Are You Experiencing Blending Family Issues? 30 Tips To Manage
By: Toni Hoy
Updated April 01, 2021
Medically Reviewed By: Karen Devlin, LPC
If you're experiencing blending family issues, you're certainly not alone. According to Smart Stepfamilies, about a third of all weddings today join together as stepfamilies. In fact, Pew Research reports that one of every six children lives in a blended family. Blended families form under a variety of circumstances.
It's common for a woman or man that has children to marry someone that also has children. Their respective children may not even be around the same age, which can cause problems. If their children are around the same age, it can cause intense sibling rivalry. In their desire to be together, parents sometimes overlook the fact that their children need time to adjust to their parents having someone new and special in their life. Kids may also feel like they have divided loyalties with their other parents.
Parents also have challenges under these circumstances. Both spouses have to get used to parenting the other's children. All around, the adjustment requires large doses of support between married partners.
Another situation that forms blended families is when a parent marries another person that has not yet had children. It's challenging enough to adjust to married life. It's even more difficult to adjust to being an "instant-parent." The new spouse can easily end up overwhelmed and frustrated as the reality of childcare sets in. Kids aren't usually overjoyed in the beginning, either. Kids may rebel at a new parent imposing structure or discipline.
Divorces and deaths can also lead to blended families. Either way, kids will need to go through a grieving process which can be difficult to do when a new partner comes on the scene.
Blended families' issues also occur when parents with adult children marry each other. Adult children may not approve of the marriage or worry that their parent is being taken advantage of. The reality is that adult children don't have as much time or exposure to the new spouse, making it more difficult to bond and connect.
Marrying someone that has adult children may also put one or both spouses in the situation of being grandparents for the first time, and that can go over well or not. Older adults will likely have decided who will inherit their money, assets, and possessions. Marrying someone later in life may cause adult children to be concerned (often rightly) about losing their inheritance.
Regardless of blended families' issues, parents and children need to be patient with one another as their relationships grow and develop. Read along for 30 tips to manage blending family issues.
30 Tips To Manage Blending Family Issues
If you're marrying someone who has children, the following tips may help things get off to a smooth start:
1. During the dating stage, it's nice to treat your fiancée's children to special activities, but daily family life isn't always so exciting. As the marriage date draws closer, ask your future children to accompany you on errands like grocery shopping, gardening, or getting the oil changed in the car.
2. When your future spouse doesn't have children, take charge and do most of the parenting and discipline in the beginning. Give your sweetheart and your kids time to adjust and get acquainted before having to deal with anything heavy.
3. Whether one or both of you bring children into the marriage, encourage children to be respectful to the new spouse. Ask them to show the same respect to your spouse that they'd show to a teacher, pastor, police officer, or other trusted adult.
4. Avoid inside jokes, and excessive personal storytelling-it can leave the new spouse feeling isolated and left out.
5. New stepparents need to spend a little one-on-one time with stepchildren. Keep it light and without discipline.
6. Biological parents also need to spend a little more time when a new adult relationship becomes serious.
7. When kids have to adjust to a blended family, big feelings can sometimes explode over smaller issues. All parents need to recognize that kids may be upset over something other than the reason they gave you. Just be ready to offer sympathy and comfort.
8. Take some pressure off children by having the "What do I call my stepparent?" conversation as soon as the marriage is imminent. Help them come up with something comfortable for everyone.
9. Parents need support, too, when blended family issues get tough. Both parents should have good listeners and cry, talk, and laugh about how difficult it is to blend families.
10. Find some family activities that everyone enjoys and start making new memories.
11. Keep the rules, rewards, and consequences the same for everyone and be consistent.
12. Recognize that the formation of a blended family could change the hierarchy among siblings. The oldest could become the youngest in a blended family. Tender issues are cause for extra doses of understanding.
13. Tensions in blended families can easily arise when one or more children have a special talent. Be sure to acknowledge all children's talents and strengths and not let the star baseball player get all the glory.
14. Stepparents will need to work on building a relationship with their stepchildren before they've earned the trust and respect that's required for them to discipline a stepchild effectively.
15. Holidays are special times with favored traditions for families. Blending families means blending traditions. Encourage everyone to be open about trying new traditions and being respectful of those who want and need to preserve their traditions.
16. Avoid using phrases like "my kids" and "your kids" as much as possible, especially where the blame may be involved. A phrase like "our kids" gives a stronger impression that all of them are loved and accepted on an equal level.
When children lose a parent through divorce or death, their feelings about new parental figures can be strong and sensitive for a while. The next set of tips will help everyone move forward better together:
17. If there's time before the marriage, give the new parent time to step into your child's life as a friend or mentor. While you may be ready to move forward after a death or divorce, children may need more time to resolve their feelings. If it doesn't happen before the marriage, allow your child and spouse time to form relationships before pressing the issue that it's a parent and child relationship.
18. Don't expect children to take down photographs and mementos of their other parents. In building a new relationship, refrain from tearing down old relationships, especially those with your spouse's ex and the ex-in-law side of the family.
19. While you don't want to avoid your ex-spouse topic, don't allow children to build a shrine around their other parent or over-idolize them. Too great of a focus on the ex-spouse can put up a barrier in the new relationships.
20. Try to find some common ground to connect with your new stepchildren. Find out what activities they enjoy and discover some that you can enjoy together. Don't try to replicate their relationship with the divorced or deceased parent. Create a new relationship that reflects the bond between you and the child.
When a parent who has adult children marries, it isn't easy to know their reaction. In the best-case scenario, they'll be supportive. Either way, it's best to keep the lines of communication open and start the process of building relationships. Here are some tips to help navigate these blended families:
21. Reach out to adult children at least weekly in some way to keep in touch.
22. Make use of technology. Call on a mobile phone or use apps like Snapchat, Facebook video, Google duo, or Marco Polo.
Regardless of how blended families come together, everyone can help in promoting healthy new relationships with tips like these:
23. Expect conflict. Respond to it with heavy doses of grace.
24. Don't expect all relationships in a blended family to grow at the same rate.
25. Take each relationship at face value and nurture individual relationships.
26. Don't shut out your spouse in favor of the children. Carve in a couple of times, even if it's just a monthly walk.
27. Avoid the temptation to judge too quickly. Be curious instead. "I wonder if you're upset about something other than spilled milk?"
28. One family should never feel like it's being engulfed by the other. Allow each family member to retain some sense of themselves.
29. Use humor and playfulness to break the tension.
30. You don't have to take on the responsibility of blending families alone. A couples therapist from ReGain is eager to help your blended family work together with honesty and respect.
Remember that relationship-building takes time. Don't expect your families to unite overnight. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry states that it can take a year or two for blended families to adjust well. A licensed therapist may be just what everyone needs to feel safe and happy moving forward.
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