Ask 1-on-1 Coaching: How to Have a (Happier) Blended Family

Posted June 29, 2009 by

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Adjusting to a step parenting role was a process that required a lot of growth on my part.  I’ve come by the answers to what works — and what doesn’t! — the hard way.

One thing I learned early on was that it didn’t work to be in charge of disciplining or correcting my stepson.  I thought it was best for my husband to carry out consequences and discuss problems.  Even though my stepson is usually receptive to my directions, I don’t want to assume a position where I’m the primary authority figure.

If I was in charge of disciplining my stepson, I believe my home would be ridden with anger and tension.  Instead, by supporting my husband as the primary authority with my stepson, my relationship with him has had a winning chance to form and deepen through the years.

Here’s the deal: I see myself more as a “bonus coach” to my stepson than anything else. I think most of my work lies in reminding him of family rules and expectations.  That has proven to be the most effective way to create a culture of accountability in our home, as James Lehman advocates.  I’m not saying there aren’t times when I want to jump in and “take over”, so to speak, but I know I’d be overstepping my husband’s obligation to teach and guide. Those tasks go smoothly between the two of them because they’re built on that special parent-child connection.

Of course, each blended family is different; and there are many different variables that influence the situation.  Speaking from my own experience, I think that one of the biggest challenges lies in the  emotions involved in a blended family situation.  (Feeling threatened is a prevalent one.) Emotions can get complicated and muddle up the clear and open communication that should be taking place.  It can also be tempting to place all blame on the biological parent for what’s not working.  Believe me, there is no virtue more valuable than tolerance when it comes to being a stepparent!  It’s so important to hold the belief that your spouse is doing the best they can.

I think it’s good to remember that a blended family is still, at its core, a family.  The simple truth is that blended families need a lot of what any other family requires to be healthy and happy. Here are a few things that I’ve learned over the years:

  • Spend time together.
  • Respect the feelings of other family members, as well as your own.
  • Try your best to get on the same page with your spouse so that you can be a united front—don’t underestimate how powerful that is.
  • Discuss in private with your spouse what the expectations for your kids will be and how it will be handled when the rules get broken.
  • If something goes awry, don’t step in and assume control — let your spouse finish and follow up with your stepchild afterward.

Finally, don’t forget that you can’t make your stepchild like you, no matter how much you might want them to do so. I know that it can be tough not to take that personally sometimes.  I like to remember (and strongly believe in) this statement by James Lehman:  “If you carry yourself with respect, kids will find things to like about you. This is because kids want to like people who they respect.”

I truly believe if you carry yourself with respect, your stepchild will eventually respond.

Do you have any questions about blended families, or advice you’d like to share with other stepparents? Please share your comments here!

About

As a 1-on-1 Coach, Tina Wakefield coached parents on techniques from the Total Transformation, as well as Empowering Parents' other programs, for over 8 years. Tina is also a mother and stepmother.

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  1. Becky Staples, M.S./Ed.S., PLS Advisor (Edit) Report

    It sounds like your family is going through a lot of transition right now. Parents often call our Parental Support Line with questions about how to manage the transition when their teens become young adults. It’s challenging to navigate when you have some measure of control and where you also need to give your young adult child room to make their own choices. When you add a blended family situation to this already difficult transition, it’s no wonder you’re encountering some bumps in the road.
    We have some very good articles on this website that will help you begin to address these issues. Take a look at our other articles about stepfamilies and older children and I think you will get great information.

    http://www.empoweringparents.com/Blended-Family-The-5Secrets-of-Effective-Stepparenting.php

    http://www.empoweringparents.com/adult-child-living-at-home.php

    Something to keep in mind is that you do have a right to set limits and to require that your daughters begin taking responsibility. It is not unusual for people to resist change and to push back hard. Remember that you don’t have to react to that invitation to an argument. If your daughter tries to make your discussion about your husband when the real issue is about her behavior, you can set limits with her and bring the focus back to the two of you. Something else to keep in mind is that the relationship between stepparents and stepchildren can take a long time to form. Give yourself some time and take good care.

