Dating after Divorce: Blending Families

You’ve been divorced for three years and have been working at moving on in your life, establishing new relationships and feeling so much better about yourself than you have in a very long time. You are grateful for your friends and family and the support they have given you.

You have met someone through a good friend who you enjoy spending time with. You both seem to have had similar experiences in ending a marriage with children to coparent. In fact, your children are very close in age and you find it refreshing to talk with each other about them and compare notes, something you never felt able to do with your ex-spouse. You are very excited to be in a relationship with someone you can trust and lean on.

About six months after you met, you agreed it was time to meet each others’ children. You know it is not easy for children to allow a new adult into their lives so you want to be as careful as possible. You expect your ex-husband, Larry will not take it well that you are in a new relationship, however, you know it is better to tell him before you introduce the children to Alan.

This is how many stepparent relationships begin. The first meeting with the children, while it can be quite benign on the surface, makes a strong impression. There are many things to consider when entering into this role:

Most parents don’t discuss their child-rearing theories before becoming parents. This is in part true because new parents don’t know what their favored practices will be. In a blended family, at least one parent has had this experience. Talking through what you believe about discipline, parental authority, levels of strictness, rituals, favorite restaurants, etc. can help avoid painful and upsetting experiences when you come up against strong beliefs that are not necessarily shared. While there may be differences between you, they may not all be of equal importance. Take the time to figure these pieces out before there is a disagreement in front of the children. This is confusing at best and can add fuel to a relationship that may already be stressful for them. For some children, the fact that they like the step parent can create its own problem. Feelings of disloyalty to their biological parent may result in them withdrawing just when you thought you were making some headway with them. That headway could be the reason they are pulling away.

One of the areas that is often a point of contention is about how much authority you will each have with each others’ children. I’m sure you’ve heard of the situation where children tell stepparents they don’t have to listen to them because they are not their real parents. How you each support each other in this regard and the sensitivities in play with the children’s other biological parent, can complicate or facilitate a family life. When at all possible, having all the parents, biological and step, sitting down to discuss what could work is optimal. When this isn’t possible, having an understanding at least with your spouse makes a huge difference.

It is not a given that step parents take on the same roles in parenting as the biological parent does. Stepparents do not always take on the role of disciplinarian. It is often difficult for children to accept a new parent figure in their lives and taking on this role, depending on how the children are faring, may not be the most appropriate decision. The conversation between you and your spouse will be ongoing. These situations go through many changes as the children age and their relationship to a stepparent transforms with time.

Keep in mind that blending families is not unlike blending cultures. Each family creates its own way of doing things, from celebrating holidays to doing the laundry. The more you are able to discuss and compromise before make decisions, the better the prognosis for a conflict-free family life.

© Copyright 2011 by Shendl Tuchman, PsyD. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Tracy

    August 15th, 2011 at 5:16 PM

    Blending two families is one of the hardest things that I have ever had to do and as a result of some bad decisons with it all my second marriage fell apart pretty quickly. Neither of us talked about we parented, we just assumed that we were in love and that marriage would make it all work out. Not! We were totally different when it came to parenting styles and the kids all knew it. And honestly they all used that against us, and instead of coming together and working as a team we let it all fall apart. It makes me sad but that’s the way it is.

  • Fern G.

    August 15th, 2011 at 10:23 PM

    I really admire anyone that would even marry again after going through a divorce, never mind attempt to blend families. My best friend did and she said what she learned most was that you can’t expect your children and his all to be friends nor should you force them to be. “We’re not the Brady Bunch!” was her favorite retort when asked why she didn’t make- not encourage, make- them all get along. They were all individuals trying to adjust to change best they can.

    In time they did all blend relatively well despite having the usual sibling battles every family does. Don’t force it is the message. Just because you like their dad doesn’t mean they have to like his kids or vice versa.


    August 15th, 2011 at 11:30 PM

    I’ve dated after being divorced and trust me,its not easy at all.I have just one child but he is crazy against a new dad.Its been four months since I met this really nice man but just dont have the permission of my little son to introduce the two of them to each other!Its very diffcult trying to get someone new enter your family.

  • CasoCourtney

    August 16th, 2011 at 4:11 AM

    The blended family can be so tricky. I have seen bad cases and good cases- I was the product of a good one, but it never was without difficulty. When you go in thinking that everything is going to be perfect it is never going to live up to the expectations. If you think that it will be perfect then you are bound to be disappointed, but I think that communication between the spouses and the parents is critical to success.

  • George

    August 16th, 2011 at 6:43 AM

    A divorce usually means the failure of an institution called marriage and subsequently a relationship that was meant for life. When a child witnesses such breaks in relationship, he usually tends to lose credibility in human relationships and the society as a whole.

  • Zach

    August 16th, 2011 at 7:50 AM

    Here is the thing that I see all of the time in cases like this. The parents forget that they are going into a situation that has likely been set in stone for many years now and they think that they can change them to the way that they want them. Nope it does not work that way. Patterns are not established overnight and guess what? They are not going to be changed overnight either. maybe if the grown ups in many of these blended families would start to act like grwon ups for a change so many of them would not have these kinds of problems.

