Children in blended families and stepfamilies: how they feel
Children in all families have various and changing feelings about their family relationships. These feelings can be more intense in blended families and stepfamilies.
If this is the first time you or your child’s other parent have formed another family, your child might feel excited to be part of a family with 2 adults again. They might be looking forward to having new brothers and sisters.
Uncertainty and worry
Your child might be unsure of how they fit in to the blended family. Or they might feel worried about things like how to:
- behave in the new blended family – for example, what to call your new partner, who to listen to and whose rules to follow
- respond to their other parent’s feelings – for example, what to do if their other parent is sad or upset
- handle the changes in their life – for example, they might not want any more change.
Sadness, anger or jealousy
Your child might have uncomfortable feelings about the blended family. For example, your child might:
- feel sad, angry or jealous that they have to share you with your new partner
- feel jealous of your partner’s children
- blame you for being the one who broke up the original family
- feel less important now that you have a new partner
- reject your new partner because your partner is a reminder that your child’s parents will never get back together again.
We used to say, ‘All feelings are OK in this house – the important thing is how you express them’. It’s OK to feel angry sometimes because you have to share a room with your stepsister, but it’s not OK to break her toys because of it.
– Lily, 54, in a blended family with 2 children
Helping children handle feelings about blended families and stepfamilies
It’s OK not to know exactly what to do if your child has uncertain or uncomfortable feelings about your new situation. The most important thing is for your child to know that all their feelings are OK and that you’ll be there for them and love them, no matter what.
Here are some ideas that can help you and your child handle feelings and start adjusting to life in a blended family or stepfamily.
Talking with your child
You can give your child the chance to express their feelings by using questions to start conversations. Try these ideas:
- ‘Did you know that …?’ Then you could talk about a change that’s coming up like, ‘Did you know that Sam and Lara are going to be living with us every other weekend soon?’
- ‘How do you feel about …?’ For example, ‘How do you feel about Sam and Lara living with us every other weekend?’ or ‘How are you feeling about things at home right now?’
- ‘What would you like to do about …?’ For example, ‘What will help you feel more comfortable when Sam and Lara visit?’
Give your child positive feedback when they respond to a question. For example, ‘That’s a great idea – let’s try it. If it doesn’t work we can try something else’.
If your child is struggling to talk about their feelings, you could try talking to them when you’re by yourselves or while you’re driving, going for a walk or cooking. This can make it easier for children to open up.
If your child asks questions about what’s going on in your life, try to answer truthfully. Use language that your child can understand.
Spending time with your child
It’s important to carry on having regular quality time together with your child as your family changes. These tips can help:
- Keep up the activities that you usually do with your child, like always going for a walk and a hot chocolate together on a Sunday morning.
- Enjoy time with your child. You could try something new, like going out for the day or having a night away with your child without your new partner and their child.
- Make some time for your child each day if possible. This can give you the chance to catch up on your child’s day and check how they’re going.
Helping your child get to know your new partner
If you give your child time to get to know your new partner and you don’t expect too much early on, it can help your child work through any uncertain or negative feelings. These tips might help:
- Talk to your child about why you’ve repartnered and what you like about having a new partner.
- Make it clear to both your partner and your child that you expect them to respect each other – but they don’t have to love each other.
- Go at your child’s pace – don’t try to rush the relationship between your child and your partner.
- Try to create relaxed and safe times when your child can get to know your partner better. For example, they could watch a movie together, go for a walk or play board games.
- Let your child know it’s OK to tell you if your partner does something your child doesn’t like – for example, speaking harshly to them.
If you need to talk to your new partner about the way they’re parenting your child, a parenting teamwork approach might help. This kind of approach can help you navigate the ups and downs of family life in a positive way.
Your child’s relationship with their other parent
Children in blended families and stepfamilies can sometimes feel ‘stuck in the middle’ between their parents. They might worry about which parent they should be loyal to. Here are some ideas for helping your child avoid or handle this situation:
- Ensure your child has regular contact with their other parent, as long as this is safe for your child.
- Try not to criticise your child’s other parent in front of your child.
- Avoid asking your child to pass messages to their other parent.
- Avoid asking your child about what they did at their other parents’ house – let your child tell you what they want to tell you.
- Share memories with your child of times with their other parent, like family holidays or birthday celebrations.
Children in blended families and stepfamilies: what affects their feelings
Your child’s feelings about life in a blended family or stepfamily can depend on things like:
- how old your child is
- how long you and your child’s other parent have been separated
- how much it changes your child’s life
- what else is going on in their life – for example, at school
- how well your child knows your new partner
- how your child’s other parent feels about the changes.
It can also depend on your child’s personality.