Blended Families

Yours, mine, ours - finding the balance



Many blended families can consist of four, five or more children i.e. yours, your partners and the child / children you share. Often these children are of varying ages, different genders and have different interests. So how does one strike a balance and keep things as fair as possible? The reality is that you won’t strike a balance all the time and that’s okay. There will always be times (in any family structure) where one child’s needs are being met by doing an age appropriate activity and another is bored. Parents cannot and should not exhaust themselves by always trying to be a child-pleasing parent – besides not being practical, healthy or sustainable; it doesn’t develop the right kind of character in a child. Children need to learn patience, tenacity, the ability to share, respect and graciousness rather than develop a selfish, demanding and instant gratification mentality.

What’s the problem?

The most common issues that cause arguments between step parents’ and their partners are as follows:

  • Preferential treatment being shown towards biological children vs. step children.
  • Jealousy of the relationship either partner has with his / her children.
  • Constant comparisons between the children in the home i.e. my kids vs. your kids.
  • Competition between the adults and their respective children.
  • Not enough interest being shown or effort made towards one partners children.
  • Different parenting styles and beliefs in raising children.
  • Not enough or too much attention being given to the child you share or to your step children by one / both partners as well as extended family members e.g. grandparents and other family members.
  • A lack of support or understanding towards your feelings and your partners feelings.
  • Children not getting along.
  • Forced relationships.
  • Unrealistic expectations.
  • Disturbing behaviour which can include purposeful demonstration of affection towards biological children with the intention of hurting step children.
  • A general lack of acceptance regarding the situation at hand and the family structure.
  • Inability or unwillingness to engage in family activities which will attend to all the needs of the children in the home, despite age.

Let’s unpack some of the above issues a little further:

Being a step parent and having children of your own can leave you feeling unsettled and divided between the needs of your step children and those of your own children. It’s likely that your biological children are afraid of your feelings towards your step children and vice versa. You can expect a bit of jealousy, insecurity, competition and “playing up” in the beginning stages. It’s important to give lots of love and reassurance during this period. Be sensitive to how you divide your time between the children and communicate with them on a regular basis regarding their feelings, your feelings, their value in the home and so on.

Many times step parents with children of their own find themselves comparing their children to that of their step children on many fronts and using this as a form of competition. Some examples may include academic ability, attitude, sporting ability, manners, social skills, etiquette etc. This can result in unhealthy competition and tension between partners in the relationship and may also spill over to the children. One needs to accept that all children are different and therefore you cannot always have the same expectations – they have different skills and talents. Furthermore, your step children don’t have any of your biological make-up, they generally have not been nurtured by you full time from a young age, they don’t have your genes and they have been raised in a different home for a portion of their lives, with different values, different parenting styles and different morals and beliefs. Try not to make comparisons, gloat at your children’s success or downplay the things your step children may be good at as doing so will negatively affect all relationships within the family – across the board. Many times hurtful comments are made as a result of our own insecurities as step parents / parents and our desire for our children to be the best.

Realistically, you won’t get everyone “singing from the same hymn sheet” – for your own sanity you need to accept this. Even in a nuclear family situation this is very rare.
What you can do however, is ensure that you and your partner are in agreement when it comes to boundaries, rules, barriers, rewards, punishment, TV watching, mealtime rules etc. This will ensure that you slowly chip away at achieving the goal of creating some kind of unity and shared belief system in your home.

Successfully integrating all the members of your blended family usually boils down to whether you and your partner have discussed and agreed upon basic parenting matters or not (e.g. discipline, rewards, routines, how to spend family time, expectations from each other, the role of the step parent vs. biological parent etc). If the rules of the home, preferred parenting styles and your expectations have been established, made clear and consistently applied by both you and your partner to all children concerned, there can be very little or no room for any unfair or preferential treatment or accusations thereof. Where blended families have failed to do so, it has more often than not resulted in resentment, anger and a breakdown in relationships between family members. Abundant love is also a crucial factor when blending families – there needs to be enough to go around so that no-one feels insecure or threatened.

It is a valid assumption that in order to be part of a blended family situation, one or both of you have spent some time being a single parent. A common by-product of single parenthood is an inherent motivation to protect your children from further hurt and unhappiness. This can result in many ex-single parents jumping too quickly to their children’s defence of their new partners attempt to exercise any kind of influence or discipline over their children. This most definitely torpedo’s the blended family dynamic and marginalises the new partner. The ultimate goal should be teamwork and trust.

Favouritism is sure to cause major issues and divisions within your family. Try and keep things as fair as possible in your home. Being organised and making use of rosters will assist you in doing so e.g. who does the dishes and when, who has a soccer match and which parent is able to attend etc. Remember though that even in a traditional nuclear family; children will cry “unfair” when they feel that their sibling is getting too much attention. In a blended family, the word “unfair” is a very sensitive one. As a step parent, it is important to, as far as possible, show an interest in your step children’s extra murals e.g. school concerts, sports matches etc but also know when to take a back seat.

If you have children of your own, it is important that you stay connected to your children throughout the formation of your new family – emotionally and psychologically. They need to be allowed to express themselves and their sadness and you need to provide them with the reassurance that they are deeply loved – flood them with this, it will be their calm in the storm. They need to feel safe throughout this process and it is your role to ensure that this happens. Naturally, they will experience apprehension and awkwardness as they begin to familiarise themselves with and try and bond with the new family members and you need to guide them through this process and be a role model. The greatest challenge families’ face when trying to blend children from different homes is striking the balance between caring for the children’s needs and being a committed wife / husband at the same time.

Tips for successful integration of all the children in the home

  • Keep all changes to a minimum.
  • Be consistent in order to create stability in the newly forming step family e.g. if you always attended your son’s rugby matches on a Saturday – you need to continue doing so.
  • Encourage your children to continue to love the other biological parent and maintain a good relationship – give them permission to do so. Don’t create a situation where the children feel pressurised to shift their love and loyalties away from, for example, their father to their stepfather because they feel this will make you happy.
  • Cool your engines and slow down! Accept that the process will take time and be emotionally draining at times.
  • Ensure you take the time to invest in your marriage and that your marriage remains a priority throughout the process - you will need the support of each other during the tough times.
  • Be consistent and fair in your behaviour and treatment of the children – the same rules need to apply to everyone.
  • Understand and accept that your step child will have stronger ties to their biological parent and avoid feelings of jealousy and resentment.
  • Ensure you have a good support structure.
  • Develop your own unique relationship and bond with your step children.
  • Don’t react to comments such as “you’re not my mother, you can’t tell me what to do” – these comments are about power, emotional wounds and control.
  • Don’t compete with your step children for attention.
  • Communicate regularly within the home (openly and honestly) – positive communication and feedback is important.
  • Try and engage in activities / outings that will be fun for all the family members or alternatively rotate activities so that everyone gets a turn.
  • Any disagreements between you and your partner need to be held behind closed doors.
  • Maintain predictable activities with your children.
  • Be emotionally predictable i.e. be the same person you’ve always been (personality, temperament, affection etc).
  • Allow yourself and your partner to spend exclusive time with the respective children i.e. you spend exclusive time with your children and he spends exclusive time with his and balance this with “together” time. Ultimately, the message you need to send is a “no threat” message.
  • Maintain the children’s (yours and his) social connections as far as possible – this ensures familiarity e.g. schools, friends, sports etc.
  • Remember: They’re just KIDS and you need to behave like an ADULT

Posted by CoParenting

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