Suggestions for Stepfamilies
Jo Musich, Extension Educator — Family Resiliency
Revised October 2009; reviewed January 2012.
All families have difficulties. Children playing one parent against another, money issues, and parents finding time to be alone are just some of the challenges parents encounter. Stepfamilies are no different. It takes up to three years for a combined family to start working like a family. Practice patience!
For parents, it's critically important that you come to terms with your past. New partners deserve someone who has explored the good and bad of a previous marriage. The emotional well-being of each person is important for a healthy, new marriage. So take stock of your emotional health and do the work that is required to make you a relationship asset.
Each parent should strive to have good communication with the children’s other parent. That lays a foundation that meets the needs of the children as you parent apart. Communicate with ex-partners and understand that children living in two families need respectful and caring relationships in stepfamilies and, whenever possible, with birth parents.
Suggestions for Stepparents
Here are some things stepparents can do to ease the stepfamily transition process.
- Love your children no matter what.
- Provide an environment with rules, expectations, and limits.
- Remember that children don’t always listen to you, but they're always watching you. Modeling is important — remember to treat your former spouse civilly. Your children will then behave more civilly themselves.
- Keep the biological (or original) parent as the primary disciplinarian. In time, a stepparent can be granted more authority. In the absence of the biological parent, the stepparent should have the authority and support of the biological parent. The new parent may provide insight for an original parent who’s willing to listen.
- Take a parenting class if it is your first time having children.
- Do not try to replace the original parent. You are special and unique and in time will create your own relationship with the children. Allow for the original parent to have time alone with their children.
- Be a spouse first and give the parent role time and space to develop. Pay attention to your marriage and do something together beyond everyday duties. Your relationship will gain depth and increased satisfaction. Some couples find shared service through volunteering, or are brought closer together through prayer and worship.
- Do things together as a family. You will bring traditions from your previous life — add to these with new traditions.
Cartwright, C. (2010). An exploratory investigation of parenting practices in stepfamilies. New Zealand Journal of Psychology, 39(1), 57-64.
Hetherington, E. M. (Ed.). (2014). Coping with divorce, single parenting, and remarriage: A risk and resiliency perspective. Psychology Press.
Where Do Stepfamilies Fit into the Picture? (422 K PDF) — Creating a new, or blended family, is a process that goes through many stages. To make sure that unrealistic expectations don’t create additional stress, it's important to set some basic guidelines for stepfamilies. Part of the Parents Forever™ Parent Handbook.
How Age Affects Children’s Adjustment to Stepfamilies —Your children’s ages and stages of development may affect their reaction to a new stepfamily. Understanding what your children are experiencing may help you better handle the tensions that often accompany the transition process.