Sign Up for
Our Newsletter

Global Guide to Divorce

Jack Jack the Cat

Step-parents/Blended Families

Not step, Not Half, Just Family

The family structure in the US is changing and blended families are becoming more common. While raising any family comes with its fair share of hurdles, blended families have to deal with a lot more challenges.

I don’t have a blended family myself but I have friends who do and I admire the work they put into uniting their families. That’s the whole point, isn’t it? To have a happy family where everyone feels supported, valued and loved.

Sure blended families come with a lot of names depending on the mix involved. All kinds of remarriages can happen, thrusting children from both partners into a world of “steps” and “halves”. You can have stepfathers and mothers, step-siblings and half-siblings. These names might be biologically correct but sometimes they miss the point –FAMILY.

A blended family, regardless of how it came about, is still family. We are human and sometimes we tend to focus on irrelevant things. So rather than spending time worrying about titles in blended families, what you should call each other or how to explain your family to other people, the focus should be on bringing your family together.

Uniting a Blended Family Can Be Challenging

When it comes to families, none is perfect and blended ones can be even more challenging to bring up. Don’t let the Brady Bunch fool you, becoming one united blended family doesn’t always go seamlessly.

It would be naïve to expect your family to meld together right away. Your children will need time to adjust to your new partner and their new siblings. Sibling rivalry will still be there and might even be worse, especially if the number of kids in the family increases and they feel they’re not getting the attention they’re used to.

Parents also need some time to adjust to the changes brought about by blending their families. You’ll have to work together to navigate tricky terrain with co-parenting, discipline issues, dealing with holidays and celebrations, divided loyalties and other headaches that may arise. You’ll find yourselves looking for any parenting tips you can get your hands on and having lots of conversations to work things out.

In spite of these challenges, it’s up to you to give bringing the family together your best shot.

Yes, It’s Worth It

So what if your child has a different biological mother or father? Or maybe they’re not comfortable calling you mom or dad and instead prefer using your first names? Does that make you love them any less?

Ignore the “half” and “step” titles and purpose to unite the family, bonded by love under one roof. Think of it as having been given a puzzle to complete with a bunch of different pieces thrown in. Insisting on making the original picture on the box won’t work. What will work is making a new picture with the pieces you have now.

Purpose not to separate members through titles and proudly say yours isn’t a step or half family, but just a family.

Author of this article, Tyler Jacobson, enjoys going to the mountains near his home in Draper, Utah to connect with his wife and children through camping, hiking, and quality time together. When he isn’t rebooting in the outdoors, he shares his fatherly experiences with the world through writing and creative work. Tyler shares the ups and downs of family life and the solutions he’s found through lengthy research and involvement in the industry and his own experiences to help parents everywhere. Follow Tyler on: Twitter



Step-Parenting Post-Divorce

These days with divorce around 42% in North America and the UK, marrying someone with children is a strong possibility. It is important for the biological and step parents to be on the same page when it comes to child rearing. In some families, the biological parent does all of the discipline and the step-parent is a figure head. Consider being parental partners as well as marital ones – with both of you sharing authority. If at an impasse on how to manage enforcing rules with children, seeing a counsellor before marriage is helpful.

“It takes a village to raise a child” is very true. When I see a child about to jump off a wall or some other stunt, I tell the kid to stop because they may get hurt. When we were in New Zealand, a man on the street corrected my younger son who was acting out a bit. Why do strangers have more authority than step-parents do in some blended families?

John Rosemond is an American child psychologist who has seen bad results when the family is child centered instead of ruled by the parent and step-parent. He said when he was young, his mother had a talk with him before her remarriage. She explained that what his new step-dad told him to do – he would do it. He was never to complain to her about his rules or discipline. When a biological parent sides with their child over how a step-parent handles a situation “the new family’s integrity is in deep trouble.”

When a biological parent has difficulty sharing authority with a step-parent, this suggestion may help. Consider having specific house rules – one is respectful, cleans up after themselves, does assigned chores and so forth. The step-parent is enforcing house rules and the infractions have consequences (punishment). This may make it easier to hand over the discipline reins to your spouse. I do this with visiting young guests such as “In this house we don’t put feet on the furniture” etc. Kids try to pit parents against each other in even the happiest marriages, in order to get their way. Do not allow this behavior when there is a step-parent in the picture. Dr Rosemond’s mother’s message to him prevented this from ever occurring. Have a united front and discuss issues out of ear shot of the youngsters. Keep in mind when the biological and step parents are a team with a strong marriage, this benefits the children. They have boundaries, security and clear guidelines.  Please read more

Step-Parent Alienation Post-Divorce

Step-parents can be the target of parental alienation too. They can get a double dose of it from either biological parent. Parental Alienation is when a parent makes disparaging remarks about the other one. The attacking parent wants the child to form an allegiance with them and not have a relationship with the absent one. The child is caught in the middle of a parental tug of war.

