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The Challenges of Step-Parenting and Raising Blended Families

Updated on July 13, 2012
My Blended Family
My Blended Family

The number of step-families are on the rise particularly due to the fact that 65% of remarriages include children from previous relationships. Blending two families is not easy and it creates many challenges in addition to the "normal" challenges of raising a family.

Although it is not easy you should not get discouraged. Changes to the family structure requires time, patience, and love in order for you to have a happy, healthy blended family.

Blending Families

Deciding to blend your families is an exciting time for both you and your partner, but most children will not feel the same happiness and excitement that you feel. The children will often be worried about the upcoming changes, living with new siblings, and how their relationship will be affected with their natural parents.

You can help ease this transition by making small changes and taking things at a slower pace. When you take your time you allow for everyone to get used to each other and you will have a better chance at having a happy family.

"The only steps in our home lead to the upstairs."

My sister shared this quote with me, she had heard it from a woman she worked with and it has always resonated in my mind when thinking of my blended family.

Step-Family Names and Titles

When two families are blended together the question of what the child should call the step-parent arises. This is something that the whole family needs to discuss together. A child should not be forced to call a step-parent "Mom or Dad" even if the other biological parent is not in the picture, because the other parent may become involved in the child's life somewhere down the line.

If you do decide to have your child call their step-parent "mom or dad" be sure to discuss it with the biological parent. They may have opposing feelings and they may not want to share that special title with someone else in their child's life. By discussing this in advance you can prevent many problems that may have arisen from sharing the title.

You might also want to consider how you will introduce the children to others. I do not like to use the title stepson when I am introducing my children. I like to introduce them as "my four children" because I feel by saying "these are my three children and my stepson" I am singling out my stepson and making him feel as not that important. I just feel that this is something that should be decided on before the situation arises.

Respect and Discipline

Respect for each other is important within any family background. But when are blending families it may be hard to accomplish. The best advice for achieving respect inside you household is to insist that every person respects one another. You can not force them to like each other but you can insist that they respect each other.

Disciplining children in a blended family can also be a struggle if not handled in an appropriate manner. A great way to create a path for easy disciplining is to sit down together as a family and create family rules along with the consequences for breaking those rules. Some families choose to let the biological parent discipline their child in the beginning and then allow the step-parent to discipline the child only after the two are completely comfortable with each other. The choice of how disciplining should be handled is your decision on what you think will work best with your new family. Remember to be consistent with which ever route you decide to follow.

The Other Parent

Blended families work best when all parents are involved. You should make it clear to your children that both biological parents still love them and that their new step-parent is not a replacement for their biological parent.

All parents involved should have open communication with each other because they all play an important role in the child's life. You should never speak badly about a parent or step-parent to the child because this can be confusing and may also cause them to have confusing and conflicting thoughts about the situation. You do not have to become "best" friends with an ex, but you do need to develop some sort of civil relationship for the sake of the child.

If conflict does arise between a biological parent and a step-parent it should be handled in a positive manner. You should be able to work past differences by talking things over. Never put a child in the middle of an argument because it may make them feel as though they need to pick a side.


Love within a step-family is different. When you have a child you are both instantly bonded and you love your child from the first second you lay your eyes on them. When you blend your family and become a step-parent the love you will have between you and your stepchild is a completely different kind of love. You will not love your stepchild overnight and you will not have that unbreakable bond between you. The love and bond you experience grows with each day. I feel it is special because it grows and grows as time passes and the bond between you becomes stronger and stronger. At times it may not feel so easy, but as time passes it becomes easier. It takes time to create a strong bond with a stepchild and it is very rewarding when the both of you achieve it.

Rewards of Step-Parenting

Step-Parenting is very rewarding and you should not become discouraged when faced with the challenges that arise. It can be rewarding in many different ways depending on your situation. If you do not have biological children step-parenting will give you the oppurtunity to share your life with child and help to shape his character for the future. If you both have children you will offer them opportunities to build bonds together that only siblings can share.

I feel it is rewarding for the children the most because it allows them to be loved by more than two "parents". It may also give them a large family with more siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc.


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    • Lintermans profile image

      Lintermans 5 years ago

      As a step and biological Mom, and the author of a book on stepfamilies which included not only my own experience but research with stepfamily authorities and other stepfamilies, I am aware, all to often, of the high rate of divorce among these families.

      One reason is that there are no understood guidelines for these families. Society tends to apply the rules of first marriages, while ignoring the complexities of stepfamilies.

      A little clarification: In stepfamilies the child(ren) is of one co-parent; in a blended families, there are children from both co-parents, and virtually all family members have recently experienced a primary relationship loss.

      The Landmines

      Three potential problem areas are: Financial burdens, Role ambiguity, and the Children’s Negative Feelings when they don’t want the new family to “work.”

      Husbands sometimes feel caught between the often impossible demands of their former family and their present one. Some second wives also feel resentful about the amount of income that goes to the husband’s first wife and family.

      Legally, the stepparent has no prescribed rights or duties, which may result in tension, compromise, and role ambiguity.

