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Written by: Caroline Mayer

What is a blended family exactly?  Blended families simply refer to relationships where there are children from previous relationships which now form part of a new family dynamic. This could mean that either or both of you have children from a previous relationship and may also include children belonging to both of you. These children may be from different backgrounds, different ethnicities, different cultures and may even have vast age gaps between them. In most cases, some of the children will be with you some of the time or most of the time and others may even be with you all of the time. Sometimes even children from the same original family group may spend different amounts of time with the family.  An older child may choose to live with their other biological parent as opposed to the one you are married to, or your own children may prefer to stay with your ex-spouse and only visit you on occasion.  There is nothing standard about what makes up a blended family. A blended family may even include adoptive or fostered children as well. 

What are the main relationships in a blended family? 

  • You and your spouse 
  • You and your children  
  • Your spouse and their children  
  • Your spouse and your children  
  • You and your spouse’s children  
  • The entire family 

You and your spouse 

Your personal relationship is the basis for the blended family. There will be strain on your relationship but keeping the foundation strong is very important. There may be strife from multiple angles including extended family that may cause problems in your relationship. There may even be issues between you and partner if your bond with your child is exceedingly strong. You may want to defend your child instead of backing up your partner. You need to avoid this kind of strife as far as possible if you hope to make a blended family work.  You may also feel excluded by your partner when they are interacting with their children. Your spouse’s family might also go out of their way to try and exclude you from family events. Spend time with your partner as a couple regularly to ensure your relationship stays healthy and strong. Discuss your issues rationally and in private.  Never undermine each other in front of the children. Show each other love and affection as well as appreciation for everything the other partner does. Listen to each other and be prepared to compromise. Don’t use the children against each other at any time.  

The parent and their child  

Your children and your partner’s children may think that they will lose their parent’s love due to becoming part of a larger family. They may also resent the time you spend with your step-children and new partner. They need to be reassured of your love and guidance. Allay their fears and let them know they will never lose your love. Make sure you spend one on one time with your children so they can express their emotions as well as enjoy the time with you.  Try and stick to a family routine. Make sure you still attend important events such as prize giving and sporting matches. Keep to the rules of your previous household as far as possible. 

The step-parent and your children  

The children brought in to the family by your partner may not take to you at all at the start of the family relationship. While you can insist on respect, you cannot demand their affection. Spend time with these children as well. Get to know them and be prepared to listen to them and understand how they feel as well. Even if you never develop the same deep love for your step-children as you have for your own child, you must ensure that the children are treated equally. There cannot be favouritism in a blended family. Rules, rewards and punishments must be the same for everyone (age dependent). Show interest in your step-children. Attend their events and functions if possible and give them your support. Try and have one-on-one conversations where possible and help out by being their in practical ways as well. Bake those muffins for the tea-party, teach her how to ride a bike, teach him how to swim. There are many ways you can offer support without forcing your attention on a step-child. This approach will often win their affections over time, as long as you are sincere.  

The step-siblings 

For some children, gaining new brothers and sisters may be exciting and fun.  Other children may be frightened by the prospect, while others will blatantly act out in defiance of becoming a blended family. Age differences can often pay a big role as well. Children of similar ages often get on well especially if they become step-siblings at a young age. There will be sibling rivalry though, the same as in a non-blended family. Children with feel jealousy and will try and compete with each other.  There will be conflict, and it can be even more intense in a larger group. You can improve the situation by having household rules that everyone has to stick to, no matter which parent is mom or dad to them. Age-related rules should apply to all children equally. The younger children will have some rules that are different to the teens such as bedtime. Rewards and gifts for all the kids should be of similar value. Each child should have some space of their own.  There should be photos of all the children displayed in the home. Try and get them to spend time together and encourage sibling bonding wherever possible. 

The family 

While you do need to try and give each child and your partner some individual time, family time is extremely important. Even if it is just eating dinner together at night, having everyone involved in the same activity can be a bonding experience.  Look for fun activities that all children can be involved in, no matter their age group.  Try an outing to a fun fair, go to a putt-putt course, try joining a creative group that allows little ones to colour while older ones create paintings or pottery. If you can’t find suitable activities away from home, create some yourself.  Besides the babies, almost everyone can get involved in a scrapbooking day or a read-a-thon. Make up games you can play together and generally just have fun as a family.  

What are the benefits of a blended family? 

Having extra adults that will give your children love and affection is invaluable. Having extra grandparents, aunts and uncles can make for a richer upbringing for children in a blended family. There are more people around and step-siblings can also become the greatest of friends. Blended families often give children insight in to different cultures and backgrounds, different perspectives and interests and can be a source of growth for parents as well as children. Children from blended families are often more open and accommodating and more tolerant of differences in others. 

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