What is a Blended Family?

A blended family is one where one or more parents have a child from a previous relationship, as well as having at least one child together. In a blended family, everyone comes together to form one family unit.

About 75% of the 1.2 million Americans who get divorced each year will eventually remarry. Most have children, and suddenly need to learn to navigate a whole new family dynamic. Whether one or both partners are bringing their kids to the new relationship, it takes time to get used to a different parental figure or set of siblings.

As of 2021, 16% of children were part of a blended family. But, not all blended families look the same. As we explore what makes a blended family, we’ll also look at some of the challenges blended families may face as well as the benefits of being part of a blended family.

The Many Faces of a Blended Family

Within a blended family, the parents may be of the same sex or part of a heterosexual relationship. One partner may have a child from another relationship, while the other may not.

There are also cases where the parents are cohabitating partners. The parents are not married to each other and may have biological or adopted children from previous relationships as well as with their current partner.

In some blended family situations, one parent may legally adopt their partner or spouse’s children. Both biological parents, if living, must approve the adoption for it to become legal.

Challenges Blended Families May Face

As with all families, parents and children of blended families may face their fair share of challenges. Besides legal challenges involving child support, custody, and medical decisions, blended families can face other hurdles.

Conflicting Family Values

As two families join to become one, it’s not uncommon to deal with different family values. Parents must find common ground where the values of both separate families can be recognized together.

Sibling Rivalry

Sibling rivalry is common in traditional home settings, so it should come as no surprise that it can be an issue within a blended family. Getting a new sibling can create tension in the home. Making sure each child is noticed and receives equal attention can help to alleviate this rivalry.

Family Member Roles

Family roles such as being the oldest child or middle child may shift when children become part of a blended family. Dealing with this change can be difficult for some.

Discipline Issues

Discipline by a parent that is not the biological parent can be difficult for some kids to handle. In some cases, children may wind up spiltting their time between two households, creating two sets of rules.

A new step-parent may not have experience parenting, and not know how to react to the stages their partner’s kids go through. There may be a more significant age difference between siblings — or children could be closer in age than natural siblings, causing tension.

That’s why establishing ground rules so everyone is on the same page is vital for a blended family to live together peacefully.

Benefits of a Blended Family

A blended family is unique: they have to navigate birthdays and holidays with different sets of parents, learn new roles, and get to know a new family as their own. Family life post-divorce can be complicated, but blended families are a chance for a fresh start and new traditions.

While blended families can face many challenges, there are also many benefits of being a part of this type of union:

  • Children can thrive when two parents in the home can provide a loving and stable environment.
  • There can also be better financial stability if two incomes are coming into the home.
  • Solid relationships and bonds can form between new siblings.
  • A greater understanding of diversity occurs.

While there will certainly be an adjustment period with a blended family, the benefits can far outweigh the challenges when everyone works together to reach a common goal. It’s important for everyone to be on the same page and committed to making a blended family be as successful as possible.

Kristina Cappetta

Kristina is a former TV news producer and 24/7 mom who has written for The Bump, Today's Parent, Family Education, and many other publications.

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