The terms “step family” and “blended family” may not be new, but they are much more common in society today than ever before. In the past, we were most familiar with two drastically opposite views on what a blended family could be. On one hand we had the negative example of Walt Disney’s Cinderella and her evil stepfamily, and on the other we had the picture perfect portrayal of a blended family brought to us by the Brady Bunch.

Now, blended families are more of a norm, with 65% of remarriages including children from previous relationships. Just as a divorce or losing a parent is life changing for a child, and sometimes extremely difficult to deal with, “blending” families to create stepfamilies can be just as challenging. Sometimes the battle is between the kids getting along, the kids and the new parents accepting each other or even between the parent’s struggling to find a balance between two different parenting techniques. It may be difficult at the start, but one of the key elements to blending a family successfully is time. The biggest mistake a parent can make is to force and rush the transition.

Things to Keep in Mind When Planning a Blended Family

  • Too many changes at once can unsettle children. Blended families have the highest success rate if the couple waits two years or more after a divorce to remarry, instead of piling one drastic family change onto another.
  • Don’t expect to fall in love with your partner’s children overnight. Get to know them. Love and affection take time to develop.
  • Find ways to experience “real life” together. Taking both sets of kids to a theme park every time you get together is a lot of fun, but it isn’t reflective of everyday life. Try to get the kids used to your partner and his or her children in daily life situations.
  • Make parenting changes before you marry. Agree with your new partner how you intend to parent together, and then make any necessary adjustments to your parenting styles before you remarry. It’ll make for a smoother transition and your kids won’t become angry at your new spouse for initiating changes.
  • Don’t allow ultimatums. Your kids or new partner may put you in a situation where you feel you have to choose between them. Remind them that you want both sets of people in your life.
  • Insist on respect. You can’t insist that people like each other but you can stress that they treat one another with respect.
  • Limit your expectations. You may give a lot of time, energy, love, and affection to your new partner’s kids that will not be returned immediately. Think of it as making small investments that may one day yield a lot of interest.

The biggest step for a parent is making an effort to create a relationship with their spouse’s kids. Even if the kids do not accept the change at first, stepparents should not take that as a sign to give up.  This is a new life and everyone needs to go through the ups and downs together. Continue to take baby steps. Show them you care, that you want to be in their life and appreciate them, because in time they will do the same.