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Can children who began their lives in different families come together in a new, blended family without much difficulty? Of course.

Does it happen very often? No.

Take a look at all that is going on when adults who have children from previous relationships combine households. First, each set of children must share their birth parent with a step-parent. This feels like a loss for them. Second, this new relationship absolutely squashes any fantasies about birth mom and birth dad getting back together and it may also change the children’s interaction with their non-custodial birth parent. Third, each set of children must learn about the new parent and adjust to him or her and accept the authority of this new adult in their lives. Fourth, at least one set of children and often both sets of children move to a new home, so that their familiar setting is gone. Fifth, the children who moved to a new home must figure out new schools and make new friends.

All of this upset happens and we haven’t even talked about adjusting to new siblings yet.

So add to all that the new siblings. This can be a delightful experience, like a perpetual sleepover, or it can be a source of continuous sniping. Children are naturally on the lookout for favoritism, unshared privileges, and seemingly intentional slights. They naturally seek to capture their birth parent’s attention. A child may try to sabotage the relationship between her own parent and a step-sibling or even with the step-parent.

Things can get really ugly really fast.

But, even in biological families, there are personality clashes, difficult moments, and unhappiness. So don’t be too quick to attribute rough patches to being a blended family – what you’re experiencing may have a different source. And avoid blaming the past or a non-custodial birth parent. Raising a blended family takes some finesse and some sweetness, the same as every family needs. To help your family make the transition, here are some tips for step-parents:

How To Avoid Being The Wicked Step-Parent

  1. Accept that this won’t be easy for anyone and will take time. Don’t rush to create “the perfect family.”
  2. Listen. Hear what’s being said for the information it conveys and not as criticism. When a child says, “I hate this,” she’s saying she’s unhappy. She needs support, not an angry response.
  3. Be consistent without being rigid. Base decisions on a consistent framework or value system so that it’s not difficult for kids to anticipate what you might agree to. Be on the same page with your spouse.
  4. Recognize that children have a special bond with their birth parents, including the non-custodial parent. Make room for this. Adding a step-parent shouldn’t mean losing one’s biological parents.
  5. Avoid playing favorites or making comparisons between the children or even appearing to do so. Be fair… and be quiet. Don’t say what you’re thinking if you’re thinking of making a comparison.
  6. Understand your position. You are not your step-children’s “mom” or “dad” and it’s unwise to insist that they call you that, especially if their biological parent is still living. Many children call their step-parent by that person’s first name, especially if the kids are older. Work out something agreeable to everyone.
  7. Model the behavior you want to see. Be cheerful, compassionate, patient, and accepting. 

Realize that blending a family is not automatic. It will take some effort on your part. But the happiness of the children is essential to the success of your relationship with your new spouse. So take the time to make this work.

© 2012, Patricia Nan Anderson.  All rights reserved.