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Guidelines for blended families

After a family transition, you or your children’s other parent may eventually form new romantic relationships. While another adult in the family may strengthen your family’s support network, it’s important to note that it takes time and effort to get to this place. Remember that all families are unique. It’s important to approach this situation with an open perspective.

Knowing the issues that stepfamilies commonly face will help you better prepare. This may be a good time to revisit or learn new approaches to parenting,  especially if you or your partner have limited experience with being a parent. 

Creating a blended family is a process that goes through many stages. It is unrealistic to expect that a new marriage or committed partnership will go smoothly or that everyone involved will be happy right from the start. To keep your expectations in check, it’s important to set some basic guidelines. 

Guidelines for stepparents

  • Your children had little choice in the original family transition and the new blended family. As the changes accumulate, it’s natural for them to have a range of emotions about the situation. 
  • Each family member brings their unique experience to this blended family. By listening to each other and validating one another’s feelings, you’re laying the foundation for healthy relationships.
  • Within your home, designate a spot that each child may claim as their own.  As they experience change, this consistency may help them feel a sense of control.
  • Don’t try to fit a preconceived “stepparent” role. Be your authentic self with the kids.  
  • When it comes to discipline, keep rules simple and few. Follow the lead of the child’s parent.
  • It’s normal for children to miss their biological parent. Give them space to express their feelings.
  • Expect ambivalence. While ambivalence is normal in all relationships, it may be heightened in the stepparent-stepchild relationship because of the child’s concern about disloyalty toward the biological parent.
  • It takes time for emotional bonds to form. Even if they never form, you can still have a respectful relationship with your stepchildren.

Author: Jo Musich, former Extension educator

Reviewers: Ellie M. McCann and Sharon Powell, Extension educators

Reviewed in 2023

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