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Planning a happy stepfamily

Tags: stepparents, stepsibling, stepchildren, new family, blended family, stepfamily
Content Types: Moving Forward
Categories: After Separation

Meeting someone new can be really exciting but, when you both have children, it’s important to plan things properly. When two families merge and become a stepfamily, they bring together two different sets of values, and all manner of attitudes and feelings.

But, with proper planning, you can minimise the risk of conflict, and any stress for the children as they get to know their new stepparents and stepsiblings [1].  Children who feel their voices have been heard during the transition are more likely to accept the new stepparent, rather than seeing them as a threat to their own parent’s attention [2].

Talking about your relationship

Aim to get things sorted as soon as possible, and start making joint decisions about how you’re going to maintain a harmonious home environment. Children raised in happy and stable homes tend to do better at school, and be less likely to engage in risky behaviours. They will also be better at forming and maintaining their own relationships in the future [3] [4].

And yet, parents who form new relationships are actually more likely to avoid talking about relationship and family issues than couples entering their first marriage [5].

This may be down to your past experiences of marriage and parenting [6]. Having experienced the breakup of an important relationship, it can feel easier to withdraw from important conversations with your new partner than risk facing up to confrontation.

Try to avoid falling into this trap! While it can be scary to tackle difficult issues, research shows that open communication can actually minimise the risk of conflict, and better prepare you for the unique challenges that stepparenting brings [1].

Sit down with your partner and talk clearly about any personal or parenting problems you may be having. In the long run, clear communication is how you will get through tough times.

The balancing act

Being a stepparent is not always going to be easy. Many stepparents talk about having to do a balancing act, where they have to fulfil the role of a parenting figure, without stepping too far into the domain of the authority figure.

Stepparents who try to exert authority before the children have accepted them can often come up against resistance, so you may have to defer issues of discipline to the children’s primary carer, at least in the beginning [7] [8].

Planning and prep

When forming a new stepfamily, it’s very important to take things slowly, plan things properly, and keep lines of communication open.

Talk to your new partner about the changes your families are about to go through. You may have different ideas about parenting and how it’s all going to work. Getting this all out in the open can prevent arguments later down the line.

Talk about how you are going to handle certain situations, and identify any risks that you might encounter so you can be ready to deal with things together. This can help the whole family to adjust slowly and handle the changes more confidently [9].

Introduce your children to your new partner gradually, and talk them through the changes. Many children say that they want to have a close personal relationship with their new stepparent [8] but this doesn’t always work in practice, and children can find it hard when stepparents try to influence the rules and values of the household too soon.

Give your children a chance to adjust and have their say. They will cope better if they have a chance to get to know their new stepparent slowly [9].


[1] Pace, G. T., Shafer, K., Jensen, T. M., & Larson, J. H. (2015). Stepparenting issues and relationship quality: The role of clear communication. Journal of Social Work, 15(1), 24-44.

[2] Visher, E. B., Visher, J. S., & Pasley, K. (2003). Remarriage families and stepparenting. Normal family processes: growing diversity and complexity3, 153-175.

[3] Booth, A., & Amato, P. R. (2001). Parental Predivorce Relations and Offspring Postdivorce Well‐Being. Journal of Marriage and Family63(1), 197-212.

[4] Wolfinger, N. H. (2011). More evidence for trends in the intergenerational transmission of divorce: A completed cohort approach using data from the general social survey. Demography48(2), 581-592.

[5] Afifi, T. D., & Schrodt, P. (2003). Uncertainty and the Avoidance of the State of One's Family in Stepfamilies, Postdivorce Single‐Parent Families, and First‐Marriage Families. Human Communication Research29(4), 516-532.

[6] Sweeper, S., & Halford, K. (2006). Assessing adult adjustment to relationship separation: The Psychological Adjustment to Separation Test (PAST). Journal of Family Psychology20(4), 632.

[7] Hetherington, E. M., & Kelly, J. (2002). Divorce reconsidered: For better or worse.

[8] Kinniburgh-White, R., Cartwright, C., & Seymour, F. (2010). Young adults’ narratives of relational development with stepfathers. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships27(7), 890-907.

[9] Cartwright, C. (2010). Preparing to repartner and live in a stepfamily: An exploratory investigation. Journal of Family Studies16(3), 237-250.


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