Children in blended families: how they feel
It's normal for children and young people living in blended families to have lots of different feelings, and to feel different things at different times.
Your child might feel excited to be part of a family with two adults again. He might be looking forward to having new brothers and sisters.
At first your child might feel like she doesn't fully belong in the blended family. Or she might feel worried about:
- how to behave in the new blended family - for example, what to call your partner, who to listen to and whose rules to follow
- how her other parent feels - even if your child likes your new partner, she might act as if she doesn't just to spare her other parent's feelings
- how her life has been changing - she might not want any more change.
Sadness, anger or jealousy
It's normal for your child to have negative feelings about the blended family. For example, your child might:
- feel sad, angry or jealous that he has to share you with his new step-parent
- feel jealous of his stepsiblings, or they might feel jealous of your child
- blame you for being the one who broke up the original family
- feel less important now that you have a partner
- reject your partner because your partner is a reminder that his parents will never get back together again.
We used to say, 'All feelings are OK in this house - the important thing is how you express them'. It's normal and OK to feel angry sometimes because you have to share a room with your stepsister, but it's not OK to break her toys because of it.
- Lily, 54, in a blended family with two children
Helping your child handle feelings about the blended family
It's OK to not know exactly what to do if your child has uncertain or negative feelings about your new situation. The most important thing is for your child to know that all her feelings are OK and that you'll be there for her and love her, no matter what.
Here are some strategies that can help you and your child handle feelings and start adjusting to life in a blended family.
Talking with your child
You can give your child the chance to express feelings by using questions to start conversations. Try these ideas:
- 'Did you know that… ?' Then you could talk about a change that's coming up like, 'Did you know that Sam and Lara are going to be living with us every other weekend soon?'
- 'How do you feel about… ?' For example, 'How do you feel about Sam and Lara living with us every other weekend?' or 'How are you feeling about things at home right now?'
- 'What would you like to do about… ?' For example, 'What will help you feel at home here when you visit?'
Give your child positive feedback when he responds to a question. For example, 'That's a great idea - let's try it. If it doesn't work we can try something else'.
Spending time with your child
It's important to carry on having regular quality time together with your child as your family changes. These tips can help:
- Keep up the activities that you usually do with your child, like always going for a walk and a hot chocolate together on a Sunday morning.
- Enjoy time with your child. You could try something new, like going out for the day or having a night away with your child, but without your new partner and stepchildren.
- Make some time for your child each day if possible - to catch up on her day and to check how she's going.
Getting to know a new step-parent
If you give your child time to get to know his new step-parent and you don't expect too much early on, it can help your child work through any uncertain or negative feelings. These tips might help:
- Talk to your child about why you've repartnered and what you like about having a new partner.
- Make it clear to both your partner and your child that you expect them to respect each other - but they don't have to love each other.
- Go at your child's pace - don't try to rush the relationship with her new step-parent.
- Try to create relaxed and safe times when your child can get to know his step-parent better. For example, they could watch a movie together, go for a walk, or play board games.
- Let your child know it's OK to tell you if she has complaints or concerns about her step-parent. If your child's complaint is reasonable - for example, your partner has been speaking harshly to your child - talk to your partner about it and work it out together.
If you need to talk to your partner about the way your partner is parenting your child, a parenting teamwork approach might help. This kind of approach can help you face the ups and downs of family life in a positive way that cuts down on conflict.
Your child's relationship with her other parent
Children in blended families can sometimes feel 'stuck in the middle' between their parents and worry about which parent they should be loyal to. You can help your child avoid or handle this situation by:
- ensuring your child has regular contact with his other parent, as long as it's safe for your child
- trying not to criticise your former partner in front of your child
- not asking your child to pass messages to his other parent
- not quizzing your child about what he did at his other parents' house - let your child tell you what he wants to tell you
- sharing memories with your child of times with your former partner, like family holidays or birthday celebrations.
Children in blended families: what affects their feelings
How your child feels about life in a blended family can depend on things like:
- how old your child is
- how long you've been separated
- how much it changes your child's life
- what else is going on in her life - for example, at school
- how well your child knows her new step-parent
- how your child's other parent feels about the changes.
It can also depend on your child's personality.
I was 15 and wanted to focus on my friends and myself. I didn't want to make an effort to get used to Dad's new partner. I was jealous and used to do things like hide her coffee cup and reading glasses! It was a prickly time for everyone. By 18 I was going well and felt close to my stepmum and I still do.
- Maya, 26