4 Most Common Blended Family Problems (And Their Solutions)

Adjusting to stepfamily life can be a challenge.

Blended families are on the rise. According to a 2013 study conducted by the Pew Research Center, 40 percent of new marriages include at least one person who was previously married. And 20 percent of weddings feature two people who have both been married prior.

Many of those remarriages involve children who are thrust into a world of “steps”—stepmothers, stepfathers, step-siblings, step-grandparents. Becoming a stepfamily doesn’t always go as seamlessly as it appeared to on the Brady Bunch. Bringing two families together under one roof can be quite challenging.

Don’t expect your families to meld together overnight. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, it can take one to two years for blended families to adjust to the changes. But parents who are proactive in reducing and addressing potential problems can make the adjustment period smoother.

1
Sibling Rivalry

Kids playing with dad
Rob and Julia Campbell/Stocksy United

What’s the Issue? It’s hard enough for a child to compete with siblings in a nuclear family. When it’s step-siblings that they’re not entirely comfortable with, the problem can magnify. For a child who hasn’t had to share a parent in a long time, that adjustment period might be a little bit longer.

How to Solve It: First, talk to your spouse, so you’re on the same page about sibling rivalry. Nothing will work if one of you thinks that the other person’s biological child is the one causing the rift, nor will good things occur if you have different disciplinary styles.

Consequences and rewards need to be the same for all the children, no matter how it “used to work” before you two got married.

Next, remember that in some way, your kids may be more like strangers than siblings. So don’t expect everyone to be “one big happy family” in the beginning. It will take a while to get to that point.

If there was a change-up in birth order—that is, one child who was previously the oldest is now stuck in the middle—acknowledge the resentment that could cause. The previously eldest child probably felt like she had a little bit of power that’s now been taken away from her, while the former baby of the house might feel like he’s lost the attention he once had.

Avoid placing labels on your kids as well. Even positive labels like, “She’s the musician in our family,” and “He’s our star athlete,” can increase tension among family members. Point out that everyone has many skills and talents and it’s healthy to keep exploring new areas of interest.

2
Everyone Needs Attention

What’s the Issue? When the number of children increases, as it frequently does in blended families, one or all the children might feel like they’re not getting the attention that they’re used to.

Additionally, blended families sometimes have fewer financial resources for each child’s extracurricular activities or for family outings because of the increased family size or financial support going to an ex-spouse.

How to Solve It: As with so many other issues, this problem can be resolved—to the best of its ability, anyway—by working together as a family. Create a set schedule that everyone has weighed in on, with each child choosing an activity within a certain budget throughout the month.

Additionally, both adults should attend each child’s activities, such as sporting games, plays or concerts, so it doesn’t feel like any child is being favored over another.

Give each child individual attention as well. Whether you play a quick game together for 10 minutes every day or you schedule a once-a-month outing, giving biological children and stepchildren plenty of positive attention can strengthen your bond.

3
Stepparent Discipline Can Be a Challenge

 What’s the Issue? Whereas once the biological parent’s boyfriend or girlfriend was someone to have fun with, now you’re an authority figure—and that might cause a few problems in the household.

How to Solve It: A family meeting is in order, but first sit down with your partner to determine your household rules. Take notes and write down your rules and the consequences for breaking those rules.

If you both have children already, there’s a good chance you have somewhat different rules. So it’s important to come together to create the same rules for everyone so that you don’t live like two separate families under one roof.

Identify behavior that will result in discipline, how you’re going to discipline, and if there are any special circumstances around that discipline. It’s imperative that the two of you present a united front on disciplinary issues.

Sometimes, one parent wants to be the “fun one.” At other times, one parent hopes the new stepparent can lay down the law and get things on track fast.

But coming together as a blended family means both parents need to present a united front. Remember, kids quickly learn who the “easy target” is when it comes to getting their way, and can grow to be masters of manipulation to pit one adult against another.

Next, call everyone to the table. Take out those notes that you jotted down, and go over them as a family.

Your young ones might have some thoughts that they want to contribute, and having it all written down means that everyone will know exactly what the household rules are, as well as the consequences for breaking those rules.

Explain to the children that, in your house, both adults can enforce punishments to any of the children, and it’s expected that the children will obey the stepparent as they would any other authority figure.

With all of that said, it’s important for stepparents to focus more on building a bond rather than disciplining the children initially. Without a healthy relationship, discipline won’t work. This is especially true with adolescents.

4
You Feel Like Two Separate Families

What’s the issue? You and your new spouse want to feel like one unit that can have fun, share, and rely on each other. The kids aren’t entirely comfortable with each other, though, nor with their new stepparent. It feels like you’re still acting as two families that just happen to live in the same house.

How to Solve It: You can’t forge a bond overnight. It will take to time gain shared history, figure out new relationships and adapt to the new normal.

Start the process slowly by beginning new traditions as a family. They might be reading a book together every night in the big bed in the master bedroom or taking a trip to the local playground every Sunday morning before breakfast.

You can also smooth the transition of going from house to house, a process that might happen regularly if you or your spouse have joint custody. For example, you could stop for ice cream every time you pick up the kids from the other parent’s house. This little tradition signals to the kids that it’s time to move into a different routine, but in a fun manner.

It’s also important to give kids time to grieve. While a new marriage can be happy, it also signals the end of the previous family dynamics. And that can be tough for kids who are still struggling to deal with the fact that their biological parents are no longer together or that their time of being an only child with heaps of attention has come to an end.

Despite problems, a blended family is still just that—a family. Although there might be growing pains, squabbles and a few moments of discipline, everyone will eventually adjust to the new situation. Mistakes will be made, by children and by adults, but everyone will learn from those mistakes. Eventually, the household will feel less like a mish-mash of families and more like one solid unit.

Sources:

American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry: Stepfamily Problems.

Emmott EH, Mace R. Direct investment by stepfathers can mitigate effects on educational outcomes but does not improve behavioural difficulties. Evolution and Human Behavior. 2014;35(5):438-444.

Goldscheider F. International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences. Second. Amsterdam, Netherlands: Elsevier Science; 2015.

HealthyChildren.org: Becoming a Blended Stepfamily.

King V, Thorsen ML, Amato PR. Factors associated with positive relationships between stepfathers and adolescent stepchildrenSocial Science Research. 2014;47:16-29.

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