7 Tips For Blended Family Success

A multi-ethnic blended family playing in the park together on a sunny day. They are sitting together on a deck. The African-American mother and Caucasian father have mixed race twin boys, almost 3 years old. Their daughters and step-daughters are 11 to 15 years old. The mother and girls are smiling and looking, looking at the camera.

After a divorce or custody battle, it may be tempting to move on quickly and form a new romantic relationship. But when that relationship advances to the point of living together, things can get more complicated. Successfully creating a blended family depends on mutual respect, communication, and flexibility, not to mention time management. Here are seven tips for blended family success that you can use to get everyone on the same page.

What is a Blended Family?

When you and your romantic partner bring the children from your previous relationships to live together, you create a blended family including step-parents, half-siblings, and even unrelated children living together. After marrying your new partner, this can also be called a “stepfamily.” Forming a blended family takes work and understanding from everyone involved, but it can be very rewarding. A blended family can provide your children with the additional love and support they need to thrive, especially when one parent is distant or your divorce was messy.

Tips for Blended Families

  1. Don’t Start Too Soon

Rushing into a new household arrangement can be harmful, especially for very young children. Too many changes at once can easily overwhelm children and make it seem like nothing is certain. It is a good idea to wait at least two years after your divorce is final before remarrying or cohabiting (moving in) with your new romantic partner.

  1. Respect Everyone Involved

Blended families involve a lot of different actors, including co-parents, siblings, and extended family. You should never disparage another parent of a child in your household. Even if their behavior is a problem, the risk that a child will hear you and internalize what you say is simply too great. In addition, even if you don’t intend to alienate your co-parent, making disrespectful comments about him or her can end up being used against you if you ever go back to court. Instead, insist on a culture of respect for everyone – kids and adults alike.

  1. Be Clear on Parental Roles

Young children especially can have problems understanding a step-parent’s role in a blended family. When a new partner becomes a primary caregiver, children may become more closely attached to a step-parent than their biological parent. In other cases, children may feel like you are trying to “replace” their parent with a new mom or dad. This can create identity confusion. The best tip for blended family and step parenting is to clearly communicate about parenting roles, and any changes, well before making the change. This also means setting clear boundaries between step-parents about family discipline responsibilities and who will be responsible for any punishments.

  1. Allow Relationships to Build Over Time

Don’t expect your children to take to your new partner just because you do. Your children have the right to their own feelings about the introduction of a step-parent, moving, and even lingering feelings about your separation from their biological parents. The same is true for the adults in the home: you may not love your new step-children right away. Allow those relationships to build over time by connecting with each kid about things that matter to them, and giving them permission to feel and talk about their feelings.

  1. Expect But Discourage Sibling Rivalry

Your kids are used to having your undivided attention. When two siblings become five, there is necessarily less quality time to go around. This can lead to new siblings feeling competitive, as though they need to earn your attention. You should expect new step-siblings to fight more than their biological siblings. However, you should also do what you can to discourage it by encouraging your kids to compete against their personal best, rather than each other, and reinforcing moments of kindness and cooperation between siblings.

  1. Head Off In-Home “Property Disputes”

When two families move in together, it often means everyone has less room to spread out. Your kids may have to share bedrooms or lose play spaces. You may have to build out a basement or garage. Children may feel displaced or threatened if their new siblings are moved into spaces they saw as “theirs.” For some families, the best thing to do is start fresh, moving into a home that is new for everyone and has room for everybody. In others, that is not an option. You can head off in-home “property disputes” by putting everyone on the same page and giving everyone a say in who will stay where. Nothing is sacred, even the master bedroom.

  1. Coordinate Co-Parenting Schedules

One of the biggest challenges for blended families comes in scheduling children’s visitation with their non-custodial parents. Generally, child custody and visitation rights are laid out in a court order. They may be flexible or fixed, depending on your relationship with your co-parent, among other factors. However, even if you have a fixed visitation schedule, you may be able to negotiate adjustments with your co-parent to give your kids the best schedule to adapt to their new blended family. Depending on how your children relate to one another, this could mean:

  • Scheduling all kids’ time with their non-custodial parents at the same time, to maximize the time your blended family is together
  • Alternating when your children visit their non-custodial parents so each child has more one-on-one time with you and their new stepparent
  • Celebrating holidays or important events together as a family, even if it means sacrificing other visitation

Managing a blended family’s schedule is a skill. It will take time and trial-and-error to find a system that works for your family (including your co-parents). Consider posting a white-board calendar, or creating and sharing a visitation schedule calendar with your children who are old enough to use cell phones. Color-code each child (or group of children)’s visitation schedule, so it is easy for them to see when they will be with each parent, and with their new siblings.

At the Law Office of Shelly M. Ingram, our Maryland family lawyers are trained in collaborative divorce, mediation, and litigation strategies. We can help you negotiate with co-parents, address legal questions and disputes, and build a plan for blended families success. Contact us online today or call us at (301) 658-7354 to schedule a confidential office consultation.

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