His, Hers & Ours: Blending the Family Marriage with Ten Step-Parenting Challenges and Solutions

Blended Family

By Etienne A. Gibbs, BA, MSW

Preparing for the wedding date is such a joyful and stressful experience! For most single couples entering into their first marriage, the love they have for each other carries them through the joys and the stresses. Not quite so easy for either
partner who will bring their children into the marriage. The already stressful event of the wedding day with all its preparations is now compounded and complicated by the number of relations that comes with the new marriage.

As stressful as it might be, there are countless number of marriages that have successfully entered into and managed a blended family. If you are preparing to enter into a marriage that will produce a blended family, here are some tips that you might find helpful in navigating the challenges of a blended family. (Note: For simplicity’s sake, I’ll refer to the child in the plural and substitute the male/female, the he or she, with the generic pronoun, “they”.) What are the challenges?
What are the solutions?

Challenge #1: Setting Up Household

Solution: Stop complaining and be specific about everyone’s needs.

Tell your partner exactly what your needs are and what you need from him or her. Do you need to feel more special? Do you want your children to feel more accepted in their new home? Do you need a different division of labor? Articulate your needs and explain precisely how they can be met. Nobody can read your mind. In turn, you need to ask your partner what is needed from you.

Challenge #2: Setting Up the Family Titles

Solution: Agree on discipline strategies for all parties.

Make a commitment to developing a relationship with your stepchildren that has nothing to do with your partner. Set aside some special time in which you and the children can interact alone. You also need to stop thinking of your stepchild as “his child” or “her child.” Make no doubt about it: You are now a pivotal person in that child’s life too.

Set the standards by developing with your partner which title will be used to address each family member. Don’t assume that your style of communicating and disciplining will be appropriate for your stepchildren. It’s important that you talk to your partner about the titles, rules, and disciple that existed before you joined the family. It’s unfair to change the rules on children overnight. They will let you know it, especially if any of the children are teenagers.

Challenge #3: Managing the Ex-Files

Solution: Form an alliance with your former partner(s).

You and your former partner(s) have not ended your relationship; instead, you have changed it from an intimate, emotional affiliation to a relationship that’s held together by common goals for your children. Joining with your ex, unselfishly putting hurt feelings aside, and leaving behind the pain of betrayal, or a dysfunctional history are tremendous gifts to your children. To be cold, sabotaging, hurtful or exclusionary with your former partner is, in some sense, to do the same for your children and your newly blended family.

Challenge #4: Step-parenting Rules & Regulations

Solution: When your families merge, a plan book with rules and regulations need to be addressed.

What would go into your plan book? Here are a few suggested questions you should discuss with your partner. After you both have come to a settlement, immediately insert it into your plan book.

  • What is the role each parent will play in parenting and facilitating the development of all of the children?
  • How will the division of labor concerning the children be equitably managed?
  • Will the parents’ date night fit into the new family schedule?
  • What kind of access will grandparents and other extended family members have?
  • And of course, what long-term goals and financial planning are needed to be put into place?

Challenge #5: Facing the Jealousy Beast

Solution: Realize and act on the pain your children may be experiencing following your divorce.

It’s important to realize that because of the pain children experience after divorce – and continue to feel with a remarriage – they may act out. They may not have the skills to talk it out and express what’s really going on inside.

Many couples go for counseling and express to the counselor, “Fix these children.” However, the children aren’t the ones broken: the family is. Are you willing to acknowledge your children or stepchildren may be exhibiting jealousy from the pain and
brokenness that your divorce created? If the couple is able to gain the skills to listen and understand what children are going through, over time, the children will usually respond productively.

Challenge #6: Expanding Love & Forgiveness

Solution: Act lovingly because actions speaks louder than words.

The reality is that you may never love your stepchildren as your own or even like them. And remember, you can’t make your stepchildren like you, either! You are the ‘intruder.’ In their minds, you’ve displaced them. But even if you don’t like them, you can learn to act lovingly toward them. Love is an action; so behave in a loving manner toward your stepchildren. It may surprise you down the road; as the relationship develops, love and forgiveness just may develop!

Challenge #7: Constant Races Against the Clock

Solution: Develop time management techniques.

If you’ve been a single parent for any length of time, you’ve probably develop excellent multi-tasking, delegating, and time management skills. If not, then you need to develop them. Buy a time management book, or borrow one from your library. Learn to delegate among the children, particularly if they are teenagers. In fact, incorporate delegation into the children’s chores. Have a weekly meeting with time management at the top of meeting’s agenda. Review and improve it at each meeting.

Challenge #8: The Coach or Step-parent Dilemma

Solution: Try walking in your children’s and each other’s shoes.

It’s difficult to see things through someone else’s eyes if you haven’t walked in their shoes. Your children, step-children, and partner(s) are passengers in the same boat; they didn’t get the opportunity to choose whether they wanted a new family member. Great care and patience should be taken to help all parties concerned, the children, the partners, and other family members, to adapt to the situation.

Whether you’re the step-parent or it’s your partner who’s in that role, talk frequently with the children collectively about how it’s going and what are the experiences from the other’s point of view. If all parties have good intentions and a loving heart, this challenge will work itself out, but first there must open communication from and with each member.

Challenge #9: Nurturing Love & Respect Among the Tribal Members

Solution: Don’t make your partner choose between you and his child.

Your relationship with your partner will not suffer if he or she has a close relationship with each other’s children. We all have multiple ‘accounts’ from which we draw our love. There’s a child account that has an infinite amount of love in it, and there’s a completely different account that you draw from for your partner.

In other words, loving, respecting, and nurturing your child in no way decreases the balance in the account for your partner because they’re two completely separate deals. With that in mind, ask your partner how you can help him or her nurture their relationship with each other’s children.

Challenge #10: Establishing Communication, Expectations & Behavioral Boundaries

Solution: Have discussions with your partner outside an argument.

Ask yourself this question: “Are most of my discussions taking place within the context of an argument with my partner or their children?” If the answer is in the affirmative, bring it to and end immediately before it blazes into a wildfire. Agree to make time to talk calmly and rationally with all parties.

This is important not only for you as you attempt to reach resolutions, but also for your children or step-children if they are within earshot. If they have already watched a divorce unfold, they have internalized plenty of parental conflict and may be shaken to their core. Don’t make it worse. When you argue in front of children, you change who they are. For you, the fight is over when it’s over. For your children, it doesn’t end. They don’t see you make up, and they don’t participate
in the healing. They go to bed at night thinking that their parents are fighting because of them.

I’m sure that there are more than ten challenges; however, I have decided to stop at ten because of limited space. Should you find this article helpful and/or you wish to address additional challenges you might be experiencing, please feel free to contact me.


Resource Corner: Behavior Management Expert and Maximizing Your Potential Mentor™ Etienne A. Gibbs is a life-observing author, successful consultant, engaging talk show host, and humorous speaker, who teaches small business owners, managers, parents, and employees how to speak, think, and perform in ways that will help them shine. In the end, they maximize their skills in critical thinking, public speaking, and management. Reach him at www.EtienneAGibbs.com.

If you enjoyed this article, please consider sharing it!
Icon Icon Icon