How to merge a family: top tips for managing relationships between step-siblings
Finding ‘the one’ is hard enough, but when you discover that ‘the one’ actually comes with an extra two or three people in tow, it can be even harder. Jo Middleton shares her top tips to help you create loving and lasting relationships between step-siblings
Navigating the pressures of a new relationship is tough enough without adding potential step-siblings to the mix. But merging families doesn’t have to be difficult; take a look at our 9 top tips to managing relationships between step-siblings and you’ll be ready for whatever life throws at you.
Accept that it’s tough
This is key; you may have this idea in your head that all you have to do is meet your Mr or Mrs Right and then you can move on to the happily ever after, but it just doesn’t work like that in the real world. Once you recognise this – and manage your expectations accordingly – it’s much easier to deal with any stresses that arise (I promise!)
Build a network
There will definitely be times when you feel overwhelmed and frustrated, and want to talk. If it’s a specific issue that you need to raise as a family, then that’s one thing, but if it’s just a case of needing to let off a bit of steam, this is often better done externally, rather than putting extra pressure on family relationships. Having a network of supportive friends and family gives you this space. It also comes in useful for practical things like babysitting, to make sure that you and your new partner get time alone, as well as with your children.
Lay down some rules
Although it might not feel like it at times, children definitely like boundaries. Having clear rules in place that apply to the whole family can be really helpful when it comes to managing relationships between new step-siblings, as it helps them to see that everyone is being treated fairly. If you children have a hand in putting the rules together, then they’ll feel even more invested in them.
Of course you want your new stepchildren to like you, but try to resist the instinct to be extra specially nice to them, or to let them off behaviour that you enforce with your own children. If anyone has the feeling that they aren’t being treated equally, it can quickly turn into resentment. Consistency is the key here.
Create some personal space
Ideally, you’re going to want step-siblings to have the option of having a separate bedroom, but if this simply isn’t possible, are there any other places in the house that you make into private spaces for individual children? It might just be a little corner under the stairs with a beanbag and special pictures on the wall, or perhaps a shed converted into a hideaway. It’s important for children to feel that they have a safe space to call their own.
Don’t make them share everything
Children are taught to share from a very young age – and it is important – but when you’re blending two families, be careful not to leave your children feeling like everything in their lives has suddenly become public property. They are probably already feeling upset about the idea of having to share you, so don’t make them share their Lego too, if they don’t want to!
Give them space to work things out
When your own kids argue, chances are, you just let them get on with it. You know that it’s a natural part of growing up in a family, and it’s a way to test and cement relationships. When you’re blending two families, you’re likely to be a little more on edge, and may see this natural bickering as a sign that things aren’t working. Don’t rush to step in – instead, give them the space to sort things out for themselves sometimes. They’re finding their feet too, so they need room to test the boundaries and figure out how everyone fits in.
Get professional support
You may find it useful to look beyond your own network to get support from expert organisations. For more information and advice try Gingerbread, Family Lives or BeStepWise.
The most important thing is to make sure that you enjoy spending time with each other, even when times get tough. Do lots of activities together, inside and outside the home, to help you get to know each other – after all, the family that plays together, stays together!