Thriving Stepfamilies

by Megan McQueen

A six-year-old I know defines family as “a group of people who love each other.” This simple and inclusive definition encompasses biological, adoptive, queer, “chosen,” stepfamilies, blended families, and more. Intentionally considering your family’s unique members and origins can help you be thoughtful of the gentle steps you can take to build your loving family.

Communication Building

Strong family communication styles will be helpful in stepfamilies. Find ways to connect and play together. Stepparents may attend a child’s sporting event, bake cookies, or go to a concert together. A child may wonder if this newer family may change the relationship with their parents. Keep special times together between child and parent. Anticipating fun times together may help show children that you value your connections with them. Jean A. McBride writes, “Stepfamilies are complicated families with a history of loss. And loss can bring with it feelings like fear, sadness, anger, resentment, and disappointment, to name just a few. People in a stepfamily often come to their new family feeling guarded, because no one wants to have any of those other feelings again.” Acknowledging these feelings will help support everyone as they move through them. Adults may want to have conversations about their new roles in their families. Clarifying conversations can help prevent miscommunication conflicts.

Normalize Conflict

Disagreements do not have to be negative! Planning for and expecting different ideas can help everyone stay calmer. Perhaps your family wants to create a predictable “family meeting” schedule to give time for everyone to check in with each other. Connection times like these offer opportunities to build strong communication skills and resilience. Your family will have valuable practice choosing their responses and maintaining respect. These essential life skills might include problem-solving and compassionate compromise. The National Stepfamily Resource Center reminds us that children will watch and listen to how adults relate to their former partners (if they have them). Working toward kind communication, even when disagreeing, will be a valuable learning tool.

Go Slow

Building relationships takes time. People may feel cautious about letting themselves trust because they have seen relationships end previously. Alison O’Mahony suggests finding common interests and bonding through shared activities. Continue to be curious about each other’s lives and keep your long-term goal of constructing a loving family in mind. James Bray shares that the first year of a new marriage is often the most challenging. Knowing this may help you hold on to the perspective that staying patient and working toward your vision for your family may be realized in the future.

As I continuously remind myself, we can only control what we can control. We cannot control how the people in our lives behave; we can only control our responses. Hold firm to the love that created your family, especially when times are trying. Influence your home with your calm, steady presence, and enjoy the moments that glimmer.


Be StepWise (site) (YouTube)


How to Thrive As a Stepfamily (YouTube)

National Stepfamily Resource Center

Queer Stepfamilies by Katie L. Acosta

The Stepfamily Handbook by Patricia Papernow and Karen Bonnell

Megan McQueen is a warmhearted teacher, coach, consultant, and writer. She grounds her work in empathetic education, imparting a strong sense of community and social skills to those with which she works. Megan prioritizes emotional learning and problem solving skills. When not at work, she is most likely playing with her husband, two children, and pup.

Learn more about the Oregon Parenting Education Collaborative and read our blog!

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