The Joys of a Blended Family -- and the Challenges

Sandra Gordon
Aug. 19, 2015

Real parents weigh in on what it really takes to make a blended family work.

You know how "The Brady Bunch" theme song goes. Your kids, his kids -- could it really be so harmonious? If you're thinking about becoming a blended family, you're far from alone. According to the National Stepfamily Resource Center, 42 percent of adults have at least one step-relative.

Combining his kids with yours is a big change. "Nobody knows what the rules are because there's no biological model for this type of family," says Jeannette Lofas, Ph.D., licensed clinical social worker and founder and president of The Stepfamily Foundation. "Couples have to learn to work together and provide clear leadership for the family, including creating house rules." What bumps in the road can you anticipate? What's the payoff? Here's the scoop from real parents in blended families on the joys and the struggles.

5 Big Challenges For Blended Families

  1. Discipline
    "I was much more of a disciplinarian than my second husband," says Laura Wilkinson Sinton, a marketing executive in Atlanta, Georgia, whose struggle with blending her family of six was chronicled in the New York Times. "We went to a lot of family therapy." Their combined discipline style became focused on communication.
  2. Introducing the Kids
    It's exciting -- and disruptive -- when your new love and kids are put together. "Kids can feel disconnected from everything they have known, especially if it involves moving," says Clark Burbidge, the author of the children's book series, "Giants in the Land," who with his wife has five children total from each of their previous marriages. Make sure to ease into this transition.

    Ron L. Deal, a licensed marriage and family therapist and the director of FamilyLife Blended, agrees. "Have the kids meet before you're engaged, but don't try to throw them together too early," he suggests. "Learn all you can about the new territory, then constantly make adjustments." Think slow cooker, not blender.
  3. Dealing With Ex-Spouses
    You can't change discouraging or angry ex-spouses. But you can change your reaction. "It's critical you respect the former spouses and make sure your children know it's okay to love them too," says Burbidge.
  4. Finding "Me" Time
    When Gara Lacy, the owner of Suddenly Stepmom, married her husband, Gerald, she became insta-mom to his three children. "Exercising and reading books -- things that were part of who I was -- were put on the back burner," Lacy says. Over time, she felt resentful. "I learned that carving out time for myself was important," she says.
  5. Favoritism
    "When my husband disciplines our oldest son, I often think that he doesn't really care about him or show him the same amount of attention that he does to our younger son, the child we had together," says Tiffany Komba, a motivational speaker in Los Angeles. To handle the situation, Komba and her husband talk it out. "He reassures me that he's trying hard to parent the boys equally," she says.

As with everything involving family, there's joy to be found amid the chaos:

  • Spending Time Together
    "When we have that awesome quality time together, we just gel," says Tiffany Ficklin, who has a blended family of seven in Albuquerque, New Mexico, with her partner, Brad. "But the best part came recently when, for the first time ever, my stepkids really let me hug and kiss them, and said they loved me too." But keep in mind that it can take time for stepfamily harmony to develop, because even though you're happy as a couple, "you'll need perseverance and determination" for your kids to develop affection for your partner, Deal says.
  • Enriching Your Child's Home Life
    "My son has two amazing fathers who really love him very much and both teach him very different lessons in life," says Komba. Providing your child with more positive adult role models can only help.
  • Knowing You Did Your Best
    "One of my stepchildren recently got married and gave me a card that said, 'Thank you for treating me like one of your own.' There's no better reward than that," says Lacy. But Lofas adds a word of caution. "Trying to manage a stepfamily like a biological family is like trying to play chess using the rules of checkers. Stepfamilies are much more complex and just plain different," Lofas says. Deal agrees, "As a stepfamily, you'll need to build a new blueprint for success."

Sandra Gordon is an award-winning writer who writes about health, nutrition and parenting for websites, magazines, newsletters and custom publications. She also helps new parents gear up safely and for less at Baby Products Mom.

Tips and stories from parents and caregivers who’ve been there.

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