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Home / Parenting

How can I have a happy blended family?

 My new partner and I get on very well, but there are lots of issues around the children (Shutterstock)

Hi Chris,

I married young and we had two children together. Sadly that marriage came to an end, but a few years later I met a man who’d lost his wife, and now we’re living together.

He also has two children, so now there’s six of us in the house! My new partner and I get on very well, but there are lots of issues around the children - and my ex!

Is it always like this in complicated families like mine? I especially struggle with managing my partner’s children, especially when they’re misbehaving.

And my ex refuses to have anything to do with our children, even though he knows they want to see him. He provides the child support he promised, but nothing more.

Any thoughts?

My Crazy Mixed Up Family

 I struggle with managing my partner’s children, especially when they’re misbehaving (Shutterstock)

Hi My Crazy Mixed Up Family!

Stepfamilies often have difficulties, because everyone behaves differently in a step-relationship. Like it’s harder to feel as close towards stepchildren as you do towards your own.

There’s often tension and animosity, and sometimes things go wrong, leading to abuse or incest. It’s not that stepparents are weird, it’s just that parenting is so one-sided. Parents give and children receive. Biological parents are wired to make those sacrifices, but no one else is.

So it’s a parent’s endless patience that’s special, while we treat stepchildren more like we would anyone else’s children. Fortunately, most stepfamilies are able to get along successfully. But it takes a lot of work!

Because although you love your new partner, you don’t automatically love his children. And they don’t automatically love you. And it hurts when you want a relationship with someone who doesn’t want a relationship with you.

Your younger children will probably adjust faster, because they’re more accepting of a new adult in the family. But they can often become jealous if they think their parent is devoting more time to their new partner than to them.

So aim to be more like a friend than a parent to a stepchild. And assume that feelings between you will develop slowly.

Don’t insist that your stepchildren call you mum or dad. They might want to, but it’s far more likely they won’t. So agree on something that you are OK with.

It’s also best for each biological parent to be responsible for disciplining their own children. Children truly resent parental control from a non-parent.

Stepchildren of both sexes also generally prefer affection to be verbal, such as praise or compliments, rather than hugs and kisses.

Exes are also often a problem, such as yours who wants no contact with his children. There’s nothing you can do about that, of course, so for the time being just be honest about the situation with your kids. Don’t be tempted to badmouth him, and one day he may relent.

So you’ll need sensitivity, tact, and the hide of a rhinoceros to survive! But you will, and may even form some lifelong friendships.

All the best,

Chris

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