Blending Families: From the Brady Bunch to Life with Derek

by Stacey Schifferdecker

More and more families today are “his, hers, and ours” blends of stepparents, step-siblings, stepchildren, etc. In fact, one out of three Americans are now “steps.” On a recent episode of “The Suite Life of Zach and Cody,” London got an eager new stepmother who, although loving, provided a perfect example of how stepparents should NOT act. What can you learn from the Tiptons to make your own blended family happier? 
Give love time to grow
London’s stepmother came on too strong, immediately proclaiming her love for London, whom she had never met. In fact, London didn’t even know her father had remarried, so this stepmother was not only a stranger, but also a surprise. As a stepparent, you need to give your new family members time to adjust and get used to the changes in their lives. You may want to jump right in and bond with your new stepchildren, but moving more slowly will lessen potential conflicts. 
You also need to consider the age of your new , which affects how readily they will adjust to a stepparent: 
  • Younger children (under the age of 10) typically adjust relatively easily to a new adult in the family, especially if the family as a whole draws closer together. However, they may compete with the stepparent for attention if they feel abandoned or neglected by their biological parent.
  • Tweens and young teens (ages 10-14) have the hardest adjustment, simply because of the many changes already going on in their lives as they enter puberty.
  • Older teens are developing independent lives outside the family, and thus may adjust more easily to a stepparent. However, they also may be the most uncomfortable with displays of affection between the stepparent and biological parent.  
Gender can also play a role in how quickly children adjust. Boys seem to accept a more readily than girls do. Just remember that establishing a relationship takes time. At first, your stepchild may not even want to have a relationship with you. Be patient and realistic, and give your new family time.
 Leave discipline to the biological parent
Although London’s wasn’t much older than London herself, the stepmother quickly began acting “parental” and grounded London. London was naturally resentful at having this stranger discipline her. The lesson here is that stepparents need to move carefully when it comes to discipline. Before the wedding, couples should discuss the role each stepparent will play in raising their respective children, as well as any changes in household rules that may be needed. Ideally, the stepparent should be more of a friend than a disciplinarian, at least in the beginning. This gives the stepparent time to bond with the children before taking on more active parenting responsibilities. 
Introduce the stepparent carefully
London discovered her father had remarried when her new stepmother showed up at the family hotel. Not an ideal way to share the news! Children need time to adjust to the new family and to the changes in their lives or they will resent the stepparent. To help their children, parents need to introduce their new loves slowly and carefully, being sensitive to the children’s feelings. Through the process, parents need to be sure they are still spending time alone with their children so they won’t feel abandoned. 
It typically takes five to seven years for a stepfamily to begin to feel like a “real” family. There will be difficult times during these years, but kindness and love will facilitate the bonding process and allow trust, friendship, and possibly even love to grow between you and your stepchildren. 

Stacey Schifferdecker is the happy but harried mother of three school-aged children—two boys and a girl. She is also a freelance writer, a Children’s Minister, a PTA volunteer, and a Scout leader. Stacey has a Bachelor’s degree in Communications and French and a Master’s degree in English. She has written extensively about parenting and education as well as business, technology, travel, and hobbies.

No part of this article may be copied or reproduced in any form without the express permission of More4Kids Inc © 2006
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