Education Blog

The Two Essential Rules for a Blended Family

September 21, 2021

It’s not as simple as The Brady Bunch claimed. The famed sitcom’s blended family was able to resolve vexing problems in a short time span of 30 minutes. Blended families face many complex problems that can take time. Children in blended families spend many years trying to figure out how to navigate the new family dynamic, including watching their parents fall in LOVE and getting to know new siblings. Parents must also help their children through their transitions.

What is a Blended Family?

A blended family is one where at least one parent has unrelated children to their partner, either biologically or via adoption. This family arrangement was previously called a “stepfamily”, but it can also be called a bonus family or an instafamily. However, it is likely to cause intense feelings regardless of the title or specific makeup.

Parents who want to create a new unit should be careful and mindful of their children’s emotions.

Know What Kids Are Worried About in Your Blended Family

According to Dr. Richard Weissbourd at Harvard University, Senior Lecturer in Education and Faculty Director for the Human Development and Psychology masters programs, children are often placed in new family dynamic, which can include the introduction of parents figures. He says that children often have questions such as “What’s the fate of my biological father?” This is just one example.

While family transitions are a concern that will be rumble around in the kids’ heads, it may not be something they feel comfortable sharing with their parents. Anxiety can manifest in disruptive ways to family development if they keep those thoughts and feelings inside.

Dr. Weissbourd says that children might be concerned that if a blended family loses their biological parents. This could lead to them becoming too focused on the partner or other children in the family.

He says that parents often have to openly allow their children to express how they feel. It is important to work with children to find practical solutions to their fears and to build a family.

It’s natural to want to reassure a child that they have nothing to worry about. It can make them feel unheard.

Weissbourd says, “It is important to brainstorm strategies to deal with the challenges and problems that kids are concerned about, especially older children.” Let’s say they are worried about spending too much time apart. So let’s go for a walk at least three times per week. You could also commit to doing an activity together.

Focus on Earning Respect

Parents will worry about how to manage discipline in a blended family. It will take time to figure out how to communicate with one another, adjust family rules, and what to do about consequences. Weissbourd suggests that parents remain present with all their children, but defer any discipline issues to the primary parent until they establish a relationship of mutual respect.

Weissbourd says, “It’s important to not be categorical about it; there are certain circumstances where you have to respond.” You have to intervene if your child does something that is clearly unacceptable to another child. It’s usually about who is best qualified to handle this discipline and whether you have the authority and trust to do so.

He warns that you don’t want your parenting style to be too permissive or indulgent. This will lead to its own problems and frictions. However, a solid and authoritative parenting style that fosters independence and compassion in children requires consistency and trust. This will take time. Dr. Weissbourd says that strong relationships will make parenting more successful in the long-term. “And this is how you’ll be able to exert influence.”

Parents will never know the specific challenges that they will face in a changing family. The US Census Bureau estimates that one in three Americans is either a parent or a child of a stepparent. It’s also helpful to know that this is not an uncommon experience. Finding the right balance and structure in your family requires good communication, thoughtful decisions and resolve.