Navigating the Challenges of Blended Families

The Kids Are All Right?

The most unpredictable part of the blended family equation may well be how the kids deal with one another. The truth is, many children consider new stepsiblings a nuisance or even a threat. Your 2-year-old may feel dethroned if she finds herself living with a cute 1-year-old brother, and your 4-year-old may resent the fact that his kindergartner stepsister gets to color on the big-kid worksheets.

Interestingly, one of the best strategies you can employ to make sure stepsiblings get along is to recognize that a blended family is a family within a family -- and that you and your kids need your own time together. Respecting and cherishing your original family helps kids realize that they're still special and not just part of a bigger group. So take off for the zoo with your 3-year-old, just the two of you. And let your partner do the same with his kids.

As much as you want each child to feel special, you also want them all to feel they're getting equal treatment. This is often difficult, because multiple homes frequently mean multiple opportunities for gifts and activities. It's hard for a 3-year-old to see her stepsister come home with a new Barbie from her grandma and not want one herself. According to experts, trying to even out these kinds of situations is a losing battle. "It's impossible for everything to be equal in any household," says Erwin. The best way for you to handle this challenge is to be equal when you can be -- spend the same amount on each child for holiday gifts, for example, and stand firm on your decision to say no to an extra gift even if a stepsibling gets one more from her mom.

Of course, adding a new baby to the blend creates a whole other set of kid-related situations as family positions shift once again. As wonderful as a new baby is, there's no guarantee that the stepkids will be thrilled by his arrival and embrace him immediately. "For instance, if the children are younger than 5 and have felt neglected by their noncustodial parent or by a stepparent, they may feel intense jealousy," says Osborne. "But young children with good relationships with their parents and stepparents will most likely react the same way all young children react to a new sibling: with a mixture of jealousy and affection."

Experts say that babies are good for your marriage; stepparents who have not had children may find that adding a baby diminishes issues with stepchildren or ex-spouses because now they appreciate the parent-child bond firsthand. And regardless of how many kids there are, or which parents are also stepparents, a new arrival adds a unique intimacy to a family. "A baby definitely makes life more challenging, but our son seems to have brought everyone closer," says Schultz. "He's a link between all of us."

In the end, the most comforting piece of advice about blending families is this: A blended family is a family, first and foremost. The more parenting experiences you gain, the more mistakes you make and learn from, the better you become at being a parent, stepparent, and spouse. The result? A happier, well-adjusted, well-blended family.

Holly Robinson is the mother in a blended family of five children.

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