all final decisions.  One way to gather opinions and let all members of the family feel heard is through regularly scheduled family meetings.

Parents Work Out Problems Early

Ideally it would be nice if the biological mother and father could work out issues for the child before they arise.  Ex: Deciding who will be school field trip chaperones, attend parent-student conferences, etc.  However, where this is not possible these issues should be settled quickly before they fester and cause anger and embarrassment.

Never Stop Working at it Each and Everyday

No relationship is lump free.  Relationships are ever-changing especially those that include children.  Every development stage brings with it new problems.  Keep working on the skills that have made your marriage successful, as well as those that have blended your two families.  Good communication is always at the forefront of these skills.


Lebey, B. (2005). Remarried with children. New York, NY: Bantam Books.

Martin, D., & Martin, M. (1992). Step by step. Minneapolis, MN: Educational Media  Corporation.

O’Connor, A. (2003). The truth about step families. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press.

Shimberg, E.F. (1999). Blending families. New York, NY: Berkley Trade.



Powered by WordPress | Designed by Elegant Themes