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.