Blending Families Is Hard! My Best 10 Tips for Being A Step-Parent of Adult Kids

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Blending families is kind of like packing a moving truck. It’s hard work; most people don’t really want to do it, and there is way more heavy stuff than you expected!

Basically, blending families means an extra-large U-Haul size box of emotions and complexities!

 It will take determination and lots of positive energy to meet the challenge of stitching together different backgrounds to create a whole family.

happy blended family playing with grandkids
Blending families takes time and effort, but the results are worth it!

Blending Families Issues

Let’s be honest: Most of the emotional load in this situation is carried out by middle-aged women. As an emotional leader, most women understand that a successful “blending” will take time, hard work, and a spirit of forgiveness.

Few relationships are more nuanced than learning to accept and love another person’s children.

 It seems like a simple formula: you love their dad, and they are half of their dad. You should love them!

 There are so many new dynamics when creating a unified household. It can feel impossible some days, dealing with nurturing a new marriage and attempting to “find your lane and then stay in your lane” with your spouse’s kids.

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So, how do you merge households? Are there any “insider secrets” to foster rewarding step-parent relationships?

And how in the world do you manage the delicate intricacies of blending families that include adult children?

Creating a New Normal After Marriage

Merging two households is an exercise in patience, coordination, and sometimes a dash of creative problem-solving. Here are some suggestions to help you sail smoothly through this phase:

Establish a Unified Home

Creating an environment that feels equally welcoming to all is essential as you combine spaces. Start by decluttering and then merging belongings.

You know those old pieces of lopsided artwork and the endless stash of “gold star” papers? It’s time to pare down the mountain of memories. Combing a household is a tricky business, and one of the goals is to make it a type of neutral space.

Respect The Memories

This does not mean you have the right to toss out memories that belong to your new spouse. But, as a couple, it is time to thoughtfully pare down the extra stuff that clutters up the visual space and your storage space.

If you are blending families with adult children, give them a box (or two!) of their childhood floats and jetsam. It’s time to let your grown kids take home their childhood memories to share with the next generation.

No parent in the world spends time re-reading their kids’ schoolwork and essays or wearing the painted macaroni-laced necklace that was the second-grade Mother’s Day class project.

Mom laughing with her adult kids.
Now that the kids are grown, give them the boxes of their projects and accomplishments.

Let Go of The Past and Look toward Your future

It’s time to let go of the things and hold on to the memories.

As a couple, discuss which items are essential and sentimental for each of you, ensuring everyone feels respected and included.

Create New Routines

Blending families means accommodating different schedules and habits. Establish routines that suit the new household configuration. Maybe it’s a Sunday brunch tradition or a weekly game night—shared activities can become the bedrock of new family bonds.

If you are a parent of adult kids who live out of state, you won’t need to adjust your household routines. But, if you have adult kids living near you and your new spouse, be prepared to find space on the calendar for activities together.

Schedule a “Debrief” Session

After blended family events, schedule an in-depth discussion with your spouse about what worked and what didn’t. Let your spouse share openly about what felt good and what was a little uncomfortable.

Give them space to suggest some tweaks for future events. Maybe your new spouse wants help with the dishes, OR maybe your new spouse doesn’t want anyone to touch the dishes!

 The goal is acknowledging that while your marriage is flexible, you want to honor and protect your relationship.

Balance the Space

Spatial dynamics can be challenging. When your adult kids visit, communicate that you expect respect for privacy and personal space. Ensure each family member has a personal retreat within the home—a space to call their own.

woman relaxing on couch with eyes closed.
It’s normal to want quiet time when you have a house full of guests. Make sure you have created a private space for you to relax.

If possible, make your primary bedroom a place of retreat and seclusion. I am not talking about the décor or the colors you use; I am suggesting you create a private space for the two of you. When the family visits, you must have a physical space to take a break from all the activity.

Create a Private Space For Spouses

I have a blended family, and my husband and I use the primary bedroom as a “kid-free zone.” We both respect the reality that spending time with adult kids who are not your own can be tricky.

Retreating to the primary bedroom is encouraged for both of us when we feel overstimulated or want to be quiet.

Are You A “Bonus Mom”?

