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ANZ Show - Blended Families

and the Holidays

The Ask Nurse Z Show airs weekly on Internet Radio Stations: and on Please check the station schedules for the current dates and times.  Here we have presented the text form of the show for your review and information.


December is a month of holidays and celebrations and should be a time of great family memories and warmth. Getting through the days can be challenging but, especially complicated when dealing with blended families.

When families become blended following Divorce, Death, Remarriage, or Grand parents and others becoming parents, the holiday season can cause many to suffer from unwanted anxiety and stress. Today we have provided some helpful tips you may want to consider so you and your family can enjoy being blended and get through the holidays as worry-free as possible.


   Step-Parenting and Blended Family Foundations

How to Bond with Stepchildren and Deal with Step family Issues
When families "blend", things rarely progress smoothly. Some children may resist changes, while parents can become frustrated when the new family doesn't function like their previous family. While changes to family structure require adjustment time for everyone involved, these guidelines can help blended families work out their growing pains and live together successfully.

Planning a blended family

When people decide to make a life together and form a new, blended family that includes children from one or both of your previous relationships. What lies ahead can be both a rewarding and a challenging experience. It can take a long time for a blended family to begin to feel comfortable and function well together.

Laying the foundations for a blended family
Having survived a painful divorce or separation and then managed to find a new loving relationship, the temptation can often be to rush into remarriage and a blended family without first laying solid foundations. By taking your time, you give everyone a chance to get used to each other, and used to the idea of marriage.

Too many changes at once can unsettle children. Blended families have the highest success rate if the couple waits two years or more after a divorce to remarry, instead of piling one drastic family change onto another.

Don't expect to fall in love with your partner’s children overnight. Get to know them. Love and affection take time to develop.

Find ways to experience “real life” together. Taking both sets of kids to a theme park every time you get together is a lot of fun, but it isn’t reflective of everyday life. Try to get the kids used to your partner and his or her children in daily life situations.

Insist on respect. You can’t insist people like each other but you can insist that they treat one another with respect.

Limit your expectations. You may give a lot of time, energy, love, and affection to your new partner’s kids that will not be returned immediately. Think of it as making small investments that may one day yield a lot of interest.

Given the right support, kids should gradually adjust to the prospect of marriage and being part of a new family. It is your job to communicate openly, meet their needs for security, and give them plenty of time to make a successful transition.

Trying to make a blended family a replica of your first family, or the ideal nuclear family, can often set family members up for confusion, frustration, and disappointment. Instead, embrace the differences and consider the basic elements that make a successful blended family:

  • Solid marriage. Without the marriage, there is no family. It's harder to take care of the marriage in a blended family because you don't have couple time like most first marriages do. You'll have to grow and mature into the marriage while parenting.

  • Being civil. If family members can be civil with one another on a regular basis rather than ignoring, purposely trying to hurt, or completely withdrawing from each other, you're on track.


  • All relationships are respectful. This is not just referring to the kids' behavior toward the adults. Respect should be given not just based on age, but also based on the fact that you are all family members now.

  • Compassion for everyone’s development. Members of your blended family may be at various life stages and have different needs (teens versus toddlers, for example). They may also be at different stages in accepting this new family. Family members need to understand and honor those differences.

  • Room for growth. After a few years of being blended, hopefully the family will grow and members will choose to spend more time together and feel closer to one another.

Dealing with differences in blended families
Recognizing the ways that step families are different can help you understand and accept some of the problems you’re likely to face in your new family structure, and can be an important first step in achieving a healthy blended family.

Age differences. In blended families, there may be children with birthdays closer to one another than possible with natural siblings, or the new step-parent may be only a few years older than the eldest child.

Parental inexperience. One step-parent may have never been a parent before, and therefore may have no experience of the different stages children go through.

Changes in family relationships. If both parents remarry partners with existing families, it can mean children suddenly find themselves with different roles in two blended families. For example, one child may be the eldest in one step family but the youngest in the other. Blending families may also mean one child loses his or her uniqueness as the only boy or girl in the family.

Difficulty in accepting a new parent. If children have spent a long time in a one-parent family, or if children still nurture hopes of reconciling their parents, it may be difficult for them to accept a new person.

Coping with demands of others. In blended families, planning family events can get complicated, especially when there are custody considerations to take into account. Children may grow frustrated that vacations, parties, or weekend trips now require complicated arrangements to include their new step-siblings.

Changes in family traditions. Most families have very different ideas about how annual events such as holidays, birthdays, and family vacations should be spent. Kids may feel resentful if they’re forced to go along with someone else’s routine. Try to find some common ground or create new traditions for your blended family.

Parental insecurities. A step-parent may be anxious about how he or she compares to a child’s natural parent, or may grow resentful if the stepchildren compare them unfavorably to the natural parent.


