How to Build Blended Family Bonds That Last

How do you successfully blend two families with children?
on May 28, 2024
Read time: 10 mins
by Moraya Seeger DeGeare

The definition of family used to imply a very traditional structure, but these days, family comes in many different forms and offers a much more flexible alternative. 

Introducing the blended family, a unit that fosters a unique sense of belonging and lends many a life lesson to all those involved. 

In the realm of blended families, we witness a beautiful amalgamation of diverse backgrounds, cultures, and experiences. This unique blend promotes a culture of inclusivity and understanding, allowing each member to learn from one another.

Even though they are fraught with more challenges than most, building blended family bonds is an important journey for any couple. And, with the help of the Paired app, you can take comfort in the knowledge that you don’t have to do it alone! 

What is a blended family?

Blended families are becoming increasingly common in modern society, with our recent Paired research led by Moraya Seeger DeGeare of over 6,500 parents revealing that 56% are actually in a blended family. 

While blended families come in many different forms, they are generally considered as a family unit here one or both parents have children from previous relationships but have combined to form a new family. This dynamic can also be described as a step-family or reconstituted family. 

Blended families are characterized by the merging of different family cultures, histories, and dynamics, and they often face unique challenges related to integration and adjustment. 

For example, blending families causes issues for the new partner, existing partner, previous partner or spouse (who is a parent to the children), and all the children involved. 

It can be difficult for both partners to navigate new connections with their stepchildren, as they have to learn to handle their new title as ‘step-mom’ or ‘step-dad’. As the new partner, they are coming into stepparent children while not stepping on the toes of the ex-spouses and being sensitive to the family dynamics in place. 

On top of this, they also have to retain healthy relationships with their own biological children from their first marriage or previous relationship. These children might feel displaced by the new relationship or the new family, so they likely will require additional support.  

As if this wasn’t enough, there is also the challenge of successful co-parenting — as all the parents involved in the rearing of the children try to establish routines suited to their parenting styles.  

*Deep breath*

While juggling all of these new family members and relationships can be a lot to handle, when blended together, a truly beautiful family dynamic can emerge (with the right strategies in place!) 

What are some blended family examples? 

  1. Stepfamilies: In this type, one parent has children from a previous relationship, and the new spouse may or may not have children of their own. For instance, a man with two children marries a woman who does not have children, and they all live together as a family.

  2. Combined families: This situation involves both partners having children from previous relationships. These families may consist of his, hers, and their children if they decide to have children together as well. For example, a man with one child marries a woman with two children, and they later have a child together.

  3. Cohabiting stepfamilies: In this type, parents live together with their respective children from previous relationships but are not legally married. 

  4. Single-parent blended families: A single parent with children from a previous relationship enters into a new relationship, creating a family unit with their new partner. The new partner may or may not have children of their own. For example, a single father with two children from a previous marriage starts a new relationship with a woman who does not have children.

  5. Adoptive blended families: One or both parents have adopted children from previous relationships, and they come together to form a new family. For instance, a man who adopted a child in a previous relationship marries a woman who has biological children.

  6. Foster blended families: Families where one or both partners are fostering children from previous relationships.

  7. Multigenerational blended families: These families include multiple generations living together, such as grandparents, parents, and children from previous relationships.

  8. Other blended families: Not all blended families fit into a box, so sometimes a blended family can comprise lots of different members from different places! Whatever Brady Bunch style your family is — it’s still valid as a blended family. 

Who comes first in a blended family?

One of the most heartwarming aspects of blended families is the opportunity they present for fostering new, meaningful relationships.

When thinking about a blended family, it’s important to remember that no one comes first, second, or third. No one should be treated differently in a new blended family, especially if you’re determined to build strong relationship bonds and solidify a secure family structure. 

While parents commonly struggle with loyalty to their biological children vs. their stepkids, a successful blended family doesn’t treat each member differently based on any sort of hierarchy. 

After all, blended families often expand the traditional support network. They offer emotional, social, and in some cases, financial support, enriching the lives of their members and creating a nurturing environment. If you’re part of a blended family, your family life may be different from traditional structures, but it doesn’t mean it’s any less nurturing. 

In fact, living within a blended family environment serves as a practical lesson in life skills such as compromise, respect, and empathy. These experiences contribute significantly to personal development and emotional intelligence as you learn to navigate these new relationships with your extended family. 

This does not mean that blending families is always easy, as any change to your family unit will prevent significant challenges for every member of the family. However, approaching blending families with resilience and adaptability can help prevent any unhealthy family relationships from forming. 

What are common problems facing blended families? 

While blended families can provide many benefits, there are also a number of problems to contend with — that shouldn’t be taken lightly. 

Thankfully, you don’t have to tackle these issues alone, with your new partner or spouse to lean on throughout this journey. 

1. Adjustment 

When a blended family comes together, it can be a significant adjustment for all those involved. 

Children in particular can struggle with this transition, as they try to balance their loyalty between their biological parents and their new stepparent. If they are also introduced to stepsiblings, this can take further adjustment. 

Due to the complicated nature of the amalgamation, it can take a lot of time to find a balance! 

2. Family dynamics 

When blending a family together, there is a natural period of discomfort or rivalry that comes with stepfamily life. 

For example, there may be some rivalry issues between the children from both the first and second marriage. Step-siblings and half-siblings might compete with one another for attention or resources, leading to potential conflict. 

Accusations of favoritism may also be thrown around, whether true or unfounded. As in many cases, parents may be struggling to find a balance between their own kids and their partner’s children. 

3. Parenting styles

Establishing and maintaining a parenting style is made more complicated within a blended family — as you might be battling with pre-existing family rules and routines. 

