Starting out in blended families and stepfamilies
It takes time to create and establish a blended family or stepfamily.
The early years are about getting to know each other as partners and building new family relationships. You and your new partner are learning to work together to care for your children. You won’t have all the answers, and things won’t always go according to plan – this is OK.
It helps to be realistic about how long it takes for relationships to develop and for everyone to get used to being in your new family. It can take at least 2 years.
Preparing children to be part of blended families and stepfamilies
It’s good if you and your new partner can spend some time getting to know each other’s children before you move in together. This lets you focus on the relationships rather than on the new living arrangements. But sometimes couples move in together quite quickly because it feels right for them or because it’s difficult to keep 2 homes going.
Whenever it happens for you, it’s a good idea to talk with your child about what you want to do and what it will be like. Ask your child what they think and encourage them to share any worries or concerns. Let them know that there are likely to be some ups and downs with the new family situation, and they can always come to you when they need to talk.
You could talk about some of the plans, like where you’re going to live if you’re moving house and what space your child will have in the new house. Or if you’re staying in your house, you could talk about how the space might change when your new partner moves in.
If you can involve your child in making some decisions about the house or arrangements, they’ll feel like they have some control over things. But they’ll probably still need extra affection and reassurance from you.
Everyday life in blended families and stepfamilies
As well as building relationships, the early months in a blended family or stepfamily are also about establishing how you’ll all live together. This might include:
- working out who’s responsible for guiding children’s behaviour, including setting consequences for behaviour
- working out new family routines and household responsibilities – for example, who cooks dinner, makes the children’s lunches, or does the shopping and cleaning
- setting up new family rules
- sorting out bedrooms and work or study spaces for the children.
New and old rituals can help as you work out how your blended family will live together. Rituals can give family members a sense of belonging and can comfort children in unfamiliar circumstances.
Your rituals might be a mix of those that you and your new partner already have, or you can think of new ones for your blended family. For example, if your child loves listening to you read a bedtime story, carrying on that tradition will help them feel comfortable in your new family. Or you could think about new weekly rituals for the whole family, like playing board games on Sundays.
I probably tried a bit hard in the first few years. I wanted us all to get along so I became the ever-present peacemaker. As things settled down I realised that kids bicker and it’s normal for my partner and me to get snappy with each other when we’re tired. It’s not the end of the world. I now let people take responsibility for what they say and do at home, rather than swooping in and smoothing over every issue. It’s good – it feels like we’re growing up as a family.
– Pru, 34, stepmother of 4 children
Money management in blended families and stepfamilies
There’s no one right way to manage your money.
Some couples have joint bank accounts and share all their finances. Others keep their finances separate and cover family costs between them. Others have a shared account for household expenses and also have their own separate accounts.
When you’re deciding how to manage your finances as a blended family or stepfamily, it can help to:
- talk through the options and make decisions before you move in together
- keep talking as new things come up, like the cost of having a baby together and what it will mean if one of you goes on parental leave
- make sure that there’s financial support for all children
- think about what each of you will contribute to the mortgage or house repairs.
Some blended families think about a legal agreement for finances, especially for things like mortgages and house repairs. It can also be a good idea to see a financial adviser. You can find out more at MoneySmart – Choosing a financial adviser.
Letting your child’s other parent know about new family arrangements
It’s important to tell your child’s other parent about the change in your family arrangements. They might need some time to get used to the new situation.
If things are difficult with your child’s other parent, it can help to:
- think of your relationship with your child’s other parent as a business arrangement – in which you work with your former partner to manage conflict for the benefit of your child
- be respectful towards your child’s other parent and your partner’s former partner, even if they’re not respectful towards you
- work on sorting out your co-parenting arrangements with your child’s other parent.