Building a blended family can be challenging. Raising kids is hard work even in the best of circumstances; the complexities of stepparenting only add to that difficulty.
Stepfamilies face challenges from the start. The couple isn’t the foundation of the family, because the parent-child relationships predate the new marriage and are bonded by a shared history. In a blended family, people have almost always suffered loss or experienced hurt in the past, and that trauma can be hard to overcome. Stepparents can feel like outsiders within their own home, while biological parents can feel caught between their kids and their new spouse. And then there are all the potential issues involved in co-parenting, visitation, and holiday schedules.
Although building a healthy blended family might be difficult, it can be done—and it is a lot easier when you know what you are doing. Below are some things you can do to be smart about building your stepfamily. These ideas are mostly based on Ron Deal’s Smart Stepfamilies series; if you would like more details, we recommend checking out his books or videos.
You will save yourself a lot of frustration, anxiety, and disappointment if you set realistic expectations for the process. “Hope deferred makes a heart sick,” but if you know what to hope for and when to expect it, having that “desire fulfilled is a tree of life” (Proverbs 13:12).
Blended families are not “blended” together instantly like ingredients in a Vitamix. Instead, they are slow cooked like stew in a Crock-Pot. And we do mean slow: it takes the average stepfamily five to seven years to fully bond together. That is a long time, but it doesn’t mean you are just waiting for half a decade; it is an ongoing process in which you steadily grow together as a family. It’s an experience to appreciate and enjoy.
Trust God with the process. Don’t push the relationship with your stepchildren; let it develop at its own pace. Maintaining a Crock-Pot perspective will help you be patient and hopeful about the progress your family is making (Romans 12:12). It will keep you from growing weary or feeling like giving up (Galatians 6:9). Instead, you will be able to enjoy what you have today, making the most of your time together (Ephesians 5:15-16).
Stepparents often feel torn between spouse and children. For example, we often see biological parents focus all of their time and attention on their children, while neglecting to build into their new marriage and make their spouse a priority. At best, having to pull double duty leaves people stretched thin, feeling like they are failing on both accounts.
However, you don’t have to choose one or the other—and you shouldn’t choose one over the other. When the kids and your spouse have to compete for your time and love, there will always be a winner and a loser. Instead of an either/or situation, treat it as a both/and: you must give energy and attention to both your marriage and the children. You can accomplish this by focusing on doing things together, as a family. Of course, there will be times (like date nights) that you will spend with only your spouse or only your kids, but those are intentional exceptions to the rule.
There will be different roles and responsibilities in the blended family depending on whether you are the biological parent or the stepparent of the children. (And, of course, if both spouses have children, then you will each take on the biological parent role with your own kids and the stepparent role with your spouse’s children.)
When you are the biological parent, you should:
When you are the stepparent, you should:
As you work to build your new life together, remember that parenting is hard regardless; don’t unfairly blame the difficulty on your stepfamily situation.
Also, keep in mind that the rewards are worth it. A blended family can be a very healthy and happy home. The bonds between stepparents and stepchildren, though slow to develop, can be extremely strong. By loving your spouse well and giving your kids a new model of what marriage should look like, you can break the generational cycle of divorce. It can help you raise emotionally and spiritually healthier kids, negating many of the negative psychological effects of divorce on children. And God can use it to redeem your family story (2 Corinthians 5:17), demonstrating the power of grace and love.
So be patient, be intentional, and be wise about how you build your blended family together. It’s work, but it’s worth it.