    Good luck to you!
    Becky Staples M.S./Ed.S.
    Parental Support Line Advisor

    Reply
  2. frustrated mom of two (Edit) Report

    I have two kids 19, and almost 18.(my husband doesnt have any kids) I recently got married in March 2011. The problem that we are having is my daughter is having the problem with my husband, her stepdad. In return when i try to discpline her she thinks it is my husband who is telling me what to say.. I was a parent who would give in to them and now I am trying to have them be responsible adults and do stuff for themselves and I’m not giving so much and they are blaming it on my husband.. Where my husband is a newcomer to the situation he sees right through my daughters game of manipulation that she has with me.. In return my daughter does not like my husband.. And the battle lines are drawn… I have got the total transformation to help me with the kids.. They need to be responsible for thier behavior not me..

    Reply
  3. Allison (Edit) Report

    Not sure how to help my new husband with his 16 year old daughter dating a 20 year old college guy. He seems to loose his nerve saying no to her. The mom lets her do anything she wants, gets her birth control, and I think he has relied on the daughter to be responsible for herself for the last 5 years. No wonder she would choose this path. SO now she is trying everything to get her way – and it is driving me crazy. I think we are both sort of afraid of her because of the dramatic reactions to everything. We have three boys and I think it is not a good example to let her run the roost. Not to mention I get very resentful.

    Reply
  4. phill (Edit) Report

    Candace,

    I agree with the idea of parents sharing discipline and supporting each other. Maybe, in a blended family, this “united front” is even more important than in one that is not blended! My husband and I try to always support each other in front of the children, even when we do not agree. We have pretty honest discussions with our kiddos about our efforts to do what is best for each of them. We have difficulties, but, most of them are ones that any family, blended or not, would have.

    ~phyllis
    teacher and mother of five

    Reply
  5. Carole Banks, Parental Support Line Advisor (Edit) Report

    Dear ‘sarahvaldez626’:

    Some blended families make the mistake of thinking they must always be together so the kids will accept the ‘new family’ more quickly — but that’s not a good idea. It’s better for your boyfriend to spend some time alone with his own children and not insist that they always interact with you and your children. This helps assure his kids that they have not been replaced in their dad’s affections. If you let your boyfriend know you want him to enjoy some time alone with his kids, he’ll probably appreciate not feeling pulled in all directions and his kids will thank you for not trying to take their parent away from them.

    It does seem like you might need to compromise on where everyone spends their time instead of you always vacating the home when his kids visit. Perhaps you could take turns spending the day out during these visits.

    We appreciate your question and hope this was helpful. We wish your family the best.

    Reply
  6. sarahvaldez626 (Edit) Report

    I am curious on how to resolve an issue with my blended family. While we have My two children constantly, my boyfriend has shared custody with his two. His kids ask that he spends time with him without me or my children being a round. I literally am asked to leave with the kid from our house.. I am offended, while it seems as though it is acceptable to him to ask me to leave. When I mention how it feels like I am on puppet strings to a ten year old and a thirteen year old, he gets offended and says things like “I’m sorry, I can’t control how my children feel.” What am I supposed to do?

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  7. Candace (Edit) Report

    I truly have a blended family with my bio son, my husband’s bio daughter and our child together. We have been together since my son was 2 and his daugher 4, a total of 8 years. I have to say that appointing either on of us as the primary disciplinarian does not work in our situation. We choose to have both parents work with all of the children on a united front and support each other. As a result there are times when my husband disciplines and there are times when I do. If we did not do this we would find three different approaches to out three children based on who is their “biological” parent. This simply does not work and does not make sense for us. Perhaps my situation is different because we have been together since the children were very young. I can imagine that if they had been teenagers it would be a different approach. When one of us becomes the primary disciplinarian for either child it becomes an issue of different approaches with varied consequences and I don’t believe this is good for the children. Part of being a family is having a sense of uniformity and shared experiences. Just sharing what works for us…there is no one right way in my opinion, it’s important to find what works for you and your family.

    Reply
  8. BB (Edit) Report

    There are many variations on the blended family scenario,and i have seen some of them work out, but if you try the one i did, that is having the children from the previous marriage of both partners living full time under the same roof, DONT DO IT.

    Reply
  9. concerned mom (Edit) Report

    My husband and I have been married 3 years and every since then him and my daughter can’t seem to get along 95% of the time and I don’t know what to do about it. I need some really good advice on how to work on this problem.

