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What Is a Blended Family?

Reviewed by Psychology Today Staff

Forming a blended family, also known as a stepfamily, is not always Brady Bunch easy. And yet, this is an important family unit: according to the US Census Bureau, about 15 percent of children live in blended families. For starters, stepchildren are often confused and have conflicting emotions, according to Anne Brennan Malec, a clinical psychologist, a stepmother of six, and author of Marriage in Modern Life: Why It Works, When It Works. A stepchild may want their parent to be happy in a new relationship, yet they feel disloyal to the parent left behind. Without a doubt, children will find this transition to be more difficult than their newly-wedded parent will. Here are strategies that all family members can take to help a new unit flourish.

How to Make a Family

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Blending two families into one takes effort. Stepparents may feel resented. Step-siblings may feel unheard and disregarded. Various family members may feel that there is inherent bias and that certain family members are favored over others. Building new relationships can be painful. It takes time, communication, a thick skin, among other qualities to form a functional and healthy blended family.

How can I help my children feel good about our new blended family?

Do not be surprised if your children are not as enthusiastic as you are about your new family. Children like their routine, and you may well be disrupting that cozy groove. They may not want to move or even give up space, physical or mental, to new family members. They may not even want to interact at all with new family members. If you want them to be actively interested in your new family, listening to them is the first place to start.

How do I help my stepchildren feel like they are my family?

When forming a new family, instituting too many changes too soon may well instigate revolt. Ease into this relationship by getting to know all members. Get involved with their lives, and invite them into yours. Plus, growing a thick skin and not taking interactions personally always helps.

The Challenges of a Blended Family

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Sometimes a stepparent may feel ignored by their stepchildren. But a stepchild is handling an array of ill feelings about his new life. Most of all, there is real guilt about not being with both his parents, and he feels a certain loyalty to the parent not present. Expect them to feel sad and moody. A good relationship with a stepchild cannot be forced, you can’t make people want what you want.

Will my stepchildren ruin my marriage?

While blaming children is unfair as well as unwise, the truth is that the odds are unfortunately against blended families. The divorce rate for people in their first marriage is around 41 percent, but the divorce rate for people in their second marriages is higher at 60 percent. Beyond that, the rate is even higher for those married for the third time, at 73 percent.

Is it normal to be rejected by my stepchild?

While kids have very little say in a parent's decision to remarry and form a new family, they do have tremendous power in breaking it up. Research studies have amply documented what most stepparents have experienced firsthand: many kids are hostile and reject their parent's new spouse, often for years, with feelings of disloyalty to their parent not present at the forefront.

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