  • buzz

    August 16th, 2011 at 1:04 PM

    I have had my mom bring home someone who was gonna be my new dad.I didn’t like that at all.But slowly things changed and now when I think of it I feel I was so stupid about that.I am pretty close to my new dad and things have greatly improved.

  • Miami

    August 17th, 2011 at 4:16 AM

    The blended family is so commonplace now that you would think that all of the problems that could come up would have been addressed already. I guess that every family is different and is bound to all face totally different situations, but you know that there are all kinds of tools and resources available for families to use when they need them. The thing is that I think that too many of them avoid facing the problems until then it is literally too late to do anything about it. And by then trying to fix things is like hitting a brick wall time and again.


    August 17th, 2011 at 11:42 AM

    Any new person we meet,the initial impression is good and the both parties try to make interaction a pleasant one. But when it comes to a step-parent,this is not the case!there is a prejudicial dislike and even hatred in some cases…It can be really hard to become friends with your new partner’s kids!

  • WulF

    August 17th, 2011 at 7:09 PM

    Introducing your partner to your kids can quickly turn into a is to be handled with a lot of caution and talking to the kids before the actual meeting and telling them all the good things about your new partner would be a good start.

  • RunninFast

    August 18th, 2011 at 4:14 AM

    Why do these families feel like they have to go it alone when there are tons of ways for them to get support in most communities?

    And I don’t mean to be the meanie here, but kids can be pretty vindictive and mmean and can make a bad home situation even worse when they set their collective minds to it.

  • Eve Anderson

    August 19th, 2011 at 4:15 PM

    If you want to introduce children to a potential stepparent, you should do it right at the start or as soon as you can, not six months after you begin dating them. You can introduce them simply as a friend at the start then see what if anything develops from there. The more time you spend with a man or woman they don’t know, the more jealous and insecure they will get.

  • penelope milne

    August 20th, 2011 at 2:16 AM

    @Eve: Half a year and you still haven’t met his kids? Quite unacceptable. Are you sure he’s a free agent and not hiding a wife and family somewhere? I’m sorry to bring that unsavory thought up but it’s been known to happen.

  • momplus2

    August 20th, 2011 at 5:44 PM

    @Eve-I would start thinking that they didn’t want to know my kids at all if that was the case. That’s a long time. I would also be tempted to point out that my children were here long before they were. If they didn’t start showing interest in my family no way is the relationship is going to work.

  • Rowan Arnott

    August 20th, 2011 at 7:25 PM

    Six months isn’t a long time to be dating someone and not having them meet your kids. I think that’s a very smart approach. I totally disagree that you should be introducing every Tom, Dick and Harriet you have a casual date with to your children just in case they turn out to be “the one”. That will confuse them mightily.

    It will probably make your date run a mile too if they know you see them as parent material already when you’ve just met! All that does is make you look needy and desperate. Have a bit of self-respect for goodness sake! Take the whole process s-l-o-w.

  • B.W.

    August 20th, 2011 at 9:39 PM

    Why any sane person date and/or want to dive into a new marriage so soon after a divorce? Three years is no time at all. I’ll never understand that if I live to be 100. The kids won’t get along with them as easily as you want them to nor approve if the divorce is fresh in their minds, and for any child of school age and over at the time of the split, I’d say that it would be.

    What’s the rush? If they want to marry you because they love you, they won’t mind waiting years for that. Give your children more time to get over the divorce first.

  • seth j.

    August 20th, 2011 at 10:59 PM

    @B.W. – Wise words indeed. I dashed into a new relationship because I was hurt and angry about my previous marriage falling apart, not because I loved her. My wife left me for another man and this new woman just happened to be the first that showed me any real caring while I was grieving over that. Bottom line: I needed to feel loved and that I wasn’t a piece of crap. This new woman made me feel that way, at least sometimes.

    After the divorce, my wife remarried within a month. So I married this woman too in a tit-for-tat move. What a mistake. When I got past the grieving process and cleared my head I was dismayed when I saw how incompatible we really were. I’m now stuck in a marriage I don’t want to be in. I won’t divorce her because she stood by me when I was at my lowest.

  • james tanner

    August 21st, 2011 at 12:18 AM

    I agree you should take it slow, especially if the children are fairly young. My older children shook hands with the woman I was planning to marry after my divorce and welcomed her, while the younger siblings (6 and 8) were plotting how to get rid of her from the first day they laid eyes on her.

    You’re walking on eggshells at the start for sure and it needs to be approached with extreme care and consideration for all concerned, both adults and children.

  • Stan Meadows

    August 21st, 2011 at 4:41 PM

    @Tracy…in any marriage where one parent isn’t the biological parent, the one that’s new to the family needs to learn their place within the existing family, and that place is secondary. They are my kids and I decide how they are raised. Any new wife of mine will sit down and pay attention to how it’s done by me and do the same. Simple.

  • paula stevens

    August 21st, 2011 at 6:50 PM

    @Stan Meadows–Their place? LOL. Good luck with that, Mr 1950’s. Let me guess: you subscribe to the ‘children should be seen and not heard’ group too.