Our family doesn’t use the term “step-parent.” How about a suggestion? Try swapping out “stepmom” for “bonus mom,” depending on the kids’ ages. It’s a more updated term with no negative stereotypes of fairy tale villains!

Whether your “bonus kids” are young or adult kids, building relationships with them must be a priority. It will most likely take time and a thought-out plan of intentional behavior to build a relationship with your “bonus” kids.

Developing trust and safety in a blended family is hard work, but it can be done. There are some exceptions, though- you can’t force anyone to love or respect you (no matter how amazing you might be!)

If you have been trying to establish a relationship with a “bonus” kid and it is not working, give yourself some grace. Sometimes, there are unconscious obstacles in developing relationships. Permit yourself to let go of the “ideal” relationship, making room to accept the current reality.

Try these ideas for navigating this journey with grace and efficacy, and be prepared for it to take some time.

  • Blended Families Take Time
  • Creating meaningful bonds with stepchildren doesn’t happen overnight. Dedicate time to get to know their interests, values, and quirks. Genuine interest and empathy go a long way in building trust.
  • Handle Conflicts Wisely
  • When disagreements arise between biological parents and step-parents, prioritize collaborative problem-solving. Focus on shared goals rather than differences, ensuring your marriage and unity are at the forefront.
  • Managing Relationships with Adult Children
  • Involving adult children in a blended family arrangement has unique rewards and challenges. Adult children may have strong opinions about the new family structure. Honest discussions about expectations, roles, and boundaries are crucial to prevent misunderstandings.

Building a solid relationship with adult stepchildren can be rewarding but requires patience and effort.

Family enjoying a glass of wine together.
Make sure to take time to celebrate with your adult step kids, your support matters to them.

Suggestions For Dealing With Adult Step kids

Here are ten essential things to get “right” when building a relationship with adult stepkids.

1. Open communication: Create a safe space for open and honest communication. Listen actively and respect their opinions.

2. Respect boundaries: Understand and respect their personal space and boundaries.

3 Show interest: Take an interest in their lives, hobbies, and interests. Ask about their day and show genuine curiosity. Make an effort to develop individual relationships with adult stepchildren. Recognize and respect their maturity by discussing their lives, ambitions, and experiences.

4. Quality time: Spend quality time together, engaging in activities they enjoy. This could be going for a hike, listening to a podcast together, or cooking a meal.

5. Respect their parent: Respect their relationship with their biological parent. Avoid speaking negatively about their parent. This is an ironclad rule, even when dealing with adult step-kids.

6. Celebrate milestones: Celebrate their achievements and important life milestones.

7. Share your life: Share stories, experiences, and lessons learned. But don’t forget, listen more than you talk. Adult kids want to be heard and understood and feel safe with their new “step-parent.”

8. Be supportive: Offer your support and encouragement, especially during challenging times.

9. Respect their autonomy: Recognize and respect their autonomy and independence as adults.

10. Be patient: Building a relationship takes time. Be patient and understanding as you navigate your new family dynamic.

family playing block game around table.

Be As Flexible As Possible

Giving your spouse the space to skip occasional family events is essential in a blended family. Being supportive and accepting that your new spouse might not want or be able to attend every event is critical for relationship success.

Blending Families Takes Time and Commitment

Embrace this journey with an open heart, flexible mindset, and inexhaustible patience. Blending families is less about finding immediate perfection and more about evolving together, adapting, and building a new family narrative where each person feels valued and accepted.

Remember, the essence of navigating blended family dynamics lies in celebrating the diversity of experiences each member brings and finding strength in the unity you create.

Keep these key points as your compass: communication, respect, authenticity, and love. With these in mind, you can build a loving and accepting relationship with your adult stepkids.

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Melane Ann is a writer, blogger, and life coach. In 2020, she turned her experience in midlife divorce and creating a new life for herself into midlifeismagical. With a master's in Marriage and Family Therapy, Melane focuses on helping women over 50 navigate their relationships and commit to healthy aging. She and her new husband share 7 children between them. Melane jokes that she has a black belt in blended families! In addition to her writing, Melane works virtually with her coaching clients from her home office.

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