Blended families and stepfamilies: key relationships
There are several key relationships in a blended family or stepfamily. These are the relationships between:
- you and your partner
- you and your own child
- you and your partner’s child
- your partner and your child
- your child and your partner’s child
- all of you.
You and your partner in a blended family or stepfamily
Developing your relationship as a couple is fun and exciting, but living in a blended family or stepfamily can put extra pressure on your relationship.
Here are ideas for looking after your relationship with your new partner:
- Spend time together as a couple however it works for you – for example, have regular walks or coffees together, or spend time together after the oldest children have gone to bed.
- Set aside a regular time to talk with each other about challenges or issues. If this feels hard to do on your own, a relationships counsellor might be able to help.
- Show love and appreciation often – a hug, a loving word, a kiss, or a thank you note or text.
- Show that you’re interested in and understand how your partner is feeling. This means listening to each other and being willing to compromise.
- Respect each other’s children, and try to accept your partner’s approach to parenting.
When you put time and effort into your relationship, it can help you through the relationship uncertainties and tensions that sometimes come with repartnering in a blended family.
You and your child in a blended family or stepfamily
Your child might experience a range of feelings about your new blended family. A strong, loving relationship with you will help your child adjust to the changes and cope with their feelings.
Here are ways to show your child that you love and care for them as much as you always have:
- Spend regular one-on-one time with your child. For example, make time to talk each day about your child’s concerns and interests. Or you could do other activities like reading together or playing games and sports.
- Keep doing your usual joint activities – for example, swimming, playing soccer or visiting the market together.
- Keep to your routines as much as possible – for example, bedtime routines like a song or story before bed.
- Stick with your rules and boundaries. For example, if your teenage child needs to text to tell you where they are when they’re out with friends, it’s OK for that rule to stay.
You and your partner’s child in a blended family or stepfamily
You and your partner’s child didn’t choose each other. You might feel an instant connection or you might not feel comfortable with each other for quite a while.
Spending time gradually getting to know your partner’s child can be the best way to build a relationship. This can lead to better relationships in the whole family and with your new partner.
Here are ways to start developing a relationship with your partner’s child:
- Show an interest in your partner’s child’s life. For example, ask them about their art classes or go along to watch them play sport.
- Spend time one on one with your partner’s child. For example, take the dog to the park together, drive to the shops or bake a cake. Start off slow, even just for 15 minutes, and build up to more time gradually.
- Help out in practical ways when it feels right. For example, drive your partner’s child to meet friends, fix their bike or teach them how to cook.
- Support your partner’s approach to discipline, but let your partner be responsible for managing rules and boundaries.
- Try to treat all the children in your blended family or stepfamily with the same level of warmth and respect.
Your children are really under no obligation to be super close to the guy you love or his kids. That’s hard to accept at times, but I used to say just be respectful – you don’t have to love them. After 10 years of living together they did come to love each other. I never wanted them to feel guilty or like there was pressure on them to make it work. It was up to my partner and me to make it work, and we did.
– Ange, 56, in a blended family with 4 children
Children’s relationships in your blended family or stepfamily
If you both have children, regardless of whether you’re all living together, new relationships will develop between your children and your new partner’s children. Some children might feel excited about these new relationships, and others might feel worried.
Siblings in all families can feel jealous, compete with each other and get into conflicts. This can be more intense in blended families and stepfamilies, especially if some children live with you and your partner more often than other children do.
Here are ideas for helping your children develop healthy relationships with each other:
- Set up expectations and rules about respecting each other. You could stick these on the fridge to remind everyone. Review the rules regularly, and change them if you need to.
- Make sure that all children have their own beds, things and spaces for when they need time to themselves.
- Have photos of all children around the house.
- Encourage children to have fun together. For example, you could suggest they kick a soccer ball around at the local oval or cook the Friday evening meal together.
- Have regular family meetings. This can give everyone a chance to talk about feelings and concerns. It might help all children to feel that both you and your partner are listening to them and trying to meet their needs.
Relationships among the children in your blended family will depend on children’s personalities and ages. They’ll also depend on how old children are when the new family forms and how long they’ve known each other.
Your blended family or stepfamily together
In blended families and stepfamilies, it often works well to have time with your own children as well as time together as a family.
You and your partner might have children of different ages, and it could be a challenge to find activities that everyone enjoys. It’s fine to do things in smaller groups if that works for you.
For example, you and your children might play cricket on Saturday afternoon while your partner and their children go to the park. When you get home you can all talk about what you did. On Sunday, you might all play card games together, or the older children might go out while the younger ones watch a movie.
If your children also live in another household, it can work well to spend time with them when they return from their other household. This is also a good opportunity for your partner to spend time with their own children, before you enjoy blended family time together.