Helping children adapt to a new family


Teenage girl on mobileWhen a new partner is introduced, it's common for children to react defensively - even if the break down of the relationship was many years before. 

The new partner not only highlights the fact that mum and dad will never be reconciled, but also presents a threat to the time and affection they have previously enjoyed with their lone parent.

Children of all ages will inevitably make comparisons with the other parent. And many struggle with an acute sense of betrayal if they like the new step-parent and may find reasons not to like them just to avoid this feeling.

But underneath this, children also deeply fear not being loved by the step-parent and hence may flit between being difficult and challenging, and being loving and kind.

It's also worth remembering that in our current culture, many children have been brought up with stories of wicked stepfathers and stepmothers, and 'ugly' step-siblings who make their life a misery. To overcome these myths, they need plenty of reassurance that these are just stories, not an inevitable reality.

Practicalities and discipline

Children also worry about the practicalities of a second family. Young children may worry about whether there's enough love to go around, while older children worry about money, transport and meal arrangements.

The more you can do to include children in the planning of your new home, the easier it will be for them to feel confident that their needs will not be overlooked. Whenever possible, children should have a say in how their new household will be run and be kept informed about when changes need to be made.

Children also need to know how discipline will be handled. Wherever possible, it should be the birth parent who maintains the key role of authority and discipline with their children - especially in the early days while the relationship with the step-parent is still being built.

This can be difficult at times when the birth parent is not around, but as long as children are fully informed of the rules and roles of the house, it's easier for them to know it's a joint effort.

Starting a second family is a second chance to enjoy family life, not just for the new couple, but also for any children involved. Building a successful second family is especially valuable for children because it provides the opportunity to see that relationships can work and to witness first hand how fulfilling a loving relationship can be.

But a harmonious and happy second home takes time, patience and commitment - all of which are well worth the effort.

  • Get more information about second families from the Relate guide, Step Families - Living Successfully with Other People's children, by Suzie Hayman. Available from the Relate online bookstore


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Last updated: about 3 years ago