Mental healthParentingConfidence issuesWellbeing

A blended family or stepfamily is a family that includes a child or children from a previous relationship.  While in the early days of the relationship it can feel more natural to feel protective of your 'own' children, in the long term it's important for everyone in the new family to feel included within the new unit and for both adults to feel 'equal' in the relationship. By including everyone - whether they live permanently in the family or just visit at weekends, they're all part of your new family.  If you behave in this way, others will start to think of you as a family.

So for example, make sure you include all your children (biological and step) on Christmas cards, talk to friends about what all the children are up to. By changing the way you think, you can change your behaviour and the way you start to appreciate your new family. In turn this improves your wellbeing, reducing anxiety, depression and increasing your overall happiness within the family relationships. So here are some things to think about as you start creating your blended family:

  1. Let's start with the name! The term 'blended' has started to replace 'stepfamily' in recent years. The term 'step' doesn't have very positive associations - everyone always remembers the wicked stepmother of fairytales for example! But my advice is really not to worry too much about the label. Most stepfamilies go through a period where they just want to be ‘normal’ and not stand out. It’s important to remember that there is no such thing as a ‘normal’ family. Stepfamilies or blended families are the fastest growing family type in the UK so you're really not on your own! That ‘normal’ family you’re envying is probably a stepfamily - you just don't know it.
  2. Have realistic expectations. Don’t expect everyone to all get on immediately. It takes time to get to know one another. Making memories together, such as breaks away or just spending time together at weekends, are  great ways of doing this.
  3. Work out what role you want in the family. Do you want to take on a parenting role, or if the children are a bit older, then perhaps you’d rather be more of a ‘friend’? There are no fixed rules in stepfamilies, it's just important you and your partner keep talking and work out what you’re both comfortable with and what works in your family.
  4. Put yourself in your stepchildren’s shoes. If it’s still relatively early days in your relationship and you’re still getting to know one another, the last thing they want to do is feel that they’re abandoning their mum or dad by ‘replacing’ them. Just reassure them that no one will ever replace their parents but stepparents are just extra people to care for them.
  5. Make time with each of the children and try and find a shared interest, whether it’s going for a bike ride, going shopping or playing board games. Don’t worry if you find yourself closer to some members than others, that’s normal and only to be expected, but spending quality time together will really help everyone start to get to know one another and helping your new family integrate.
  6. If you're the stepparent make sure you set aside time for yourself. It can be really overwhelming being part of a ready made family. It's important that you spend time with everyone its also important that you can call time out and do something for yourself, whether its meeting friends or just reading a book on your own without being disturbed!
  7. Make sure you don't lose touch with friends. Blended families are busy places and it's easy to start to see friends less often, particularly if you don't have as much in common any more. But we know from research that having a good support network really helps us cope better. It builds out resilience and makes us feel so much stronger.
  8. Whilst you need time apart it's also important that you don't hide away when your stepchildren visit. Again it's really common to feel anxious before a visit (if they're not living with you full time). Avoiding them might help in the short term but it's really not going to fix the problem. Anxiety is normal and it will start to reduce as your confidence builds. Just take things slowly and keep leaning on your partner for moral support.
  9. Finally just try and enjoy the time you have together. Do things that you can all enjoy (not just the children!) Make memories and begin to develop your new, unique and special family.
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