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Blended families and step-parents

3-minute read

Blended families are formed when adults in a new relationship move in together. One or both partners may have children who live with the new couple some or all of the time. Given time, energy and care, blended families can work well.

Understanding the issues ahead

The decision to form a new family usually affects many different people.

Children may be excited by mum or dad's new relationship, but also feel regretful about leaving their old home, anxious about moving to a new school and sad about losing friends.

They may experience divided loyalties between the parent they live with and the parent they visit regularly.

Adults may have complex relationships with former partners. Working out shared parenting details is not always easy.

Grandparents, aunties, uncles and cousins may worry that they are going to be cut off from the children who are an important part of their lives.

Relationships within the blended family may also present challenges. For example, a child may not immediately warm to their new step-mum or step-dad or there may be problems of competition or conflict between step-brothers or step-sisters.

There may be differences in values, expectations and child-rearing practices between the new partners.

Coping with challenges

People with experience in supporting blended families offer the following advice for adults in a new partnership.

Focus on relationships

Look after your new relationship as adults. Put time and effort into honest, quiet talks. If there is conflict, listen without blaming or rushing into decisions.

Spend time building relationships with all the children, but don't try to become everyone's best friend overnight. Do not expect to be a super-parent who always gets things right.

Respect the children

Recognise that each child is an individual with a history, feelings and rights. Don’t expect children to play together happily right from the start, but insist that everyone behaves politely and respectfully — and behave that way yourself.

Keep changes to a minimum

Children benefit from predictability and knowing how things are done at home, so keep rules and routines consistent. Create a sense of belonging by encouraging children to keep favourite toys, books, photos and so on in the new home.

Ease into discipline

It is often best that the step-parent should support the parent's style of discipline, rather than impose their own, especially at the beginning of the relationship.

Everybody — children, adults and other relatives — will need time to get used to the new arrangements. There may be times of unhappiness or disagreement. Be patient, encourage kindness and get help if you need to. There are family and parenting support services in each state and territory.

You can call Family Relationships Advice Line on 1800 050 321 or Pregnancy, Birth and Baby on 1800 882 436.

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Last reviewed: April 2021

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