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Being a parent in a blended family

Stepparents traditionally involve a variety of negative stereotypes. They are the villain who showed obvious bias toward their biological children. They are the adult who never wanted children. They are even the “evil step-monster.” However, stepparents have become a standard part of modern life as parents remarry or stepparents marry someone with children.

The well-being of the children is the priority in blending a family, so parents need to exercise a lot of patience as the children adapt to their new life. It is also vital for parents (including ex-spouses) and stepparents to think about creating a loving and supportive family unit for the kids.

Strategies and tips

In a perfect world, the stepparent seamlessly joins the family and builds a meaningful connection to the stepchildren. It is rarely that easy, and missteps and growing pains will be a natural part of the process for children, parents, stepparents, and ex-spouses. Things to consider:

Start slow: Let relationships develop organically over time.

Needs not wants: Address needs by being a loving, supportive and affectionate parent rather than the person who buys them things.

Have house rules: Stay consistent and try to generally align with the other family home -- this avoids conflicts with exes and labeling of one family home being “fun” and the other one being “no fun.”

Use team building: Try to cook big meals together, have game nights, or do outdoor adventures like biking or skiing. These can become new family traditions.

Speak well of parents: Regardless of how a stepparent feels about the other parent, it is best to stay positive (and respectful if they have passed away).

Effective parenting plans are essential

Family schedules can be demanding, more so if a second parent with another set of children enters the picture. This means one or two good parenting plans where the schedules are ideally synchronized to minimize the need of one parent being two places at once. An experienced family law attorney can help draft a parenting plan (and perhaps revise another) to accommodate the many needs of the blended family.

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