      Another complication of role ambiguity is that society seems to expect acquired parents and children to instantly love each other. In reality, this is often just not the case.

      The third reason for a difficult stepparent-child relationship might be that a child does not want this marriage to work, and so, acts out with hostility, since children commonly harbor fantasies that their biological parents will reunite. Stepchildren can prove hostile adversaries, and this is especially true for adolescents.

      Stepmother Anxiety

      Clinicians say that the role of stepmother is more difficult than that of stepfather, because stepmother families may more often be born of difficult custody battles and/or particularly troubled family relations. Society is also contradictory in expecting loving relationships between stepmothers and children while, at the same time, portraying stepmothers as cruel and even abusive (Snow White, Cinderella, and Hansel and Gretel are just a few bedtimestories we are all familiar with).

      Stepfather Anxiety

      Men who marry women with children come to their new responsibilities with a mixed bag of emotions, far different from those that make a man assume responsibility for his biological children. A new husband might react to an “instant” family with feelings which range from admiration to fright to contempt.

      The hidden agenda is one of the first difficulties a stepfather runs into: The mother or her children, or both, may have expectations about what he will do, but may not give him a clear picture of what those expectations are. The husband may also have a hidden agenda.

      A part of the stepchildren’s hidden agenda is the extent to which they will let the husband play father.

      The key is for everyone to work together.

      The husband, wife, their stepchildren, and their non-custodial biological parent can all negotiate new ways of doing things by taking to heart and incorporating the information you are about to learn—the most positive alternative for everyone.

      One Day at a Time

      Now you have a pretty good feel for what everyone is going through. How do you start to make it better -- a process that can take years? First you must be very clear about what you want and expect from this marriage and the individuals involved, including yourself. What are you willing to do? In a loving and positive way, now is the time to articulate, negotiate, and come to an agreement on your expectations and about how you and your partner will behave.

      The best marriages are flexible marriages, but how can you be flexible if you do not know what everyone needs right now. And, this may change over time, so there must be room for that to happen as well.

      In flexible marriages partners are freer to reveal the parts of their changing selves that no longer fit into their old established patterns. You couldn’t possibly have known at the beginning of your new family what you know now and will learn later.

      Spouses may feel the “conflict taboo” even more than in a first marriage. It is understandable that you want to make this marriage work. You might feel too “battle-scarred” to open “a can of worms.” And so, you gloss over differences that need airing and resolution—differences over which you may not have hesitated to wage war in your first marriage. Avoiding airing your differences is a serious mistake. It is important for you to understand your own and your partner’s needs because society hasn’t a clue how stepfamilies should work. Unless you talk about your expectations, they are likely to be unrealistic.

      Living Well

      Since roughly one third of stepfamilies do survive—even thrive—we know that stepfamilies can grow the safety, support, and comfort that only healthy families provide. Consider the following for living your step/blended family life well:

      You must assess, as a couple, how well you accept and resolve conflicts with each other and key others. Learn and steadily work to develop verbal skills: listen with empathy, effectively show your needs, and problem-solve together. The emotional highs of new love can disguise deep disagreement on parenting, money, family priorities, and home management, i.e., values that will surface after the wedding.

      Together, accept your prospective identity as a normal, unique, multi-home stepfamily. You need to admit and resolve strong disagreements, well enough for positive results.

      You must balance and co-manage all of these tasks well enough on a daily basis to: build a solid, high-priority marriage; enjoy your kids; and, to keep growing emotionally and spiritually as individual people.

      Know and take comfort in the fact that confidant stepfamily adult teams (not simply couples), can provide the warmth, comfort, inspiration, support, security—and often (not always) the love—that adults and kids long for.

      Gloria Lintermans is the author of THE SECRETS TO STEPFAMILY SUCCESS: Revolutionary Tools to Create a Blended Family of Support and Respect, Llumina Press, 2011

    • JillKostow profile image

      Jill Kostowskie 6 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Pamela99 - Thank you very much for your comment. You are right by saying that it is not easy when it comes to making things work with a blended family. I know first hand about the challenges of having a blended family. But I am glad that everything worked out for us and things are running smooth!!!

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 6 years ago from United States

      It is not always easy to make all things work well in a blended family and I think your advice was excellent.

    • JillKostow profile image

      Jill Kostowskie 6 years ago from Pennsylvania

      VeronicaInspires - Thanks for reading and commenting. Your hub was also well-written and filled with a lot of great advice!!

    • profile image

      Bus Stop Club 6 years ago

      Good clear advice and comments - I will be following your hub. Susan

    • profile image

      VeronicaInspires 6 years ago

      Hi Jill!

      Great hub! Had I known you were going to answer this, I would've answered another question. :( But great minds think alike! I linked to your hub!


    • JillKostow profile image

      Jill Kostowskie 6 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Thank you CreateHubpages for reading and commenting!!

    • CreateHubpages profile image

      CreateHubpages 6 years ago

      This is a great information about parenting.