How does this apply to a step-parent? During a marriage the biological mum may make snide remarks such as, “Thelma is overstepping her bounds” or “Thelma acts and dresses like a teenager.” Comments may be made about the lack of nutritional meals and so forth. The children may be put into a bind where it is said or implied, that if they like Thelma, they are being disloyal to their mum. A biological parent may be in a perceived power struggle with the step-parent. This competition can even be on a subconscious level.

One father resented the close relationship between his daughter and his new wife. This Narcissist did not want to share the limelight with his wife, so he would make subtle putdowns regarding her competence. The father was attempting to alienate his daughter from the step-mother. Eventually they divorced and his daughter maintained a relationship with her step-mother. Post-divorce, the biological mum asked the step-mum, “What took you so long to get a divorce?”

How to lessen the likelihood of step-parent alienation? Some step-parents said they were proactive before marriage telling the kids that they were a family friend, and not a future parent. Be upfront with step-kids that you respect their parents and are not a replacement. Cut the kids some slack, but do not tolerate disrespectful or rude behavior. Talk with your spouse to see if the other parent is trashing you to their kids.  

Step-mums have asked the biological parent out for coffee and clarified the friend role.  Asking about the child’s routine and advice reassures the parent that their parental position is not threatened.  A step-dad might have discussion with the father over a pint at the pub.

The important thing is that the children are not being forced to take sides.  Family mediation may be in order. When I was on a radio show, I had quite a few callers who asked about pre-marital counselling for second marriages when there were children. I think that is a great idea.  In most cases, step-parenting works after some trial and error.

Originally published in The Divorce Magazine



Blended Families at Christmastime

It is challenging blending families together and merging holiday traditions. Some families have Christmas Eve as the main celebration and for others it is the following day. The holidays turn into a juggling act – spending a chunk of it on the road going between houses. When two sets of children and four biological parents are involved, having step-siblings spend some holiday time together gets complicated. Both parents may have remarried and have blended families. Step-siblings may desire opening presents together so previous arrangements may have to be altered to accomplish this.

The Parenting Plan meticulously sets in place how the holidays are to be divided up, which worked well in the past. When one or both parents get remarried, having kids be with step-siblings over holidays can be a logistical feat. Some parents have gotten around this by having large gatherings for all. Step-parents get to meet the other step-parents with grandparents and relatives thrown into the mix. The kids get to be with everyone.

Some children go to the other parent’s house every other week or weekend. Parents can opt to spend whatever holiday falls during their time entirely with the kids. No switching back and forth. My parents did this. When Christmas or whatever occurred when I was with one, I stayed there and celebrated it with that parent.

Feel free to mix up traditions. Memories can be attached to certain ones and shaking them up a bit ensures a merrier time. If you always went out for a big Christmas Eve dinner when previously married, turn that around into an elegant Christmas brunch or pub lunch. Do fun activities you enjoy with the kids, but in a different order. That gets rid of the ghosts from Christmas past in order to enjoy the present.

Consider starting totally new holiday rituals. Or have family members state one or two holiday traditions that are important to them. See how they can be incorporated into your new family life. It may be tempting to do too much. Yes going to The Nutcracker, pantomimes, parties galore are fun, however downtime is important. Watching “Elf” on TV while munching on pizza is hanging out together and strengthening the family bond.

If things seem strained with step-sibling interactions, consider allowing their friends over or inviting your nieces and nephews to join in the holiday fun.  On occasion, having extra kids around can help diffuse tension and calm the atmosphere. Do activities with new step-children. Some step-mothers baked Christmas cookies or taught culinary skills to their young family members. Step-dads have done sports with step-sons when their mums were in the kitchen for long cooking sessions near the holidays.

Although Blended Families represent a new chapter – they are formed as a result of losses.  A couple is brought together due to a death or breakup with a former partner. It is okay for youngsters to display mixed emotions. They can still love a new step-parent while mourning the loss of their former life. Bonds take time to strengthen. The first Christmas as a blended family may be more volatile with the following ones peaceful and delightful.  Hang in there, your patience will be greatly rewarded.

Originally published in The Divorce Magazine

Step-Parents’ Guide on Blended Families

Step-parents and children can thrive in blended families with a little understanding of the process. Merging begins with the Courting Phase, just as with dating. People are on their best behaviour, showing their good side and hiding their less stellar points. They may be more giving than usual, saying “I’ll take your glass to the sink, just sit there darling.”

