Step-Parenting Tips for Blended Families

February 12, 2020

When your new relationship involves children from previous relationships, blending your families needs to be navigated with care and a great deal of patience. Here are some suggestions that may help:

  • Take your time. Research shows that children in blended families do much better if the couple waits at least two years after a divorce before remarrying or living with a new partner. Children need the time to adapt to their own parents’ divorce before they are emotionally ready to accept a parent’s new partner and their children. And adults need time to get to know and love their new partner’s children.
  • Agree on parenting styles before you remarry or move in together. Make sure you and your new partner agree on how you are going to parent together well before you begin living under the same roof. This will make the transition much easier for the children and will reduce potential challenges between yourself and your new partner.
  • Insist on respect. Set clear boundaries and expectations. Set the expectation right from the beginning that everyone in the new blended family will respect one another. Be clear and consistent with boundaries. Agree with your new partner on the rules about chores, discipline, homework, tech time, allowances, and so on. Be clear that step-parents are advisors and supporters, rather than disciplinarians and enforcers. Let the biological parent be the one primarily responsible for enforcing discipline, at least until there is a solid bond between the step-parent and the children.
  • Respect the other parent. At all times, show respect for step-children’s natural parents – your new partner and their former spouse. Ensure that the children know you respect their other parent (your new partner’s former spouse) regardless of how you feel about them or how they treat you. Reassure the children that you are not a replacement for their mother or father, but rather another person to love and support them.
  • Be patient. Be compassionate, caring, and patient with your new partner and with each of the children. Everyone will be coming into the new arrangement with different hopes and challenges. Each child will have a different pace at which they will adjust to the new dynamics. Give each of the children a lot of time, love, and affection, without any expectations. Your patience and kind-heartedness will pay off.
  • Be reliable and consistent. Stick to whatever commitments you make to the children. Be sure that you and your partner are both there when the children need you. The children need to learn to trust and need to feel safe and secure in order to build that trust.
  • Ensure the children feel valued and heard. The children are likely to feel that they have no control in the situation, that their parent and the new partner are making all the decisions and imposing those decisions on them without the children having any say. The children may not have a choice, but it is essential that they have a voice. Listen to each of the children and help them to feel valued, heard, appreciated, and encouraged. Discuss the family rules with the children, ensure they understand them. Consider posting them on the fridge. Spend alone time with each of the children regularly.
  • Establish open and clear communication. Open, honest, clear communication builds trusting relationships. Create an environment within the family in which everyone can feel safe to discuss anything, openly share their emotions, freely express their thoughts (respectfully). Model active listening so the children learn it as well. Teach the children how to manage conflict in a healthy way.
  • Create routines and new family rituals. Family routines and rituals helps families to bond and unite as a whole. An important family ritual is regular meals together. It is a great opportunity for conversation and bonding between the new family members.
  • Nurture your relationship. Make sure that you take care of your relationship with your partner. Talk frequently and have time alone on a regular basis. When the children see love, respect, and open communication between you and your partner, they will feel more trusting and secure in the new family.
  • Get support. Never hesitate to get outside support for yourself, your new partner, and the children. Join a step-parenting support group in your community where you can learn how to overcome challenges that blended families experience. Go see a counsellor yourself or with your partner. Engage a counsellor for the children. 
Are you and your partner on the same page?