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Six ways to sabotage your blended family

Over the top displays of affection

Sure, you and your blended family spouse are excited about your new love and your new life together, but keep overt acts of affection private. If any of your kids are feeling uncomfortable in their new step family situation, your hugs, kisses, tickles, and giggles are not apt to make things easier for them.

Playing favorites with the bio kids

You can count on your step kids watching to see if they are getting short shrift from you, comparing the expectations you place on bio kids regarding household rules, family chores, permissions, and such. A step kid who thinks he is being disrespected can hardly be expected to act in respectful ways toward you or toward step siblings.

Deny feelings

Some blended family parents hope that by pretending their step family is happily blended and that no one feels loss, lost, or less valued than someone else, they can make it true. No such luck. It takes time, effort, and clarity of purpose to identify, address, and correct these and other feelings common to every new blended family, and create a feeling of unity and personal acceptance.

Parenting by guilt

Many parents feel guilty about the radical life changes inflicted on their children by a wrenching divorce or other family loss, a remarriage, and by being thrust into a blended family.  In a misplaced attempt to make it up to them, some parents suspend or moderate rules, discipline, and behavioral expectations for their kids. Rather than lessening their suffering, this strategy tends to make kids feel less cared for and less secure of their place in the blended family. This strategy also leaves a wide open door for kids to manipulate their bio parent, be dis-respectful  their step parent, and generally cause chaos within the blended family.

Put the kids in the middle

Venting frustrations about an ex-spouse, or the ex-spouse of their blended family partner, is generally a healthy activity for step family parents. Bad mouthing the other parent of either your bio kids or your step kids usually serves only to make the kids feel bad. They may feel bad about you for saying mean things, about their other parent because of the things you have said, but they will most certainly feel worst about themselves. Parents who put their kids in the middle of conflicts with ex-spouses essentially undermine their role as a blended family leader capable of meeting the needs of children.

Ignore your couple relationship

It is easy to put your couple relationship on the back burner while you are so busy dealing with step family issues. Being a step parent is hard work, and it takes time, energy, effort, and a lot of patience. So does growing and maintaining a stable relationship with your blended family partner. Parents of kids in a blended family environment sometimes forget how important it is to have a loving and mutually respectful relationship on which kids can someday base their own, and how important it is to have a true partner to help manage the entire blended family.

If you and your blended family are able to avoid sabotaging your own best efforts, you are on your way to developing a genuine bond that can develop into the kind of blended family environment you and your partner envisioned. Please continue to research and benefit from blended family advice articles and websites online, and seek support and help from friends and community members when you need help. A successful and happily blended family is a reasonable goal. Not necessarily an easy one to attain, but reasonable nevertheless.  If you need additional help, contact The Blended and Step Family Resource Center for coaching.


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The importance of good communication in your blended family

You and your blended family spouse have lots to talk about: step parenting, step kids, biological kids, ex-spouses, visitation, child support, alimony, and the list goes on. It is critical that you communicate about these and other blended family issues. Many of us grew up in households where nobody talked openly about their feelings, concerns, needs, or wishes.  Most traditional families operated on the premise that things almost always worked themselves out; and for the most part, they almost always did. While a traditional family may, at times, be able to get along without much extra effort, a blended family needs to clearly understand and address the divergent demands inherent to step family life.

Nothing is off the table in your step family

You and your blended family spouse ought to be able to discuss anything and everything if you are to be effective leaders of your blended family. Unless you can both feel okay voicing concerns, frustrations, fears, and all the other emotions which affect step parents on a regular basis; unless you can both feel okay talking about step family financial issues, custodial matters, uncooperative ex-spouses or battling step siblings, your blended family can soon spin out of control. You both need to know you can talk with the other about anything and everything; unless you have a clear picture of where your partner stands on these important issues, how can you know what to expect when a problem arises?

Primary blended family relationships

When you fell in love with your new blended family partner, your kids may have worried that your love for them would be moved to second place. They were wrong, but in reality not that far off, especially in kid terms. In kid terms, loving them best can mean getting all your attention, and having your decisions and efforts focused only on them. Couples who center a traditional marriage on their children put their own relationship at risk; couples with children who need help with unresolved feelings of loss or anger are at even greater risk. Ongoing family struggle translates to relationship risk, and you can always count on the step family dynamic for potential struggle. The solution? Focus on keeping your couple relationship your primary relationship. If you two have it together, individual struggles will be easier to handle, and you will be better parents to your blended family kids.