    Reply
  10. mother-not (Edit) Report

    My strongest advice to anyone getting into a relationship that involves children and an ex is to run fast and far away. I can honestly say since the first stepchild arrived (right before the wedding) my life has been horrible. And has only gotten worse since the second child joined in. Sure, there have been happy moments and events, but that’s it. There is no true peace with a sociopathic ex-wife, a husband who felt it was ok to turn over complete care of his chilldren to his new wife and two really messed up kids. I despise her because of the evil things she has put her kids through, I’m angry at him for not being more supportive for so long (somewhat better now, but still pretty wishy-washy) and I’m very resentful of the kids. I completely get the fact I knew there were children in his life, but they were not present and their mother swore she would never have them stay with us. Was it a gamble? Sure and I came up short. I really just want to run away. The only thing that has kept me here this long is the fact I don’t want to be the next person in line who screws them over. Of course they want “mommy and daddy” back together, but deep down they know who reaaly takes care of them. I have to find a way to deal with this or I’m going to go crazy- very literally. Thank you.

    Reply
  11. tntbes (Edit) Report

    tntbes Says:
    July 8th, 2009 at 6:43 am

    We have a difficult issue with my 16 year old stepson. He wants constant validation, but puts very little effort into anything. The only expectations we have are that he clean up after himself and do his school work. He has no chores and doesn’t have a summer job. He has not finished the classes he agreed to take last year and is suppossed to be finishing them over the summer. He’s done some, but then decided it wasn’t worth finishing the rest. My husband adopted him when he was eight and he was going to spend some time with his biological dad’s family with the requirement that he finish his school work 1st. He’s worked on it maybe 2 or 3 days over the course of the summer. He says we don’t praise him enough and only give him negative comments. We do praise him whenever he does something helpful or does a good job of something, but it feels like praising him for minimal effort is kind of dishonest. Do I praise him for doing his own dishes when there’s still food left on them? I have tried really hard not to make negative comments because I know that hearing negatives constantly is not healthy, but the problem with this is that if we don’t draw attention to his behavior it increases, more food left on the dishes, more inconsiderate behavior like eating entire packages of food that were meant for the whole family. I really try but it seems like I can only keep quiet about this stuff for so long before blowing up, and I know that doesn’t help matters. I think the hardest thing for me is how rude he is to his sister (not my daughter biologically, but my husband’s, I’m step to both) She is 8 and tries hard to keep the peace, I don’t want her growing up thinking she has to be the victim in her relationships. If she teases him or tries to annoy him I call her on it but that doesn’t happen that often, while he belittles her at every opportunity. I understand that he has had a hard time, bith his parents are addicts, but their mother’s drug use has effected her too. When she has tried to take her anger out on other kids I have sat her down and said, “It’s OK to be angry, I understand that you are, but you don’t have the right to hurt others just because you’re feeling bad. Everyone has hard times and problems, you don’t know what your friends may be going through, it may be that their lives are just as tough as yours. If you are sad and need to be alone it’s OK and if you want to talk about it I’m here, but you will treat others with respect.” This worked really well with her, (meaning she still gets sad of course but understands how to deal appropriately with these feelings) but not so the older one. Granted he has been shuffled around more, but though he is adopted, in our home, he has been offered all the same opportunities she has, more actually as is age appropriate.

    So anyway the other day he sat down, at our urging, to take a test that he should have done months ago and very rudely told her she’d have to be quiet, she’s been playing with the cat. So without argument she stopped what she was doing and sat down to practice at her keyboard with her headphones on, and he still complained. I couldn’t hear anything that possibly could have interfered with taking a test. This from a kid who plays his ipod with headphones so loud it disturbs everyone else in the car and when asked to turn it down either refuses or complies and turns it right back up again. Just one of the many anoyances I put up with to avoid being negative. He does have ADHD, but it seemed more to me that he was simply preventing her from doing what she wanted just because he wasn’t able to do what he wanted. Their dad took his side, which he often does because Nick will make everyone miserable anytime he doesn’t get his way and it’s easier to give in. Chloe knew she was being treated unfairly and went off to cry, Nick blew through his test in 5 minutes skipping every other question because he hadn’t bothered to read the material and I then lost it. I guess I just feel like he uses his tough early life and ADHD to get everyone to make accomodations for him to the degree that we are all putting more effort into his life than he is. I also think this is not helpful to him because I doubt he will get far using these excuses with an employer. So I called him a spoiled brat, which also wasn’t helpful albeit true, and now he’s staying out all night and not speaking to anyone. I know I shouldn’t have said that but how much do we all have to accomodate him? And how do I not loose my temper? While on the one hand I have compassion for him, on the other I am totally and completely fed up.

