Written by DiveThru Team
Reviewed by Natalie Asayag MSW, LCSW
Blended Families: The Ultimate Guide To Being A Step-Parent
Published Mar 10th, 2021 & updated on Mar 19th, 2021
Every family is totally unique and maybe even a lil’ weird in their own way. That especially goes for blended families! But we like weird. Weird is cool! And when it comes to blended families, the Dunphys are the first to come to mind! They are the epitome of complicated (but hilarious) blended family shenanigans. Sure, there are plenty of heartwarming, mushy moments that make you go awww. But there are just as many rough patches on a regular basis too.
As a step-parent, you probably know this simple truth first-hand — joining multiple families under one roof is NOT easy! With sooo many feelings coming from all sides, how the hell is everyone supposed to get along?!
The truth is, there’s no right way to navigate a blended family. What works great for some households might start a full-on civil war in others. But hey, that’s totally ok! We can’t expect families to be perfect, or act like everything is sunshine and rainbows all of the time.
Families can be messy. They disagree. They fight. And sometimes (okay, a lot of the time) they don’t know how to properly communicate. But nothing is impossible when you work through it together with love, just like the Dunphys!
5 Ways To Make Blended Families Work
You’re probably wondering how you and your partner can merge your families together as smooooothly as possible (and how you can avoid the wicked step-parent stereotype). Warning — there WILL be some bumps along the way! It’s gonna take a lot of work, plus some tweaking here and there to your family’s personal situation, but it’s 100 percent worth it. Here are some ways you can bring your blended family closer together as a step-parent.
1. Acknowledge Feelings
If it seems like your step-kids aren’t adjusting to the new family dynamic, it can be hard not to take it personally. Instead of getting defensive — or pushing too hard for them to accept “this is the way things are now, get used to it!” — try understanding their perspective. Your step-kids could be having a tough time because they’ve had to move into a new house, away from the life they were used to before. Maybe they’re still emotionally dealing with their parents’ separation, or they aren’t used to having other siblings around. Again, every family has a unique situation.
It’s important to acknowledge everyone’s feelings…even the ones that aren’t being communicated. You don’t want a kid war like the one that started in Yours, Mine & Ours when the parents just pushed everyone into the converted lighthouse. SO not a good idea.
2. Allow Space For Open Communication
One of the best things a family can do is to communicate openly with each other. It’s easier said than done but makes a huge difference in the long run. It’s also super important to make sure that everyone has fair opportunity to openly communicate how they feel! Make sure everyone in your blended family understands they can come to you whenever there’s a problem or they want to share something. This also means that when they DO communicate, you’re responsive and show you’re actually listening. Everyone deserves to feel respected and heard!
If your family needs some extra help with communication, going to therapy together is a great idea. We recommend finding a therapist that specializes in working with families — and even better, blended families — as they will better understand the dynamics of your household.
3. Set Realistic Expectations
When you and your partner have formed a strong relationship and are ready to join your lives together, your kids might still need some time to catch up. This will be a huge adjustment for them and they probably have a load of feelings to sort through. Give them some time and space to come around! They might be on the fence right now, but with your patience and understanding they’ll start to feel more comfortable.
Try not to set unrealistic expectations. Everything won’t just fall into place all at once and you can’t expect everyone to bond right away. That closeness will come if you work towards it, but it won’t happen overnight! Meredith didn’t just automatically love her new-found sisters immediately. It took a WHILE to warm up to Lexie and Maggie.
4. Make Bonding A Priority
To bring your blended family closer together, bonding is a must! The sooner you make time to connect and get to know each other on a deeper level, the better. Try setting designated family time that everyone can participate in — family game night, movie night, road trips…you name it! Even having dinner together as a family is super underrated these days given how busy our schedules are.
Your step-kids will notice the effort you’re making to get to know them and, even if they’re a lil’ bit reserved at first, they’ll appreciate how much you care. Quality time is everything!
5. Set Healthy Boundaries
Don’t underestimate the wonders that setting boundaries will do for a blended family! It’s important for every family member to have clear boundaries that are heard and respected. For the kids, it might include something as simple as knocking before entering their room.
Another healthy boundary — keep any discussion about your children’s other parents off-limits when the kids are around. If you’re not sure what your family’s boundaries are yet, now’s the time to talk about it together! Use that open communication to understand each other’s limits. Again, if you could use the guidance, a family therapist can help your home feel like a safer space for everyone.
Like we said, having a blended family is hard work. You won’t get it right all of the time, but hey. No family does. The most important thing is that you are always willing to try. And LOVE! Don’t forget that love is the reason you’re all together! We’re rooting for you and the famjam.
It’s just like Phil Dunphy said: “Never be afraid to reach for the stars because even if you fall, you’ll always be wearing a Parent-chute.” Words to live by.