Building a strong blended family: starting out
It takes time to get used to living in a blended family or stepfamily.
The first two years are about getting to know each other and building new family relationships, including your relationship with your partner. At the same time you and your partner are learning to work together to care for your children. It's normal not to have all the answers. Parents and step-parents are learning all the time.
It helps to be realistic about how long it takes for relationships to develop and for everyone to get used to being in your new family.
After two years together, families are usually getting used to new routines and daily life together.
Preparing your children to be part of a blended family
It's best if you and your partner can spend some time getting to know each other's children before you move in together. But this might not be possible. Sometimes couples move in together quite quickly because it feels right for them or because it's difficult to keep two homes going.
Whenever it happens for you, it's a good idea to talk with your child about what you want to do and what it will be like. Ask your child what he thinks and encourage him to talk about any worries. Let him know that there are likely to be some ups and downs, but he can always come to you if he needs to talk.
You could talk about some of the plans, like where you're going to live if you're moving house and what space your child will have in the new house. Or if you're staying in your house, you could talk about how the space might change if new stepsiblings move in.
If you can involve your child in making some decisions about the house or arrangements, she'll feel like she has some control over things. But she'll probably still need extra affection and reassurance from you.
Everyday life in a blended family
As well as building relationships, the early months are also about establishing your new blended family and the way you live together. This might include:
- working out new family routines and household responsibilities - for example, who cooks dinner, makes the children's lunches, or does the shopping and cleaning
- setting up new family rules
- sorting out bedrooms and work or study spaces for the children.
New and old rituals can help as you work out how your blended family will live together. Rituals can give family members a sense of belonging and can help comfort children in unfamiliar circumstances.
Your rituals might be a mix of those that you and your partner already have, or you can think of new ones for your family. For example, if your child loves listening to you read a bedtime story, carrying on that tradition will help him feel comfortable in your new family. Or you could think about weekly rituals for the whole family, like playing board games on a Sunday.
I probably tried a bit hard in the first few years. I wanted us all to get along so I became the ever-present peacemaker. As things settled down I realised that kids bicker and it's normal for my partner and me to get snappy with each other when we're tired. It's not the end of the world. I now let people take responsibility for what they say and do at home, rather than swooping in and smoothing over every issue. It's good - it feels like we're growing up as a family.
- Pru, 34, stepmother of four children
Money management in a blended family
There's no one right way to manage your money.
Some couples have joint accounts and share all their financial resources. Others keep their resources separate but cover family costs between them. Others have a shared account for household expenses and also their own separate accounts.
When you're deciding how to manage your finances as a blended family, it can help to:
- talk through the options and make decisions before you move in together
- keep talking as new things come up, like the financial impact of having a baby and going on parental leave
- make sure that resources are fair for all children
- think about what each of you will contribute to the mortgage or house repairs.
Some blended families think about a legal agreement for finances, especially for things like mortgages and house repairs. It can also be a good idea to see a financial adviser. You can find out more at MoneySmart - Choosing a financial adviser.
Former partners: letting them know about new family arrangements
It's important to tell your former partner, if you have one, about the change in your family arrangements. Your former partner might need some time to get used to the new situation.
If things are difficult with a former partner, it can help to:
- think of your relationship with your former partner as a business arrangement - you can work with your former partner to manage conflict for the benefit of your child
- be respectful towards your ex and your partner's ex, even if they're not respectful towards you
- work at sorting out your co-parenting arrangements with your former partner.