Parenting in Blended Families

Parenting in blended families can be challenging and rewarding. Your new family’s transition will be easier if you know what to expect and are prepared to be flexible.

Normal development
Many blended families face similar issues that require making adjustments within the new family. These issues are normal and can affect both adults and children. For instance, adults may:
• Feel guilty taking their partner’s side or their child’s side in a disagreement
• Feel caught in the middle of their partner, their children, and their partner’s children
• Experience difficulty disciplining their partner’s children
• Feel stressed while trying to navigate through the family’s new roles, rules, and values
Children may:
• Feel disloyal if they accept their new parent
• Feel caught in the middle of their parents, new brothers and sisters, or a new partner
• Feel confused living between two households that may contain two sets of rules, different values, and different consequences
• Not get along with new family members
• Resist discipline from a new partner

In order to make the transition smoother, adults should be aware of and respect these facts:
• Children may not like their new family members right away.
• Forming healthy blended families takes time, work, flexibility and patience.
• Disciplining children in a new family may require extra knowledge and patience.

Discipline in a blended family can pose some unique challenges.
Experts recommend that adults:
• Discipline their children from previous relationships for the first few months or years.
• Work together to set family rules and consequences.
• Communicate family rules and consequences together as couple, with all children present.
• Communicate to all children that when a stepparent is alone with the children, the stepparent is in charge. Adults must communicate that the stepparent will enforce the family’s rules and discipline all children accordingly.
• Be consistent in carrying out rules and consequences. Consistent discipline includes both adults in the household enforcing the same rules and consequences for all children.

Research shows that the following methods can nurture a healthy, blended family:
• Create new family traditions.
• As a family, decide which family traditions will be continued from prior relationships.
• Build trust with all members of your new family.
• Be patient. It takes time for children to learn to love, trust, and respect a new adult.
• Remain flexible. Children may not wish to call the new partner, “Mom” or “Dad.”
• Let children have some “say” in the new family.
• Communicate openly with your partner. It’s normal to have some differences when families are formed.
• Allow children to express all of their feelings.
• Realize there are stages most blended families typically go through and each family goes through the stages at different paces.
• Seek outside support or help, if necessary. Going to counseling, reading books about blended families, talking to other members of blended families, and joining a support group are often very beneficial.

Parenting in blended families can be complex, but many families have been extremely successful in creating healthy, positive blended families. Remember to be flexible and patient and to seek support, information, and knowledge about blended families.

Donna Donald

Donna Donald is a Human Sciences specialist for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach who has spent her career working with families across the lifespan. She believes families are defined by function as well as form. Donna entered parenthood as a stepmother to three daughters and loves being a grandmother of seven young adults.

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