    Listen, do the women of the world a favor please Stan, would ya? Don’t ever propose to a gal again. I’m sure you’ll agree with me that they don’t deserve you.

  • Shendl Tuchman

    September 3rd, 2011 at 10:02 AM

    Thank you all so much for your comments. If nothing else, you have demonstrated how one size does not fit all. Each family is different and the needs of the whole and the needs of the individual can alter what the best course of action might be. There are so many details to pay attention to. If you have an ex-partner that you can talk with, this makes it so much easier on your children. If there is conflict, it is often a good idea to get some third party assistance in order to protect your children from the conflict. This will be the single most important ingredient in how well they do being in a divorced family and how well they do being in their own relationships as adults.

    When thinking about introducing children to new partners or new potential partners, be aware that they could form attachments to the new or newish person in your life. If the relationship doesn’t last, you would not be the only one who is sad that it did not work out. You may want to consider that one of the reasons children resist having new people is to protect themselves from having another loss. Children can be amazingly astute about how to take care of themselves, even if they don’t know it is what they are doing.

    Thanks again everyone.

    Shendl Tuchman

  • phyllis harris

    September 26th, 2011 at 3:09 PM

    I’d like to chime in from a kids perspective on this whole thing. Growing up most of my friends had divorced parents and introducing a new father to the family dynamic rarely worked out. Children are usually angry with their parents breaking up and blame it on both of them for not making things workout. When a new figure is brought in they see them as a “replacement” for the defunct previous parent. Seeing them in this light makes rebelling against them common along with this comes deep distain. The fact of the matter is that THEY DON’T WANT A STRANGER TO BOSS THEM AROUND. And the step parent, rarely wants to act as a father figure to a child he has only known for a few years at the most. It leads to an awkward family dynamic and when not treated with care it can destroy your kids.

  • Adam Bostick

    October 18th, 2011 at 5:16 PM

    I have multiple points of view on this subject. First as a child I was blended along with my one biological sister into a family with five new older sisters. We lived with there dad full time and our patents did none of the things recommended by Dr. Tuchman. We met our “new dad” in 1976 after our parents eloped with less than a month of dating, they where already married, and a new Sherrie was in town. I turned 4 that month and was young enough to go with the flow. I was treated and punished different, better treatment and worse punishments from the start but grew to love my dad, my sisters resented me and my mother. To make things worse my step sisters got in trouble when they went home if they had any fun, or spoke if it. Family gatherings where horrible, my sister and I would get sick by what we went thru at my step dads family, we where treated like outcast. These things all made an impression on me and among the reasons I was so hurt when my spouse of 16 years left for another man, though she was unfaithful before, I always feared my kids going thru what I did.
    My divorce came and went, the kids stayed with me in our home and their mother left, a few miles down the road. The relationship between my ex and myself is a pretty good one. We don’t argue or fight though it’s not always easy with her putting our kids behind her desires to be with her high-school boyfriend post face book reunite. We generally support each others decisions in front of the kids and she had met, you guessed it my new girl friend. My kids have also met her and both truly adore her, several times in the recent past they wanted to spend days with her while I worked a 24 hour shift at the fire station. Their mother was pleased with that and would have more time with her boyfriend and his son. These circumstances are indeed a mixed bag. My kids adore my girlfriend and she is great, truly the type of person I did not think existed, but she has two kids just younger than mine. I have a 14 year old son, 100% over achiever and jock, a 12 year old daughter, social butterfly and all girl. My girlfriend has two boys, the youngest 9 and he is a spark plug, smart and colorful while his brother is 11 and is a deep thinker and analysis of everything is natural for him. All of the kids get along though the youngest put on a few shows in the beginning but they where posing and mild followed by buy in and him wanting to be around. His older brother is a different story, he is a little fearful of loosing his place. He tries to stay on his mothers hip when I am around and when he is gone he text or calls a lot to check up on her. We actually spend very limited time together but this seems to be an issue. He does not want me or u’s to attend any of his games or school functions fearing embarrassment, and we honor that. He does this with his father also and his girlfriend, so it’s not just me. We being all of us probably stepped over some of his boundaries to quickly, with my kids staying there few times, and even visiting there grandmother at her lakeside home thus summer while I worked. Those boundaries are now recognized, and we are not currently doing any of those things. He is a great and kind child, always respectful but he seems so at unease with our (his mother and I) that I am worried about him, as his mother of course. I absolutely love her, and we have been dating a year now, I expect to move towards an engagement this coming year. How do I make the next step with him first? His whole life will be affected by how we budge his boundaries and discuss them. What should I/we do? My kids and his little brother are getting along great, actually better than I ever could have hoped for, but we can not move with the older brother in an emotional bubble! Any advice? Any resources? We are in Austin, Texas. My children and I attended counseling and seem ready for what challenges are next. My girlfriend and her kids also see a counselor, but progress is not apparent with the one, kind of seems to use his “stress” to control his mothers actions, or tries to. Most of his Stress is perceived and is along the lines of, “my friends may see us” or “dad may see Adam if he is here”. We do have fun as a group but it always had a cloud of how will he be. Please send me your suggestions.

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