My Stepchildren are Driving Me Crazy! and Other Refrains from a Blended Family

Like many couples out there, I’m part of a blended family. You see, my life isn’t just about law.  I’m living in a committed, long term relationship with my life partner. She has 2 daughters from a previous marriage and I have a daughter. So, we live as a blended family.

Now, despite the interesting title to this blog, her children DO NOT drive me crazy. Promise. I just found it to be a catchy title for this blog and an appropriate way to introduce the topics to be discussed in it.

Living in a blended family is one of the reasons that I’m so interested in focusing on estate planning for couples in second marriages and blended families because I know first hand some of the issues, and stresses, that they face everyday. But, let’s take a break from my regular blogging about legal topics and consider some of those challenges.

If you live, or lived in, a blended family, then you know it has some very unique challenges – particularly when you’re dealing with the other partner’s children. Let’s face it, that makes sense because couples usually bring different parenting styles into the new relationship. There are financial issues such as child support and alimony obligations that can create stress and even resentment in some cases.  Developing a close relationship with the other partner’s children may also be difficult since they are often feeling divided loyalties between the biological parent and the step-parent.

I read a most interesting article from the University of Arkansas Research & Extension service that offered some tips on dealing with these challenges that we blended family parents face. For example, the author suggests to be realistic when trying to form a relationship with the other partner’s children. Some experts estimate that it can take up to seven years for a child to adjust to a step parent, especially if the child feels strong loyalty to the natural parent. So, instead of trying to be a parent to the child, develop a style that is akin to a kindly uncle or aunt – someone who can listen and provide guidance when sought, but not someone who is a primary disciplinarian.

Another suggestion from the U of A, be patient. When families blend, there are naturally many things that need to change and many adjustments to be made. Both partners need to resist that temptation to dive in and fix everything all at once.  Many adults I know are resistant to change. Children are no different. So, with stepchildren, change needs to come in small steps and usually needs to be initiated and introduced by the natural parent. Think long-term goals when it comes to change.

The next suggestion I happen to love a lot: Use steady doses of empathy and understanding. Being empathetic and understanding can be hard, though, especially when you feel resistance from a stepchild or feel that they are being unfair or unreceptive to your attempts at being a family. Yet showing empathy can be one of the most healing things in a blended family relationship. I like to think that when one person tries to meet the other ‘half-way,’ then it’s easier for both to begin to form a rewarding relationship.

There are certainly many more tips for dealing with the challenges that we all face in blended families. It’s not easy, though. I know that first hand. And, I’m not a family therapist, but the advice I might give to other parents trying to raise children in a blended family is to always, always try to remember the reasons you came together as a couple – love for one another. As frustrating as it may be to deal with the other partner’s kids, those kids are products of that person you love.