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Navigating a Blended Family Set Up: How to Make it Work for You

Struggling with bringing together a blended family? Relationship expert and Hitched Love Guru Anna Williamson shares her top tips for a successful step-family

Blended family with four children running towards their parents in an outdoor setting
Unsplash/Jessica Rockowitz

Blended family with four children running towards their parents in an outdoor setting
Unsplash/Jessica Rockowitz

Nowadays blended families are extremely common, in fact there have never been as many blended families as there are now! Which on one hand is a great thing as it has removed a lot of the stigma that unfairly surrounded divorcees many moons ago, but on the other it is definitely a challenging situation for most that find themselves in that position.

Lots of marriages and remarriages involve children who find themselves being part of a new set up, a step-family, and many of these situations can be very successful, however an awful lot do find it a very challenging experience, for everyone involved.  

There are so many emotions to consider, so many individual perspectives, and it can be hard for everyone to feel heard and to have their say in what the new situation might look like. Children in particular can find it difficult as essentially they are the ones who haven’t made the choice and so understanding their feelings is essential for a happy outcome.

READ MORE: How to Handle a Wedding as a Step-Parent

Blended families are undoubtedly a time of adapting, a situation where changes are happening and it can be a fragile situation emotionally. 

It’s important to respect and try and understand everybody’s feelings when it comes to bringing two families together, and it’s useful to remember that it might not be plain sailing. If that is the case for you then that is perfectly normal, and it’s something that you can hopefully work together as a family to try and resolve.

Manage your expectations, and don’t automatically assume that your family will gel together immediately. That’s not to say that they won’t, but it’s important to be realistic and go at an appropriate pace for everybody to adjust to the new normal. 

Some reports suggest that it can take up to two years for blended families to properly settle in, but parents can be hugely helpful here and being proactive in dealing with any potential problems can make things go a lot smoother for everyone.

Three Top Tips for Helping Your Blended Family to Bond

1. Working With the Kids 

Blended family viewed from behind as they hold hands together and walk in the woods
Unsplash/Orlando Allo

Essentially chucking two sets of children together can be akin to chucking a grenade into a room, taking the pin out, and legging it waiting for the inevitable explosion.

Children have to adjust to each other, particularly when it comes to vying for their parents' attention.  It’s important to be as equal as you can with the way the kids are treated, but it is also essential that boundaries are put in place for everyone. 

Get together as a family and have an open conversation about how everybody feels, expectations, worries, and discuss what everybody thinks is appropriate with roles and discipline. 

Coming from two different families, it’s important that everybody has their say and is aligned on making the new set of rules for their blended family.

READ MORE: Surviving Relationship Changes After Having a Baby

2. Giving Attention and TLC 

Parent and child having one on one time together
Unsplash/Sai de Silva

When you add in a step-parent into the mix, and potentially step-siblings, it can be a bit of a minefield on how much attention can be given out to each person, so everybody feels loved and supported in equal measure. 

Some children might struggle with suddenly getting less attention, or perhaps having to share less time with their parent. Create a schedule that everybody can help devise to properly outline who gets to do what with whom and when. 

It’s especially important in the early phases of a blended family coming together to spend proper one-to-one time with each child so they feel loved and supported and, crucially, listened to as they adjust so their individual needs can be met.

READ MORE: What to Do if One of You Wants Marriage and the Other Doesn't?

3. Have Some You Time  

Couple cooking together
Unsplash/Becca Tapert

It’s important to not lose sight of the fact that you, as the couple, are the reason that the whole blended family has come about. It’s crucial that any children are made to feel supported and comfortable in the new set up, but it’s equally important for you as a couple to enjoy time just as yourselves nurturing your fledgling relationship.  

A big part of this is good communication with the whole family; as a step-parent it’s important to let the step-kids know that you aren’t there to replace anyone, and that you are here for them and support them in any way that you can and that they would like.  

Remind the children though that you are human, and that you also need time together just the two of you, and that you appreciate them being supportive in allowing you to do this.  Jealousy can occur, but it’s important to hold your line and firmly but kindly affirm what is family time and what is time as a couple.

Remember, your first year of marriage can be a tricky time - whether or not you're bringing together two families. Read more about how to navigate your first year of marriage here.