Forming a cohesive stepfamily with young children may be easier than connecting with any adolescent children, as they are at different development stages. For example, younger adolescents who are in their naturally teenage rebellious stage may be prone to revolting against authority — especially someone new. 

4. Legal issues 

As with most of the challenges, this issue once again circles back to fairness between all members of the blended family. 

For example, ensuring fair distribution of assets among biological and stepchildren can be challenging. Managing finances can be more complicated, with potential issues like child support, alimony, and shared expenses.

5. Ex-partner involvement 

In an ideal world, blended families foster an understanding of cooperation and growth. However, naturally, there can be speed bumps along the way as both families try to enact their own power as parents. 

It can be a struggle to cope with an ex-partner's involvement, especially when you’re trying to establish your own family routines. For example, the biological parent might not agree with the rules that you’re implementing in your household — leading to some awkwardness at pick-up time or some general discomfort overall. 

6. Communication issues 

If the family doesn’t advocate for open and honest communication, this can lead to misunderstandings and conflicts along the way. 

Family members might also struggle to communicate their different expectations about roles and responsibilities, leading to disappointment and frustration.

7. Sense of identity 

As the blended family comes together, children might struggle to form a strong sense of identity without support. 

They might struggle to find their place, whilst also mourning the loss of their previous (and perhaps much loved) family structure. 

8. Cultural differences 

While blended families can promote a wonderful amalgamation of different cultures and backgrounds. 

However, taking on these cultural differences can be difficult for any parent to tackle — especially when it comes to specific rituals or holiday events. 

How can you successfully navigate the challenges of a blended family?

Blended families may provide a number of challenges, but they also offer a unique sense of belonging. 

"When families blend, a new family system emerges, creating an opportunity to foster a strong sense of belonging for everyone involved,” says Seeger DeGeare. 

“To enhance this sense of unity, take the time to recognize and appreciate the diverse cultures and routines each member contributes. Selectively incorporate elements from these traditions into your new family practices, crafting a shared heritage that honors everyone's background. This thoughtful integration helps build a cohesive and inclusive family environment."

How to build strong relationships in a blended family

Building strong relationships in a blended family takes time, patience, and intentional effort. 

By allowing everyone to adjust at their own pace, releasing unrealistic expectations, embracing the uniqueness of each relationship, respecting individual timelines, learning about attachment dynamics, and increasing self-awareness, you can create a supportive and loving family environment. 

Remember, the journey of blending a family is unique to each family, and with the right approach, you can build lasting bonds that strengthen over time.

1. Give everyone time to learn about each other

Even if you have known your new family members for some time, moving in together and truly living together in this new dynamic can be an entirely different experience for everyone. It’s essential to allow each person the time and space they need to adjust and get to know each other in this new context.

2. Release expectations

“Release any expectations of what you believe your new family should look or feel like, in the end, it will probably end up so much more magical” shares Seeger DeGeare. 

“Often in moments of fear, we lean into control to bring in some sense of calm, which can include trying to anticipate every possible outcome.” 

However, this can lead to feelings of hurt, disappointment, or failure when things don't turn out as expected. 

By letting go of unrealistic expectations and focusing on what you can authentically and healthily control—such as your responses to your stepchild or how you design evening routines—you can be more present in the moment. Being present with your family and not missing out on opportunities to build new memories when possible is everything. 

3. Embrace the uniqueness of each relationship

“Embrace that every relationship is unique, truly unique,” emphasizes Seeger DeGeare. 

Even if you have seen your future stepchild have healthy relationships with their parents or other adults, they might feel differently about a step-parent. Additionally, many step-parents are pleasantly surprised by the strong bonds they form with their new stepchildren due to the intentional time spent together building a new family.

4. Respect individual timelines

“Remember, someone else’s timeline is not your timeline,” says Seeger DeGeare.  

Your best friend might have seamlessly blended their family while yours is still finding its footing. Each family member adjusts at their own pace, and comparing your journey to others can create unnecessary pressure.

5. Learn about your family's unique attachment dynamics

Understanding the attachment dynamics within your family system and embracing how each family member prefers to be nurtured and comforted will help you create new bonds together. This knowledge can guide your interactions and foster a sense of security and connection.

6. Increase self-awareness to reduce defensiveness

As families blend, they are mixing many lived experiences together. The desire for things to go well, combined with the stress of major life changes, can lead to adults reverting to defensive patterns of behavior. Increasing self-awareness helps you manage these tendencies and approach family interactions with a calmer, more understanding mindset.

These early moments of blended family bonding can lay a foundation of trust and respect or can create conflict if not handled with care. By focusing on these strategies, you can foster a harmonious and loving blended family environment.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the divorce rate for blended families?

    While blended families offer a wonderful opportunity for connection and belonging, unfortunately, the figures for divorce are stacked against them. According to a recent study in the UK, the divorce rate for people in their first marriage is around 41%, but the divorce rate for people in their second marriages is higher at 60%. This does not place the blame on the existing children involved but does suggest the challenges in play. “Bigger families mean less quality time for the couple and more opportunities for clashes in parenting styles,” says Seeger DeGeare. In a 2024 study by the relationship care app Paired involving 6,500 parents, it was found that the lack of ‘parents only’ time and differences in parenting styles are the top two stressors impacting their romantic relationships.
  • Are stepfamily remarriages difficult?

    Stepfamily remarriages often come with unique challenges that can make them more difficult than first marriages. The complex family dynamics at play can make it difficult to sustain a healthy relationship, but with healthy communication and the help of the Paired app — this journey can be made easier.
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