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Step/Blended Family Resources

Updated: Dec 5, 2023

Here is a collection of resources which point to some things which blended families might find helpful in considering. Depending on what is required, couples counselling or family counselling where the voices of all the family members are heard and represented, could be helpful to work through particular issues.



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Patterns of Development in Stepfamilies: In coming together and building a new family unit, a stepfamily can follow Seven

Stages of individual and family system development. Dr. Papernow’s research suggests that faster-paced families complete the entire Stepfamily Cycle in about 4 years, average-paced families take about 7 years, and slower-paced families can remain in the early stages longer than 4 years, with some for as many as 12 years.


The three Early Stages involve:

  • A Fantasy Stage, whereby partners might believe that because they love each other, their kids will also. Single parents might also fantasise that the single parenting load will be lessened with a new partner, and children might have strong fantasies about their parents getting back together;

  • An Immersion Stage, where the reality of the new structure starts to sink in, and the stepparent can often encounter strong negative feelings such as jealousy, resentment, confusion, and inadequacy, and;

  • An Awareness Stage, where blended families start to recognise painful dynamics and emotions, develop a deeper understanding of the clashing of norms, and previously held fantasies start to fade away.

The Middle Stages of Stepfamily Development involve:

  • A Mobilisation Stage, which involves members openly airing differences. This is typically the most embattled stage, with fights ranging from the seemingly small (Do we keep the vegemite in the cupboard or the fridge?) to the serious (Will we ever be able to make this work?). These fights are actually about whether family members will be able to make necessary changes and can compromise in order to make each other feel comfortable, and;

  • An Action Stage which sees family members drawing new boundaries and negotiating agreements about how the family will function. This stage is typically when the family starts to operate with less and less emphasis on the step issues.

The Later Stages of Stepfamily Development consist of:

  • A Contact Stage in which, after major structural changes from the Action Stage occur, a clearly defined stepparent role emerges, real relationships between stepparents and stepchildren start to form, and the marital relationship re-emerges as a source of comfort and connection, and finally;

  • A Resolution Stage, whereby a solid foundation is in place, new norms are now second-nature, and a family history starts to unfold. Although some members may feel more a part of the family than others, there is an open acceptance of this. Large decisions and stressful experiences, such as who will pay for education fees, shifting of custody arrangements, etc., no longer threaten the marital relationship and are handled with ease and confidence.

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Tips from (AU) Raising Children Network: Building strong relationships in blended families and stepfamilies: Step & blended families: relationships

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Gottman Blogs

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1. Research tells us that, for many children, becoming a stepfamily is harder and takes more time, than divorce.

Stepfamilies are generally easier for children eight and under, and for boys.

They are harder for girls (including, in my experience, for adult daughters of older recoupling dads). They are especially hard for young teen girls.


2. Stepparents everywhere seem to want more limits and boundaries with their stepchildren.

Parents everywhere seem to want more loving and understanding for their children.


3. Hands down, “authoriTATIVE parenting” is best for children on every measure imaginable, including bringing children through difficult transitions like divorce and becoming a stepfamily.

Authoritative parenting is both loving and firm:

Loving: Authoritative parents are responsive, warm, and empathic.

Firm: Authoritative parents calmly set moderately firm limits and they make developmentally appropriate demands for maturity.


4. Until and unless stepparents have forged a caring, trusting relationship with kids, parents need to retain the disciplinary role.

My guideline for stepparents is, “connection before correction.”

This very often takes years, not months!

Once stepparents have forged a caring relationship, they can move slowly into an authoritaTATIVE (loving and moderately firm) disciplinary role.

There are many healthy, thriving stepfamilies where stepparents do not have a disciplinary role.


5. AuthoriTARIAN parenting by stepparents is almost always toxic.

Authoritarian parenting is not loving or warm. It is firm and hard.

Authoritarian parenting often uses negative labels ("You’re lazy.” “You’re a slob.”), rather than positive requests ("I’d love it if you’d pick up your toys.”)


6. Meanwhile, successful stepcouples do work as a team.

Often stepparents can help parents to firm up a bit.

Parents can help stepparents to understand their children.

Stepparents have input.

Parents have final say about their own children.


7. Successful stepcouples face the same challenges that struggling stepcouples do.

Successful step-couples communicate frequently and constructively.

They discuss their parenting differences with kindness and caring.

Struggling stepcouples criticise and/or avoid.


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Other Blog Tips (Dr Patricia L Papernow)


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Disclaimer: This post is for informational and educational purposes only. It should not be taken as counselling/therapy advice or used as a substitute for such. You should always speak to your own counsellor.

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