    Reply
  12. Tina Wakefield (Edit) Report

    Sarah:

    Very understandable that you want to move forward and focus on the relationship with your boyfriend. Like most parents, your boyfriend sounds like he does have fears about destroying his relationship with his daughters because of their disapproval. I think it’s a very positive sign that you are both willing to go to counseling so that you can work on this together. It does require communication, support, and encouragement to figure out how the both of you want to handle this moving forward.

    Reply
  13. invest040 (Edit) Report

    Blended family. I have a 17 & 12 yr. old sons and 9 yr. old daughter. My step-daughter is 16. What do you do when husband cannot/will not say no?
    What do you do when husband breaks the house rules you two have established, by not giving a consequences for rules that are broken? The other children receive consequences that are enforced by me. Step-daughter always “Explains Away” her actions and they gets away with out EVER having any consequences. We are not a united front when it comes to discipline for step-daughter and the other kids in the house.

    Reply
  14. shelkd (Edit) Report

    I have two step child one boy 16 almost 17 and daughter 19 who just had a baby of her own planned out of wed-lock. Step son comes for the summer does nothing unless he is paid for it and lays on the couch all day and evening leaving the TV on all night never voluntarying for anything. I work two jobs so my husband can stay home with my children one his and one mine before our marriage I try to make ends meet, but my husband has a hard time saying no to his kids, he states we don’t spend much on them, well they both need jobs the girl is out of the house but calls frequently to ask for things and she lives with her to be husband not the father of the baby. The boy has never had a job and has no motion to get one. We helped him with a car last year a truck doesn’t like it so my little boy of 7 bought it from him, from money I have saved since he was born, and I really think they resent this because I do not send them money or buy them things I did this the last 3 years they lived with us, now step son up and moved to Dallas with his mother and the girl moved out after I would not accept her pregnancy and in happy great you did that way. Now my step-son is here and his father is looking for another vehicle for him we already helped with the first one and now we are looking at helping him with this one. We are on a strick budget and I really don’t feel I want to be away from my children anymore then I already am. I am anger and don’t know what to do. Please help

    Reply
  15. Laura (Edit) Report

    I have a similiar situation with my 13 year old. She doesn’t like my boy-friend of four yrs bc she thinks he broke up the marriage to her dad (the toxic, violent situations did).

    I love him, but she gets a huge attitude & tells me she hates him & won’t ever like him when I tell her he is coming over. He hardly visits at all when I have her w me and now he’s developed an unhealthy attitude towards her!

    He wants to marry me, but I want this resolved between them first. Am I right to wait for this reason?

    Also, we are going on an extended family camping trip together next week. I don’t want to be in the middle of this battle and want them to work it out: what suggestions can I give each of them & myself throughout that week?

    I know I can’t stand in the middle any longer and if neither of them want to be happy, I know I can’t control that.

    Reply
  16. LW (Edit) Report

    Your boyfriend’s daughters are adults. They should have lives of their own to focus on. He needs to move forward with his own life. I would be wary of someone who spent four years with me to the point we agreed to be married – only to be swayed within two weeks on the advice of his grown children (whom I”m assuming do not live with you?). You have some ugly dynamics to sort through if you stay.

    Reply
  17. Sarah (Edit) Report

    After dating for 4 years my boyfriend and I got engaged recently. However, that lasted only about 10 days because his 22 and 18 year old daughters had a fit and told him that I am no good for him, he is making a mistake etc. Both of us know that they are extremely under the influence of their mother who is engaged herself and will be getting married soon. After the break-up we started to go to counseling so that we can learn how to handle this whole situation. It has been about 1 month and my boyfriend is scared of his daughters and literally is hiding that he is seeing me and that we are trying to work it out. I am ready to move on with my life as I have no longer patience to deal with his controlling ex and kids. Any advice?

    Reply

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