We need to talk

The concept of scheduling regular blended family meetings may seem trite or even a waste of time for some step family members. Nevertheless, it is a communication tool which has proven to be very successful for many step families, especially in the early stages of blending. The first benefit of the blended family meeting is your obvious commitment to establishing a forum for communication between the two groups of people who make up your step family. They help step kids and step parents, and step siblings, begin to see themselves as a new family unit with a common purpose. Blended family meetings also provide an excellent place to model and practice effective ways of presenting a complaint or concern, listening respectfully to others, asking for and receiving opinions, and understanding how and why decisions are made.

Effective communication is vital to your blended family. If you need help establishing your blended family meetings, read blended family advice on this and other step family advice websites, join a local blended family support group, or talk with a family therapist with experience with the special challenges step families experience.


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Admitting you have a problem in your blended family is hard

People tend to focus on positive aspects of their lives, and parents struggling to manage the challenges of a blended family are no different.  Many are reluctant to talk about their problems with step kids, and it does not help that storybook  portrayals of happily blended families like the Brady Bunch and the von Trapp family can make struggling step parents feel like utter and complete failures; either that, or they have married into a family of flagrantly unlovable children. Neither of these possibilities lends much promise for a harmonious blended family life.

When step kids are hard to love

It is not uncommon for new step parents to feel horrible that they cannot dredge up genuine affection for their step kids. When kids act out, and say or do hateful things, few step parents chalk it up to childish displays of frustration, insecurities, or feelings of misplaced loyalties. It is easy to understand how someone might take it personally if their mere presence in the life of this child, the son or daughter of the person they love, seems to elicit rejection, rage, resentment, and revulsion. If you can identify with this scenario, take heart: it is okay if you do not actually love your step kids, or feel about them the same way you do your biological kids. What matters is that you have committed to helping your spouse raise his or her kids within the confines of your blended family. What matters is that you treat your step children with loving kindness, respect, and consideration. Even when they do not deserve it.

Step parents are often stuck in the middle of the blended family

It happens more often than not. Step children who have neither accepted nor adjusted to either their initial family losses or to the changes inherent in the current blended family remarriage, may act out in ways that can put stress on your marital relationship. It is easy to blame the kids for their outrageous behavior, but sometimes the problem lies elsewhere. How your spouse handles problems of discipline is the telling part of whether you actually have a step parenting problem or a relationship problem.

Separate step parenting problems from step parenting problems

  • Does your spouse downplay your concerns about the behavior of his or her child?
  • Does your spouse refuse to take action to correct problem behavior?
  • Does your spouse act as if you are trying to make trouble for the child by expressing concerns?
  • Does your spouse choose to believe his or her child and disbelieve you when there is a conflict?

If you answered yes to any of these questions…

Stop confronting your step child about their behavior. As long as your spouse fails to back you up or fails to deal with the problems appropriately, the child will neither absorb your concerns nor make any of the behavioral changes you request. Put the blame where it belongs; with your spouse. Problems with a step child can be less to do with the child and more to do with problems in your marital relationship. If you two cannot find a solution, if your spouse continues to undermine you by dismissing your concerns, or fails to discipline appropriately, the situation cannot get better. Unless you are willing to live with an unruly step child until he or she leaves your step family home, or in a relationship where you receive neither understanding nor respect, seek family counseling with a therapist who is experienced dealing with step and blended family issues.

Blended family advice columns abound with guidance on bonding with step kids, earning their trust, respect and affection. They can only help if you and your step family partner are working together toward the common goal of blending two distinct sets of people into one unified group. If your relationship fails, the blended family cannot succeed. Be sure your blended family is built on a solid grounding of mutual respect, understanding, and love between the two of you. Take care of your relationship, and it will be able to help you achieve your goal. If you need additional assistance, contact The Blended and Step Family Resource Center for coaching.


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Blended family remarriages risk failure

Blended family partners are all too aware of the statistics. More than 50 percent of marriages end in divorce, and the divorce rate for remarriages is even higher. Although virtually all of us expect our own remarriages to beat the odds and succeed, all too often unresolved disputes and minor conflicts grow into problems that undermine our relationships. In a bizarre imitation of a failed first marriage, blended family spouses again find themselves experiencing feelings of resentment and being unappreciated, while communication between them diminishes and they become increasingly detached from one another. Simultaneously, the other significant members of the relationship, the children and step children, stand to lose everything…again.

