What is a blended family? A blended family is defined as a family composed of a couple and their children from previous marriages. Yet, each blended family is unique and comes with its own dynamic challenges. With divorces and re-marriages involving children, blended families vs. traditional or nuclear family structures are becoming the rule rather than the exception. Adults and children alike are facing major changes that come with adjusting to a new way of life.
Blended Family Statistics and Trends
Blended families and step-parenting affect adults and children across multiple generations as well. Social and demographic trend reports from the Pew Research Center detail statistics on changing family structures in the United States.
- 42% of adults have a step-relationship (either a stepparent, a step or half-sibling, or a stepchild).
- 13% of adults are stepparents
- Nearly half (44%) of young people (ages 18 to 29) have a step-sibling
Blended family dynamics are complex. Many different skills are required. It’s a mix of biological parents, stepparents, biological children and stepchildren, and even half-siblings in blended families. All these interconnected relationships bring new challenges to the table. You may also be dealing with the sadness your child feels as a result of divorce and the exhaustion experienced for children bouncing back and forth between households.
Some common issues in blended families and typical step-parenting problems are:
- strained communication with the children’s mother or father
- constant changes and disruption due to rotating homes
- acceptance of the new spouse of your ex
- handling intense emotions of all involved
- the complexity of schedules and scheduling conflicts
- varying value systems causing disagreements on discipline
- blurred or overlapping roles
- disagreement on parenting rotation
Is step-parenting easy? Absolutely not—it demands the best of us. As I grow into my role as wife and stepmom, I’ve found that my children have been my greatest teachers. They have stretched me in ways I never knew possible. I am certainly not implying that every day is filled with rainbows and unicorns. We face challenges and new experiences daily, but my powerful desire to be the best I can be for them and my husband encourages me as we all learn and grow together in our blended family. Below are some of my lessons so far that may be helpful.
Tips for Successfully Blending Families
Five principles have guided our blended family. These have been key to creating more ease and a safe space within our family as we all adjust to my role as wife and stepmother.
1 Have respect for ALL parents and children.
We all have different perspectives and emotions around our experiences. Showing respect for those differences is crucial to positive relationships. This understanding is particularly important for parents as children observe how both their parents and stepparents interact. You may not always agree yet how you model for your children amidst disagreement, speaks volumes.
2 Show empathy for all family members.
The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life. ~Richard Bach
Stepparents are adjusting to parenting children who they don’t have a history with or know very well. Children are navigating big feelings around their parents, stepparents, and siblings and adjusting to the continual change in their lives. Biological parents may feel threatened by having their children raised or influenced by a stepparent. Many times, understanding doesn’t come easy. The strong feelings and conflicts that naturally arise are a challenge for adults and particularly difficult for children. Recognizing that we cannot fully understand the experience of another, showing empathy for different perspectives is imperative. Pause. Take time to listen. Consider the perspective of others.
Empathy and trying to understand one another have been important in our family. My husband’s listening ear and patience have been crucial in my adjustment to parenting. He and I both come from traditional families, so having empathy for our children’s experiences helps us understand their feelings and viewpoint.
Related Reading: "How to Talk to Someone with Empathy—and What to Avoid"
Getting clear on expectations of roles for parents eliminates frustrations upfront. When parents and stepparents in the same household are clear on their roles in discipline and daily responsibilities, conflict decreases. Remember that your children are going back and forth between different sets of rules and lifestyles as they spend time with each parent. How you handle roles in your household is your way, but it is not the only way.
Many people wonder: How should a stepparent discipline? A firm boundary that I have drawn within my blended family is to allow my husband to take the lead in decisions and discipline with the children. Major decisions and concerns regarding the children are the responsibility of my husband and the mother of his children. My roles are to support my husband, create a unified front, and develop my relationship with our children. I do have input for how we handle situations in our household, but we have agreed never to contradict each other in front of the children.
Related Reading: "8 Boundaries Stepparents Shouldn’t Cross"
4 Strong marriages create strong families.
Your marriage comes first. Have an agreement to talk openly, address struggles promptly, and support each other. Sometimes just having a sounding board to vent can help dissipate emotions and help solve problems. Children observe everything we do. They are learning from us how they deserve to be treated by partners when they grow up. When parents treat each other with love and respect, it creates a safe space for children to develop and grow without being stuck in the middle of parent’s issues.
My husband has been a tremendous help in my adjustment to parenting roles. As we focus on connecting and supporting each other, we create a solid foundation for ourselves and the children.
Related reading: "What Is Resiliency and Why Parents Need It!"
5 Have compassion and patience for yourself.
Establishing roles takes time. Everyone is adjusting. Coming on too strong or just defaulting to the other parent does not establish trust or respect. Remember that you are building relationships, learning new skills, and things are continually evolving. This process takes time. Observe, ask questions, and get curious.
Since step-parenting and blended families can be so demanding, be sure and find time for exercise and self-care individually and as a couple. You'll be much more likely to be at your best. Exercise has been a mainstay for our blended family with many benefits. Be sure to take care of yourself on this parenting journey.
Related reading: "Parents Need Self-Care to Be Their Best Self"
Invest in your family and reap the rewards.
Marriage and parenting are hard work, yet they are also the most rewarding work that we can do. I have made mistakes and learned some hard lessons along the way. I’ve found that focusing on positive impact is important. You can be a positive influence in your new family’s lives and build cohesive relationships with all parties, resulting in thriving blended families.
If you need help building skills to navigate the challenges of your blended family, we are here to help! Empowering parents is one of Heartmanity’s specialties. Check out our parenting resources.