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The Unique Needs of Blended Families 

*If your previous relationship involved abuse of yourself and/or your children, ignore or adapt these tips to your situation. The safety and mental health preservation of you and your children are more important than anything mentioned below.

Image by Jerry Wang

Communicate with Your Partner 

  • If you are bringing a child into a relationship who has trauma, or the need for additional supportive help, you have an obligation to discuss your child’s unique needs with any partner before the children are involved. Once you’re ready to take the step of getting your children involved with your partner, make sure your partner understands any diagnosis, relevant history, and needs. Your potential partner deserves a complete picture of the family that they may be committing to so that they can determine if they can be fully supportive for you and your children. Don’t forget to include the ways that your child is fantastic!

  • You cannot communicate too much. If you and/or a prospective partner have children, get conversations started as early as possible. Talk about parenting, expectations, future plans, and the children’s other biological parents. 

  • Be patient with your partner, especially if they are coming into your relationship with no children. Parenting is not something they can learn overnight.

  • Parenting is very personal. You need to have conversations early and often. Discuss your parenting styles and how you intend to handle certain situations. 

  • It is important that you and your new partner are on the same page about mental health. Bring up the topic early and see how much of a priority they put on it. It is essential to have a partner who recognizes how important mental health is so that they can be prepared to be there for any of your children who may struggle with theirs. 

  • Before you get your children involved in the relationship, have a conversation about your children, their struggles, and how their well-being must be prioritized. 

  • Be honest with yourself and talk to your partner about doing the same. Sit down and explore your feelings and review your actions and make sure you’re not favoring your children over your stepchildren. It’s natural, especially in the beginning, to love your children more and be protective of them but be really thoughtful of your actions so you set a good example for everyone involved. 

  • Your new partner is not a mind reader. If you are unhappy with something they are doing, BRING IT UP. It is never too late into a relationship to discuss expectations. If you do not speak up for what you need, you will grow resentful.

“Slow down and talk about everything before making any big moves. Trust me, I wish that we had. We were so excited to be a family, but it would have saved us a lot of hardship if we discussed our expectations at the beginning.”

—A mom who has been parenting in a blended family for over 10 years 

Communicate with the Children

  • Before you introduce your child to your potential partner, have an age-appropriate conversation with your child and be sure to select a meeting time and place that plays to your child’s strengths.

  • Ask your stepchild how they want you to refer to them. Is it okay if you call them your son or daughter? This shows them that you respect their boundaries but don’t see them as “second best.”

  • If the child has a moment where they say something like “You are not my mom/dad so I don’t have to listen to you,” try and get to the root of why they are saying that. Don’t take it personally. Once things have calmed down, you can have a conversation about rules and boundaries as well as better ways to communicate their frustration. Let them know if they hurt your feelings. 

  • Sibling resentment happens in almost every family. If it is occurring in your family, do not beat yourself up over it but address it as soon as possible. Sit down with the children to have an open and honest conversation and don’t hesitate to go to family counseling or seek professional help early.

  • If you have played a role in the sibling resentment in the past, it could help get the conversation going by starting with an apology and owning your role in the tension.

Image by Nathan Dumlao
Image by Tim Mossholder

Prioritize the Children

  • Don’t expect the kids to see their stepparent as a parental figure right away. This is a huge transition for them, and you need to let them adapt at their own pace. 

    • Don’t push them to say things like “mom,”  “dad,” “stepmom/dad,” or “I love you.” Go 100% at the child’s pace.

  • Do NOT speak poorly about a biological parent where the children can hear you. Even if they are not the best parent, let the child form their own opinions. Speaking poorly about a child’s biological parent can drive a wedge between you and them.

    • If your child/stepchild is let down by the actions of their other biological parent, be there to pick up the pieces without bashing anyone.

    • Tell other adults in the children’s lives that they are not to criticize the child’s biological parent in front of the child ever. 

  • Have fun together. Pick an activity that you know your child/stepchild enjoys and go as a family. Put your phones down and really engage with the new family structure that you have created. Show your kids that this is a good thing and that you are excited to spend time with all of them.

  • Take pictures as a whole family when your situation allows. At events like a graduation, wedding, or something similar, your child may want a photo of all the parents in their lives together. 

  • Sometimes children in blended families have trauma from their past family dynamic. If you expect that this is the case, let your child know that you’re always there for them to talk about any feelings they’re having. Recognize their struggle and get them into professional help. 

  • If you or your partner also have trauma, do the same. Parent mental health matters, and a person who prioritizes their mental health is able to be a better parent and partner. 

  • If your child/stepchild’s biological parent is not currently in the picture, remember that they still have extended family. If your situation allows, try and include them in your child’s life when possible. It may not feel like it is your responsibility to connect your child with that part of their family, but it is in your child’s best interest to build as many healthy relationships with as many of their family members as possible. 

  • Creating a blended family is a big change, and even if your child may seem prepared for it, they may not be. There could be a period of resentment that you were not expecting. Give them patience and love throughout the transition.

  • Things that need to be kept track of from house to house (instruments, uniforms, homework, etc.) can cause a lot of stress. If your situation allows, speak to the other parent(s) in your child’s life to try and get a system down for who washes what and where things are supposed to be kept. Consider creating a sharable Google calendar that all parties have access to, including the kids.

Give yourself some grace. If your blended family is not working out in the way you envisioned, don’t be hard on yourself. The best way to get your family on the correct path is with communication and possibly professional help.

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