The promise of great challenges

That being said, step family remarriages still hold great promise for us and for our children. As informed and prepared blended family parents, we can make unavoidable conflicts and issues work for us instead of against us, and gain strength from each challenge we meet together. We can rise above the difficulties of creating a single unit from two separate and distinct groups, raising children who are not our own, coordinating child visitation and co-parenting with a less than cooperative ex-spouse, and forming meaningful relationships with our step children and other step relatives. Most difficult for many couples is accepting that opportunities for romance will be interrupted, co-opted, and at times even sacrificed, for the needs of our children and step children. This, too, can become a source of strength.

Create your own rules in your stepfamily

Planning the blended family you want takes serious thought, a clear vision of your goal, an agreement on how to achieve the goals, and house rules that both support the goals and the means to achieve it. It is clear that a successful blended family must be built on a solid foundation: your marital relationship. If you and your spouse find it difficult to spend quality time together at home, schedule regular date nights. Couples who go out for the specific purpose of growing and maintaining their bond find it is easier, when conflicts arise, to remember why they fell in love and why they wanted to blend their families in the first place. Your mutual love, understanding, appreciation, and respect are essential to a home environment that is welcoming, supportive, and accepting of each step family member; step family spouses who support the parenting decisions of the other help establish the stability every family needs.

Co-parenting with the ex-spouse

Many divorced couples are able to put personal feelings and resentments aside for the betterment of their children, and become amazing co-parents. Their fortunate children find it easier to cope with family losses and to accept a step parent and step siblings. They do better in school, have better self-esteem, and see life in a more positive light than peers whose divorced parents cannot get along. Do your absolute best to develop a working relationship with the other parent of your children. Kids thrive on the stability and support they get from caring and focused parents who have no other agenda but the welfare of their children.

When we remember how deeply our children are invested in the success of the remarriage which created our blended family, we can better appreciate the importance of making sure we are doing our best to make it work. Unfortunately, many couples end up in divorce court because they wait too long to get the help they need.  Continue to read sites like this one, join support groups that speak to your step family issues, and if necessary seek blended family advice from a professional therapist with experience in the special needs of families like yours. Focus on creating and maintaining a strong marital relationship that can help you reach the goals you have set for your blended family.

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Blended family household rules and behavioral boundaries

As parents, we want our kids to learn self-discipline, self-reliance and self-motivation; these important life skills can help them be successful throughout their entire lives. As parents in a blended family, we also want to live in a home that is stress-free, organized, and a place of caring relationships. We can accomplish these goals by establishing blended family household rules grounded on a solid foundation of consideration and mutual respect.

The importance of guidelines in learning life skills

As adults, we know that most wisdom comes out of learning from our mistakes, but also recognize that as parents we must teach children how to get their needs met in appropriate ways and how to get along with others. Kids also need to learn about the relationship between effort and achievement. By setting behavioral boundaries, we teach that self-control is often needed; by setting consequences for rule breaking, we demonstrate personal responsibility and encourage self-discipline; by insisting on mutual respect and consideration for everyone in all situations, we teach self-worth and the value of others.

Talk about the specific needs of your blended family

It is important that you and your blended family partner sit down and discuss the kinds of rules and guidelines your particular step family will need. Guidelines can make your experience as step family managers a bit more satisfying, but their real purpose is to give your kids a stable and loving home that is strong enough to nurture them. Take into account the ages, personalities, and special needs or abilities of your children; look at where you all will live; and implement your personal values in creating guidelines for living together as a blended family. For obvious reasons, it is best to do this before you merge your two families. Talking about your individual expectations for the blended family can give you both a clear picture of important parenting similarities and differences.  If you find that either, or both, of you need to modify parenting styles or routines which would undermine new guidelines, changes are better made by the biological parent alone.

Thou shalt, thou shalt not

The behavioral boundaries and rules you and your blended family partner establish are entirely up to you and the needs of your particular family. Generally speaking, successful blended families share some common elements in their written expectations.  These include:

  • Everyone will treat and speak to each other with consideration and respect
  • The resident parent and step parent are in charge
  • Rules apply to all blended family members, even those who do not live here permanently
  • Regular family meetings are a safe place for discussion, disagreements, and conflict
  • Family members share assigned chores and responsibilities
  • No favoritism; everyone is treated, loved, disciplined, and rewarded equally

Many step or blended family experts agree that discipline is often best handled by the biological parent in a blended family setting. Depending on the ages of your kids, you may wish to ask them to suggest appropriate consequences when someone breaks a rule. At any rate, for your blended family rules and guidelines to be effective, everyone must be well aware of all rules and all potential consequences.

