Like any mother with a newborn and three older kids, Michelle Schultz is exhausted. "Just having that extra child who can't do anything for himself makes everything really hectic," says Schultz, who lives in St. Petersburg, Florida, and spends much of her day on the road, chauffeuring her older kids to tennis, soccer, and ballet.
It sounds like the life of a typical soccer mom until you add in the fact that hers is a blended family, with a 6- and an 8-year-old from her husband's previous marriage, a 4-year-old from her own former marriage, and a baby son that she and her second husband had together. Not only is Schultz on the road for after-school activities, but she's also constantly carpooling the kids to their other parents' houses.
About 75 percent of the 1.2 million Americans who divorce each year eventually remarry. Most have children, and, like Schultz, they find that stepfamily life is more complex than they ever imagined. It's rife with complicated schedules, squabbling stepsiblings, issues with ex-partners, and new spouses who've never been parents trying out childcare.
Yet the flip side of life as a stepfamily is that there are many opportunities for joyful interactions. "Most stepparents genuinely grow to feel affection for the kids in their care, and the kids usually learn to accept and return the affection," says therapist Judy Osborne, director of the Stepfamily Association in Brookline, Massachusetts. "And because you have to work hard in a stepfamily to build relationships, it often ends up that everyone learns a lot about trust, safety, and love."
How do you make it through those rocky beginnings? These tips from stepfamilies and experts may help smooth your way.