The Modern Brady Brunch: 6 Tips for How to Win When Blending Families

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If you grew up sometime between the sixties and the two-thousands, you’ve probably heard the very catchy theme song for the television show, The Brady Bunch. It begins with the “story” of a mother with three girls and a father with three boys meeting, falling in love, and knowing “that it was much more than a hunch, that this group must somehow form a family”, and that was how they all became the Brady Bunch. The show depicted a blended family that was learning all the trials and tribulations that come with merging two families together as one. While the show was fictional, funny, and sometimes over the top, it did provide some great insight into some of the struggles that blended families face when merging.

There are several reasons why a family may become “blended”; obviously with the divorce rate in the United States rising to nearly 50%, divorce is a common reason for blended families to merge, as almost 75% of divorced people end up remarrying. The fatality of a parent or a dissolving of parental rights or visitation may also be reasons that families may become blended. Whatever the reason, blending of families rarely have a smooth transition. Depending on the age of the children and their current feelings regarding their initial nuclear family and the reasons for the separation, their transition into a home with a new caregiver taking on parenting roles is one that is often wrought with conflict. A child can have a wonderful, fun, loving relationship with their parent’s new partner while they’re dating, but the transition from being seen as more of a fun, playmate to becoming another parent with rules and expectations can be jarring for a child.

Similarly, it can also be hard for the adults in the relationship! Each person may have a particular parenting style and style of living that may not completely align with their partners and will require some communication and coordination to make work more seamlessly. While blending families is not always the easiest of tasks, if you allow some time for things to settle and focus on the following tips, it may make the road to Brady Bunch Bliss a little easier:

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1. Patience

  • Change is hard for everyone, but especially for the littlest of us, and a big change like incorporating new people into your family can be a HUGE transition for children. They are going to have a lot of feelings and these may come out in ways you wouldn’t expect. Kids often exhibit either internalized (sad, withdrawn, isolative) behavior or externalized (anger, lashing out, aggression, tantrums) when they are working out feelings following big changes, so having empathy during these kinds of outbursts (or INbursts) can help them manage their reactions better in time. A lot of the feelings will be worked out on their own in time, and patience is an important skill to learn as a parent of a newly blended family.

2. Communication

  • Like with any new relationship, learning each other’s communication styles and working to develop a cohesive one as a unit is important in making it a success. Not only is it important to develop a unified communication style between both parents, but the new stepparent also needs to develop a style of communicating that works with the children one on one as well. Being open to discussing feelings, both positive and negative, helps the children to see that they can come to parents with all of their feelings and they will be safe to express themselves without fear of judgment or retaliation.

3. Values

  • This one is something that should be discussed before a family has blended, but people often have different parenting styles, discipline styles, expectations for children, and many other things that, when not aligned, can create chaos in a newly blended family. Having the hard discussions before about what expectations you have for your partner and the children can help you to work out the kinks and confirm that you will make a healthy and happy family unit.

4. Consistency and Predictability

  • Children need love and support, of course, but they also need limits and boundaries to help them learn what is right and wrong and to help them feel protected from a world that is inherently unpredictable. Having both parents on the same page and using similar styles of support and redirection will help them to know what to expect and will help them make the transition into a new blended family more seamless.

5. Bonding

  • While blended families often come to each other with previously set traditions, inside jokes, and family experiences, it is important to be able to develop new experiences that can help the family to fuse together! Creating new traditions, having new adventures, and spending quality, fun time together will help decrease the transition pains that often come from the blending of a new family.

6. Monitoring

  • As mentioned above, kids and adults alike can have a hard time transitioning into a new and blended family. If a parent is hyper focused on the partnership and making the relationship thrive and is not focused on how the children are transitioning, they could be missing crucial signs that a child is struggling and may need help. That being said, if a parent is solely focused on the children and how they’re doing, their relationship with their partner may suffer, thus leading to more changes if their lack of focus on the relationship causes it to deteriorate. It’s important to constantly check in on how the family as a whole is functioning by observing and monitoring how things are going. Spending time as a family is a great opportunity for this; frequent check ins about how everyone is feeling can help to create space to discuss positives and negatives and can help you to know if someone in the family could use extra support.

All in all, while blending of families is a challenging task, it can be so rewarding if the family is able to come together as a healthy, communicative, and loving unit. If it seems like, after a significant amount of transition time, that the family does not seem to be blending harmoniously, seeking assistance from a family therapist can help. Having someone be able to help the family better communicate and possibly figure out what the problem is can help to improve the relationships with the whole family.

Dr. Shannon McHugh is a Licensed Clinical and Forensic Psychologist in Los Angeles, California. She specializes in assessment and treatment of children, adolescents, and adults who have developmental and social delays, behavioral difficulties, and those who have experienced traumatic events