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Merging Families

When families introduce new partners and children into a young person’s life, it can be an unsettling time for everyone. Figuring out where everyone fits and how to get along can be a challenge.

Becoming part of a new family is a big change in a young person’s life. Whether their parents have remarried, or found a new partner with kids of their own, getting used to living with different people can be difficult.

Young people in blended families will need to adjust to having new family members, new house rules, different routines or jobs to do, and they'll need to figure out what their role in the family is. Living with a new family will be quite different to what they are used to, and the change can be stressful.

Keeping an eye out

Sometimes, young people faced with having to live in a blended family situation don’t feel like they get much say in what happens. This can leave them feeling confused - especially if they haven’t been told what’s happening. They might feel angry their family isn’t what they expected it to be, or sad things aren't the way they used to be.

These thoughts and feelings might not get expressed in words. If someone is having trouble adjusting, you might notice that they:

  • Are irritable, have mood swings, get angry quickly or become argumentative or rude
  • Act in ways that aren’t normal for them
  • Spend less time at home or avoid being at home
  • Seem stressed or tense
  • Appear sad, quiet or withdrawn

Healthy conversations

Encouraging young people to talk about how they’re doing can help them identify problems and start to find solutions:

  • Ask how they’re getting on with the new people in their life, and how the change is affecting them
  • Encourage them to talk about how they are doing, and let them know you are available to listen
  • Let them know it’s okay to be feeling whatever they are feeling - handling big family change is difficult
  • Encourage them to talk to their parents and try to work out a compromise or solution to any problems they are having

For parents:
 

  • Talk to them about the changes that are taking place. Discuss what’s going to happen and how things will work
  • Ask for their opinion.  Ask what they would like to see happen and include them when making decisions
  • Acknowledge how they feel about the situation. You could say: “I can see that you’re feeling stressed. Is there anything that would help make this easier?”
  • Remind them they are still part of the family, that you want to include them, and that they are loved

Taking action

Getting used to living with a new family will take time. Here are some things you could try to make the process easier:

  • Spend time together and do the things you usually do together. Lots of things are changing so it’s helpful to have some things that remain the same
  • Remind the young person of the strengths and skills they have, and encourage them to keep doing things they enjoy
  • If there are new siblings, ask if they want to include them in the things you do together. This could be a good way of everyone getting to know each other and becoming better friends
  • If they are struggling, encourage them to seek help and get extra support. They could talk to their doctor or a counsellor

For parents or caregivers:
 

  • Make time to spend with your kids, one on one
  • Help them to take part in the family. Include them in family activities, and give them important jobs to do that give them a chance to contribute
  • Do things with the whole family. Organise an outing or cook a family meal together-anything that will get everyone working together

Resources

Youthline

Confidential Helpline: 0800 376 633

Youthline provides free phone, text, and email counselling support. Its website has great information for youth dealing with challenging situations, including a section on family relationships.

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