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Blended families and step-parents

4-minute read

Key facts

  • Families are diverse and may take many forms, including blended families.
  • 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 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 their parent's new relationship, but also feel upset about leaving their old home. They may be anxious about moving to a new school and sad about losing their friends.

Children 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 isn't always easy.

Grandparents, aunties, uncles and cousins may worry that they may 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 warm to their new step-parent straight away. There may be competition or conflict between step-siblings.

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

What do I need to consider about parenting arrangements?

There are many things for you to consider when working out your new living and parenting arrangements:

  • how you will communicate with your family in different households
  • the most appropriate parenting approaches for you and your co-parents
  • arrangements around holidays, birthdays, special occasions, and school events

Focus on yourself

Blending families can be a stressful time. It can be difficult to find the time to look after yourself, but it's key to being healthy and facing the challenges that may come up.

Start with simple things like:

  • having some down time and rest
  • reading a book
  • going for a walk
  • continuing with your hobbies

Focus on your 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. Don't expect to be a super-parent who always gets things right.

Respect the children

Accept 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's often best that the step-parent supports 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.

Resources and support

Don't try to deal with everything on your own. Get help if you need it. You can:

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: May 2023

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Need more information?

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