Then comes the Honeymoon Phase. The newly blended family is having extra fun, going to amusement parks and keeping occupied with other enjoyable pursuits. Life is one big holiday and individuals are getting along so well. Then day to day reality sets in. Not only is the sink pointed out to the child, but so is the mop and dust cloth. Chores materialize and the honeymoon is over. Disenchantment can set in on both sides. The children may become sulky when life is no longer all fun and games. The step-parent wonders what happened to the sweet kids and who are these opinionated brats?

How to make blending go smoother? Be your authentic self at all times. Be warm and kind, but not bending over backwards to fulfil the children’s every whim. From day one, let them know that there is no maid service, so everyone takes their glasses to the sink. You are not their best friend and let them warm up to you on their own time schedule. Do not attempt to bribe them with presents to win them over. Even if they never come around completely, insist upon respect and good manners, not love. Let them know you are there for them, whenever they want help.

Realize that people are on their best behaviour during the Courting Phase, so do not be blindsided when reality sets in. Children can be great, but have to let off steam. Do not take it personally when it happens. Some of my friends have talked about their own step-mothers to their new step-children. They emphasize what great family friends they are and how they fill a special supportive role.

As a biological parent, consider having regular family meetings to air concerns and set up a rota for chores. My step-mother gave me chores to do when I came over on the weekends and this helped me to feel a part of her family. I felt like I did my share and was not a guest. Give expected behaviour guidelines, such as treating everyone with respect. Ask kids what special treats and fun they would like, but be clear that you are not getting a bank loan to do expensive activities every weekend. It was the little things that I enjoyed most with my step-mum, such as making paper dolls or baking brownies. One step-dad was great at helping his step-son maintain his clunker of a car. It is the experiences that are so meaningful to step-kids.

Expect bumps in the road. Life may be going smoothly, then there is chaos. This can be a result of children turning into teens or other issues. The key is communication. Attempt to discuss what is going on. If things become more difficult, consider a session or two with a divorce coach to get everyone back on track. One may discover that there are issues with the other parent or difficulties at school.

With time, blended families grow to love, or at least like each other. It was wonderful for me to gain an instant extended family, since I am an only child. It helps when the biological parent is supportive of the new step-parent, as my mother was of my step-mum.

Originally published in The Divorce Magazine

A Parent’s Guide to Step-Parents

Parents often do not realize what a step-parent’s role is and cast them into other unwanted ones. Two step-parents resented their assigned positions of negotiator and grief counsellor. Some step-parents said that they are a family friend to the children and not a go-between for the parents.

Trevor married a woman with children, who had gone through a contentious divorce. Dealing with her ex was challenging and she admitted to being impatient and losing her cool. Her mild-mannered second husband was drafted to be the intermediary between these two warring parents. Trevor was the unofficial negotiator trying to find a middle ground for co-parenting. When I saw him, Trevor was suffering from low back pain as a result of this stressful circumstance. He had heard that emotional issues could also affect the back, with not feeling supported correlating with low back pain. Using that as a wakeup call, we devised strategies on how Trevor would inform his wife and her ex that he was vacating the position of negotiator. His role was husband – to be supportive of his wife and to enjoy his step-kids without managing their co-parents. Trevor convinced the former couple to work with a mediator and this was an effective solution to an unhappy situation. No matter how well your new spouse gets along with your former one – allow them to be friends and not enlist your new partner as a messenger. Find a professional for the negotiator role.

Angus and Katharine, both divorced, met at a conference and the attraction was powerful. They got married and both had children who did well in this blended family, although only Katharine’s daughter Kim lived with them. Katharine tried to be on good terms with her ex and he was invited over on holidays and family events. Angus and Edward became good friends and had similar interests. Kim would say how lucky she was to have two such great dads. Later when Kim turned twenty-three, she was killed in an auto accident. Understandably, Katharine and Edward had breakdowns and kept thanking Angus for his support and called him a rock. Angus was crying when he asked me why they do not get that he had a ball of hurt inside and is grieving too. We discussed having Angus explain his grief to the parents and suggest that they meet with a grief counsellor since he could not continue this role. Parents, please understand that a step-parent loves a child and is broken up by her catastrophic illness or death. They have to deal with their own grief and cannot be forced to take on other people’s as well.

Step-parents are great for lowering tension when an angry teen is annoyed at both parents. At times mine seemed like aliens and my step-mum shared stories from her youth. Seems like her mum and dad did crazy things like mine did. A step-parent is a loving, but more neutral party for receiving confidences. Step-parents may love their new children with an intensity that surprises even them. In several cases both dads walked the young women down the aisle in their marriage ceremonies. If things are spiralling out of control, a life or divorce coach can help people get their lives back on track.

Originally published in The Divorce Magazine