Strengthening a blended family

One challenge to creating a cohesive blended family is establishing trust. The children may feel uncertain about their new family and resist your efforts to get to know them. Learn not to take their lack of enthusiasm (and other negative attitudes) personally. It isn’t that they don’t want you to be happy; they just don’t know what it will be like to share their parent with a new spouse, let alone his or her kids. These feelings are normal.
Create clear, safe boundaries in blended families

Keep ALL parents involved
Children will adjust better to the blended family if they have access to both biological parents. It is important if all parents are involved and work toward a parenting partnership.

Let the kids know that you and your ex-spouse will continue to love them and be there for them throughout their lives. Tell the kids that your new spouse will not be a ‘replacement’ mom or dad, but another person to love and support them.

Communicate often and openly in blended families
The way a blended family communicates says a lot about the level of trust between family members. When communication is clear, open, and frequent, there are fewer opportunities for misunderstanding and more possibilities for connection, whether it is between parent and child, step-parent and stepchild, or between step-siblings.

Uncertainty and worry about family issues often comes from poor communication. It might be helpful to set up some ‘house rules’ for communication within a blended family, such as:

  • Listen respectfully to one another
  • Address conflict positively
  • Establish an open and nonjudgmental atmosphere
  • Do things together—games, sports, activities
  • Show affection to one another comfortably

Tips for a healthy blended family
All brothers and sisters “fall out,” so don’t assume all family arguments are the result of living in a blended family.

Beware of favoritism. Be fair. Don’t overcompensate by favoring your stepchildren. This is a common mistake, made with best intentions, in an attempt to avoid indulging your biological children.
Communicate, communicate, communicate. Be sure to discuss everything. Never keep emotions bottled up or hold grudges.
Make special arrangements. If some of the kids “just visit,” make sure they have a place for their personal things. Bringing their toothbrushes and other “standard fare” each time they come to your home might make them feel like a visitor, not a member of the blended family.

Find support. Locate a step-parenting support organization in your community. You can learn how other blended families address some of the challenges of blended families.
Spend time every day with your child. Try to spend at least one “quiet time” period with your child (or children) daily. Even in the best of blended families, children still need to enjoy some “alone time” with each parent.



Here are a few tips for helping you and your blended family survive the holiday shuffle.

Communicate your plans clearly with family members with the understanding that you are just passing along information. For several reasons, blended families are more prone to miscommunication of their holiday plans. Fears of starting an argument, pressuring family members, and waiting to hear the plans of others, are just a few of the reason miscommunications occur. Information helps us make better decisions. You’ll be doing your family a favor if you can clearly convey your information.

Manage expectations. Be careful not to over commit.  If you combine the individual commitments of all of the family members in a blended family (including the ex), it often adds up to dizzying number of commitments! Prioritize the things that are important to you and let go of those things that are less important.

Let your children know that you understand that it can be difficult for them to balance multiple households. Use the holidays an opportunity to connect and empathize with your child. Acknowledging your child’s holiday stress can make the holiday less stressful for them, because it gives them someone to turn to.

Avoid using the children to communicate with your ex. This is a tough one for most blended families. Communicating with your ex through your children puts an unhealthy burden on them. As a parent, communicating directly with your ex is your responsibility.

Be Okay with Celebrating Holidays on Different Dates. When it comes to surviving the holidays in a new family setting, it is important to maintain an open mind. To create a more comfortable atmosphere during the holiday event, ensure that one single day works for every family member or most your family. Remember, it is okay to celebrate a holiday on a different date. The most important thing is being together.

Do Not Attempt to Have Control Over Every Interaction. A new setting can make you feel on edge. For many, this feeling derives from the thought of newer, unfamiliar family members spending quality time each other. However, it is important to let interactions occur naturally. Do not try to involve yourself in every conversation in order to keep any disputes from arising. The more natural the atmosphere feels, the more fun everyone will have and the more comfortable the holiday will be.   

Be aware of what you can and cannot control. Blended families have a lot personalities and the only person you can control is you. Let go of those things that are not within your control.  Focus on doing the best with the things that are in your control.

If You Have Nothing Nice to Say, Don’t Say Anything. Remember, the key to having a successful holiday is maintaining a positive attitude, especially if you are hosting the holiday gathering. To keep the peace, try not to say anything that could be misinterpreted by another family member and be sensitive to topics of conversation that may make anyone uncomfortable.

Create a New Tradition to Bring Everyone Together. One of the best things a newer, blended family can do to create a more comfortable holiday setting is starting a new tradition. Perhaps your old tradition used to be singing Christmas carols around the tree after opening presents. This could be uncomfortable or even sad after a family change. Change it up to help your blended family bond over a new experience, such as taking an after-dinner stroll to look at Christmas lights and singing carols in your neighborhood instead.

Happy Holidays,

Nurse Z

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