The Post-Divorce-Parenting Glossary

Divorced-Parenting Term

Blended Families

What are blended families?

Blended families are two different families coming together to create a common family unit, typically following a divorce or separation.  Also called "step families", the term "blended families" has become popular because of some of the negative connotations associated with the term "step families".  See also bonus parents.

What are common challenges with blended families?

Planning a blended family requires a lot of forethought from the two sides of the families involved. The issues of how to bond children with the blended family, as well as how to deal with the differences in their backgrounds, should be discussed carefully and thoughtfully.  Strengthening a blended family and maintaining high-quality parenting while adjusting to the new family dynamic, is important for the well-being of the children involved.


What are tips in managing blended families?

Plan ahead of time
A blended family can include a child or children from one or both of the previous families or relationships. The successful merging of a blended family depends heavily on a well executed plan.  If done thoughtfully, it can be a rewarding experience.

Planning is the most important facet when preparing to enter into a blended family situation.  While planning, parents and stepparents should be empathetic to children and their emotional needs.  The children's welfare and custody needs should be the first priority of parents who are attempting to help their children adjust.

Really listen to emotional issues
A typical issue when a blended family is started is that many emotions from the previous relationship may still exist.  Pain, anger, sadness, and resentment may be obstacles to finding happiness in the new life with the blended family for several members of the family.  Children may be extremely vulnerable to issues with how to adapt to the new life.  It takes time for relationships to develop, so it is vitally important to remain patient with expectations about how children from both sides of the blended family will interact.

To help make this adjustment easier for your children, be willing to listen to your children's concerns and issues.  By listening and validating their feelings, you become someone they can trust.  In time, this helps your chances of helping your children adjust to the blended family.

Be careful with discipline
Helping children cope with how the blended family relationship will handle inappropriate behavior, is one of the bigger challenges that divorced or separated parents must contend with when planning a blended family.

Before even considering how a step parent will handle behavior issues with your child, the child must develop love and respect for the step parent.  This, again, requires a great deal of patience.  If a child is rebelling against the situation, they will resist any attempts from their step parent to discipline them.  In fact, they may rebel and the situation can become worse.

How can parents make the transition to a blended family smoother?

The following tips can be helpful for blended families to lay the groundwork so that merging can be done thoughtfully and successfully:

Pace the process.  Remarrying too quickly after a divorce and rushing through merging two families can set up increased conflict and spell problems for a potential blended family.  Both adults and children need time to sufficiently work through the significant changes brought on by separation and divorce.  Research suggests that couples who wait at least two years after a divorce to remarry or begin a blended family, have the most success and a smoother transition.   Pacing in this transition is important to allow family members to build rapport with each other and settle into the idea of a blended family.   When parents rush the process, it often increases conflict, which may sabotage connections between families members.

Making a connection with your partner's children takes time.  Treading slowly is important and focusing on developing a solid relationship over a period of time versus expecting it to happen instantly.

Communicate openly.  Making the step toward a blended family is a major undertaking, and both parents need to communicate openly about their expectations and concerns.  Communicate with your new partner about your approaches to parenting, and be prepared to compromise.  Prior to remarrying, partners with children should clarify the roles they will have as parents and what each parent values as important in parenting.  Both partners ought to have a clear understanding of the parent's parenting style and how they will respond consistently to issues as a new blended family.   This often requires that parents consider making changes in how they have approached parenting their children in the past, so that they may be on the same page as they make room for their blended family.

Avoid ultimatums.  Ultimatums can come from children or from the other parent.  No matter who issues the ultimatum, they should be side-stepped.  As soon as an ultimatum is used against you, a good response is to state that you would never ask them to choose between two people they love, so it is unfair for them to ask this of you.

Remain focused on the relationship with the entire family versus allowing splitting to occur.

Create and protect a culture of respect.  Parents have to work to foster a healthy dynamic and culture within the family based on mutual respect, that come's from understanding each person's perspective and feelings.  Focusing on understanding allows for family members to come together, versus becoming more polarized.  Further, understanding does not mean agreement or giving in but rather an emphasis on acknowledging each other.

Be mindful of your expectations.  Consider if your expectations are in keeping with where family members are at present.  It is important for parents looking at establishing a blended family to establish rapport and focus on building their relationship with family members first.  Applying expectations onto family members prior to establishing a stable connection will likely set up conflict and strain relationships.


What makes a blended family work?

An unsettling statistic where there are children from the first marriage, is that 85% of these second marriages divorce within the first year, and 60% will divorce the following year.  The stresses associated with making a blended family work are simply too great for most second marriages to last.

Given these statistics it is important to consider how to best approach making a blended family work.  The following tips are listed as crucial areas for partners to concentrate on as they consider blending families:

A stable, healthy marital relationship

A prerequisite for beating the statistic described above is that you and your partner have a solid relationship where you both are able to communicate freely.  You will need to consider how blending families will impact your relationship and what each of you will do to maintain a healthy relationship while taking on parenting a blended family.

Being respectful

Fostering a culture of respect is vital were each member of the family is acknowledged.  Therefore, emphasis needs to be placed on respect being shown between all members.  It is important to recognize that as human beings, if we don't feel acknowledged, or our feelings aren't validated, we may act passive aggressively.  This is a natural social behavior.  Therefore, be respectful.  Go out of you way to acknowlegde every trivial feeling that a member of the family has.  What may seem trivial to you may be a big issue for someone else.
Strive for Flexibility

Family members may be at very different stages in their development and their level of acceptance about being in a blended family.  Pushing family members into accepting their new family may create conflict.  Everyone goes through stages within the change process (see Prochaska and Declemente).  It is important to listen and explore where each person is within this significant change.

Consider an analogy of a person in a department store.  The person may merely be there visiting, or they may be browsing, or they might be actively shopping.  It is important for the sales person to meet the person where they are at in the buying cycle or risk driving them away.  A child that is merely a "visitor", so-to-speak, to the concept of their blended family needs.  Give them time to move through the process - to express and have their feelings heard - before being expected to take an active role in their new blended family.

Be a seed planter

Successful blended families grow over time.  Focusing on planting seeds in the present will lead to future healthy relationships within the family.

Spend quality time together

It is vital that family members spend a signficant amount of regular time together prior to becoming a blended family.   This allows for members to get a better sense of each other and what to expect.  Parents can better evaluate issues versus merely guessing, if they spend time each day together.  The quantity of time is not as important as the quality.  If parents are sitting and watching TV, they aren't talking.  If a parent takes one of the children fishing, and they sit on a river bank and have a deep discussion about life, that greatly increases the bond between them.

Guide to Step-parenting & Blended Families
Great tips for a blended family to live by to help their children cope with stepparents.
Helpful advice for blended families
Statistics and advice to help you enter into a healthy blended family relationship.

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