Making Stronger Bonds in Blended Families

Build stronger bonds in your blended family.

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The Brady Bunch made it look easy to blend two families together. In real life, however, becoming a stepfamily (also known as a blended family) is usually much more difficult.

Stepfamilies often encounter a variety of issues as they try to live together under the same roof. One major issue involves developing healthy relationships with stepsiblings and stepparents.

Fortunately, there are some things you can do to help build stronger bonds in your blended family.

Acknowledge Problems as They Arise

You might be tempted to ignore problems in the hopes that they’ll go away, like looking the other way when you think your partner is favoring their children over yours.

Or you might try to give things a quick fix in order to keep the peace, like giving in to a child who is whining that things aren’t fair.

But it’s important to acknowledge problems as they arise so you can work on finding more permanent solutions that will help everyone develop stronger bonds.

Whether stepsiblings are fighting, some kids are complaining about feeling left out, or you and your partner aren’t on the same page, remember that stepfamily relationships take work to be successful.

And you can’t get started on fixing things until you acknowledge the problems that you see. When it’s an adult issue, talk to your partner. When it involves the kids, get them involved in solving the problem.

Hold Adult-Only Meetings

Many couples find that their new romance develops a little differently when children are involved. Rather than taking time to fall in love first and have children later, stepparents enter the relationship already having children. And stepping into a family changes things a bit.

You might find you don’t have much time to be alone with your partner. Or you might discover that it was easy to be a couple when you parented separately, but you have some serious differences to work out now that you’re blending two families.

Set aside time to work on your relationship aside from the children. Having a strong relationship can be key to showing the kids that you’re in this for the long haul (something that can help them feel less anxious about their new situation).

In addition to working on your romance, work on parenting together as well. It’s important to show the kids a united front.

When they see that you and your partner agree on parenting issues, they’ll be less likely to use the “divide and conquer” approach to get you to give in or take sides. Ultimately, this can help them bond with your partner better.

Allow Kids Time to Adjust

Not only do kids need to adjust to the new family they’re gaining, but they also need time to grieve the family situation that they’re leaving behind. It can take kids time to adapt to their new living situation, so don’t expect everyone to become one big happy family overnight.

Even if things go smoothly at first, keep in mind that the “honeymoon period” may wear off. The kids may need time to adjust to the things that are changing—such as less alone time with their parent or no longer being the “baby” of the family.

Some experts say it can take one to two years for families to blend. So recognize that it’s normal for the kids to struggle a bit, and don’t try to change everything all at once.

If you always had pizza with your kids on Friday nights, you may decide to keep that up. Or you might keep bedtime the same even though your partner’s kids have different bedtimes. Maintaining some familiarity can help kids adjust better to all the other changes they are experiencing.

Create New Family Traditions

Don’t abandon all your old family traditions. Keep some of them alive, and invite everyone to participate.

Your kids might enjoy showing their stepsiblings how to bake your traditional Christmas cookies. Or you might decide to keep celebrating your kids’ birthdays the same way you always have, despite their stepsiblings doing things differently.

In addition to keeping some of your old traditions, create new traditions as a blended family. You might decide to launch a new tradition on a holiday that you really didn’t celebrate before, like the 4th of July or St. Patrick’s Day.

You also might create weekly family rituals like playing board games on Sunday evenings or watching movies together on Friday nights. Creating new family traditions can help everyone feel as though they are part of the new family.

Have Fun Together

The key to building any great relationship is to have fun and create positive memories. So look for opportunities to do fun activities that will build bonds.

Whether you take the whole family to the amusement park or you take the kids who love outdoor activities to the playground, look for things that family members will enjoy.

You might decide to have certain members bond by doing a “girls night out,” or you might look for an activity that the older kids will enjoy. You might also look for fun activities for the whole family to do together.

When the kids are having fun, they’ll feel happy. And they’ll begin to associate happiness with the people surrounding them. So if they’re having fun with their new step-family, they’ll feel more positive about the new relationships.

Of course, it’s important to keep nurturing the biological parent-child relationships too. Don’t be afraid to continue having some special one-on-one time with your kids. This will assure them they didn’t lose you as a parent—instead, they gained a stepparent.

Get Professional Help

Sometimes, blending two families is a rough transition for everyone, and family therapy might be helpful. At other times, one child might seem to struggle more than the rest, and individual therapy might be warranted.

According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, parents should consider getting professional help if they notice a child exhibits strong feelings of being:

  • Isolated by feelings of guilt and anger
  • Excluded
  • Torn between two parents or households
  • Alone dealing with loss
  • Uncomfortable with any member of the original family or stepfamily

Parents might also consider getting help for someone in the family if these signs are persistent:

  • A child is venting anger toward a particular family member or showing resentment toward a parent or stepparent.
  • A stepparent or parent openly favors one child.
  • Discipline is left up to one parent.
  • There is frequent crying or withdrawal by a child.
  • Members of the family don’t find enjoyment in previously pleasurable activities (like going to school or playing with friends).

If you’re concerned about someone in your family struggling with the transition, you might talk to a physician first to get referred to a therapist. Or you could also contact a family or child therapist directly to get an assessment.

A Word From Verywell

In most cases, blended family dynamics are a bit complicated. And stepparent and stepsibling relationships might need some special attention to ensure that they’re developing in a healthy way. So get proactive about fostering these bonds. If you’re not seeing any progress, don’t hesitate to ask for professional help.

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