Presenting blended family rules and expectations

Once your rules are written and reviewed, you should plan when, where and how to introduce the new rules and guidelines to the rest of your blended family. This is an important meeting, as it can help establish you as equal partners in step family leadership, and can also lay the groundwork for future family meetings, a useful tool in blended family leadership strategy. Unless you are very good at improvisation, it is a very good idea to prepare your presentation, and consider what you will say, and how you will say it. Be sure you follow your new rules as you present them!

Kids need boundaries to feel safe and to learn. Parents lead, teach, and love best in an atmosphere of cooperation and unity. If your blended family rules address values you cherish, respect the individual differences of each step family member, and promote a sense of being loved and valued, your family can thrive.  When you establish and enforce boundaries out of a loving responsibility, good things can happen.  If you need additional assistance, contact The Blended and Step Family Resource Center for coaching.


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Etiquette for dealing with your ex-spouse

Some blended family parents post notes on the refrigerator or next to the phones to help them deal with an ex-spouse in a positive way.  Notes are especially helpful when we are really angry or when there are kids in the room. The following ten rules of etiquette for communication with an ex-spouse put the welfare of children first, the basis on which good parenting decisions are made. You may find them useful to your blended family.

The ten rules of good ex-etiquette

  1. Put the children first
  2. Ask for help when you need it
  3. No badmouthing
  4. Biological parents enforce household rules, supported by step parents
  5. Do not be spiteful
  6. Do not hold grudges
  7. Use empathy when problem solving
  8. Be honest and straightforward
  9. Respect each other’s turf
  10. Compromise whenever possible

Putting the children first is the cornerstone of all effective dealings with an ex-spouse. Making the right decision is easier when you can remove your own personal interests, hurt, or anger and use the welfare of your kids as the criteria for both discussions and decisions.

Asking for help from an ex-spouse may feel awkward, but sometimes he or she is your best (or only) choice. If you should be picking up the kids, for instance, but are stuck in traffic and your blended family partner is busy, phoning your ex-spouse could solve the problem; asking for help demonstrates good will and respect for him or her as a parent. As well, if you are late picking up your step kids, asking your partner’s ex-spouse for help might be the answer, and earn you respect for putting their needs ahead of your own feelings of discomfort. 

If you can’t say something nice about the other parent, don’t say anything at all. Divorced and step family parents sometimes forget their children have dual loyalties. Even a seemingly insignificant comment about Dad being late … again … can make a child feel badly about your bad feelings.

Bio parents enforce household rules for their own children, and receive unconditional support from their blended family spouse on parental decisions.  If, however, the step parent is a primary caregiver, or is at home with kids of their own and coordinating household rules for the entire step family, then he or she should be consulted when making parental decisions.

Being spiteful and holding grudges against your ex-spouse is poison to you and to your chances of making a success of co-parenting your kids. Resentment, attempts to undermine or blame, and hateful words can prevent you from moving on with your life and wholly embracing your new blended family. Most damaging is the negative impact these things have on your children, who are always watching how their parents interact.

Empathy for an ex-spouse can give insight into their situation and feelings, and help you to stay more positive during conflict. Your own ex-spouse likely feels threatened by your new partner, and your position as step parent probably represents a similar threat to your partner’s ex-spouse, too. Combined feelings of loss and fears of being replaced by a step parent are powerful and frightening. Try to be understanding.

Being honest and straightforward with your ex-spouse demonstrates self-respect for yourself and your parental decisions. This clear message can often prevent a power struggle between ex-spouses. Besides, your children are watching, and they need to see and hear you be confident about your ability to take care of them.

Respecting your ex-spouse as parent of your children means that you do not try to control them, their lifestyle, or their household rules. Chances are, you could not control his or her actions before your divorce, either. The fact is, we can only control what happens in our own homes, and offering respect to the other parent of your children helps to lay the groundwork for positive co-parenting. If your child’s mother or father does not offer you respect, you cannot control that.  However, you can set a good correct example for your children.

Compromise is the key to solving conflict, opening the discussion for what is important: the children.

Long story short? Blended family advice is that things work better when you keep it about the kids. If you need additional Blended Family Advice, check out some of our resources online, and also contact us for Blended Family coaching.