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Blended families: key relationships
There are several key relationships in a blended family. These are the relationships between:
- you and your partner
- you and your own children
- your partner and your children, and you and your partner's children
- your children and your partner's children
- all of you.
You and your partner in a blended family
Developing your relationship as a couple is fun, but living in a blended family can put extra pressure on your relationship.
For example, your child, former partner, or extended family members might not be keen on you being in a new relationship. You might feel worried about how your new relationship will affect your child.
Your new partner might not understand the close bond you have with your child. And if your partner and your child argue, you might feel stuck between your new partner and your child.
If you're a step-parent you might be unsure about your role in the blended family. You might sometimes feel like you're not valued or you're left out of the family.
Here are some ideas for looking after your relationship with your partner:
- Spend time together as a couple. Try having a regular weekend walk and coffee together, or spending half an hour together after the oldest children have gone to bed.
- Set aside some time each week or fortnight to talk over any challenges or issues that have come up.
- Show love and appreciation often - a hug, a loving word, a kiss, or a thank you note.
- Show that you're interested in and understand how your partner is feeling. This means listening to each other's concerns and ideas, and being willing to compromise.
- Be respectful of each other's children.
Parent and child relationships in a blended family
Children need and want their parents' love, care and guidance. But your child might feel frightened of losing your attention and love. He might worry that he's not as important to you now. When family circumstances change, your child needs to know you haven't forgotten him - especially if there's a new partner and stepchildren in your life.
Here are ways to show your child that you love and care for her as much as you always did:
- Enjoy time with your child - catch up each day if you can, talk about your child's concerns, or do other activities like reading together or playing games.
- Do your normal joint activities - for example, swimming, playing soccer or visiting the market together.
- Keep routines the same as much as possible - for example, bedtime routines like a song or story before bed.
- Stick with your rules and boundaries. For example, if your teenage child needs to text to tell you where she is when she's out with friends, that rule shouldn't change.
Step-parent and stepchild relationships in a blended family
You and your stepchild didn't choose each other. You might naturally click, or you might not feel comfortable with each other for quite a while.
Spending time developing a relationship with your stepchild will lead to better relationships within the whole family, and with your new partner. Respect is a good base for building warmth and love over time.
If you have your own child, you might love your own child more and want to protect him as your family changes. It's normal to feel different about your own child and your stepchild, but it's best to treat all the children in your blended family the same, as much as you can.
Here are ways to start developing a relationship with your stepchild:
- Show an interest in your stepchild's life. For example, ask her about her art classes or go along to watch her play sport.
- Spend time alone with your stepchild, even just for 15 minutes. For example, take the dog to the park together.
- Help out in practical ways. For example, drive your stepchild to meet friends, fix his bike or teach him how to cook.
- Support your partner's approach to discipline, but let your partner be responsible for managing rules and boundaries.
Your children are really under no obligation to be super close to the guy you love or his kids. That's hard to accept at times, but I used to say just be respectful - you don't have to love them. After 10 years of living together they did come to love each other. I never wanted them to feel guilty or like there was pressure on them to make it work. It was up to my partner and me to make it work, and we did.
- Ange, 56, in a blended family with four children
Stepsiblings in a blended family
If you both have children, they'll be stepsiblings to each other. Some children might feel excited about having stepsiblings, but others might feel worried.
Stepsiblings are often not as close as siblings, but this depends on children's personalities and ages. It also depends on how old they were when they became stepsiblings and how long they've known each other.
Siblings in all families - blended or not - feel jealous, compete with each other, and get into conflicts sometimes. It's normal for it to be more intense in blended families, especially if some children live with the family more often than other children do.
Here are some ideas for helping stepsiblings develop their relationships with each other:
- Set up expectations and rules about respecting each other. You could stick these on the fridge to remind everyone.
- Be fair to all children. For example, have the same rules and expectations for all children of a similar age, give the same pocket money to children of a similar age, and give birthday presents of a similar value.
- Make sure that all children have their own beds, their own spaces to go when they need time to themselves, and their own things.
- Have photos of all children around the house.
- Encourage them to have fun together. For example, you could suggest they kick a soccer ball around at the local oval.
Your blended family together
In a blended family, it often works well to have time with your own children as well as time together as a family.
You and your partner might have children of different ages, and it could be a challenge to find activities that everyone enjoys. There's nothing wrong with doing things in smaller groups if that works for you.
For example, the Brown family might play cricket on Saturday afternoon while the Greens go to the park. When you get home you can all talk about what you did. On Sunday, the Browns and the Greens might all play card games together, or the older children might go out while the younger ones watch a movie.
Family meetings can give everyone in your blended family a chance to talk about feelings and concerns so that others understand where they're coming from. This can help children to see both adults listening to their points of view and trying to work towards understanding or compromise.