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The Combined Family

Learn how to bring your children and your partner's children together as smoothly as possible.

The Combined Family

You know the story (well, the myth) of the Brady Bunch: He's got a pack o' boys, she's got a pack o' girls, and together they have a big, fun, wacky family of love.

Give it up, and give it up now. You're being arrested for Brady Bunch-itis, illegal in all states, plus Canada. It's amazing to me how many people have internalized the Brady Bunch TV show and somehow think that their combined family is going to be like that.

Even with a lot of work, your family will never be the Brady Bunch (no, not even if your last name happens to be Brady). Okay, admit it, you're breathing a sigh of relief right now. I am, too.

Stepping Stones

If you are combining families, make sure you all get together a few times before the moving vans fight for parking in front of Home Sweet Home. Try casual activities. Break some bread together.

Don't Be Wicked

Choosing to parent your own set of kids—and let your partner parent his own kids—is setting up a house divided. If you correct or interact only with your own, how are you gonna develop family unity?

Here's the reality: When you all live together, you have more opportunities to work out the kinks, and a whole lot more opportunities to rub each other the wrong way.

Salad Dressing

Delicious salad dressing is made with oil and vinegar, but unless they're combined in exactly the right way, the ingredients will not emulsify. A combined family can feel the same way.

Beating the Crowd

Unless you have a lot of financial resources, the combined family tends to be crowded. Life in the combined family is characterized by less room; more people; and different ages, genders, and living styles (loud or soft, early or late). Everybody requires more attention, and it's on you, the adults, to make sure that all the kids are adjusting as well as they can.

Learning Patience

In a combined family, you are both parent and stepparent. You're going to be stretching a lot in your dual role. Hey, growth and change are good things. Be patient with yourself. Be aware of your limits. Getting the combination right in a combined family is a tough balancing act. It won't always be easy, and it won't ever be what you expect, but it will be its own thing. Go slow, but go.

When the kids see you and your darling united in your desires for a smooth and respectful family, the kids will relax and say (at least subconsciously), “Okay, we'll give it a chance. Why not?”


A semi-combined family is a combined stepfamily where at least one set of kids lives only part-time in the household.

The Semi-Combined Family

In this corner, it's the Residents! And in this corner, their fearsome opponents, the Intruders! Some of the most complex stepfamily configurations fall into the semi-combined family category. You've got a semi-combined family when your kids live there most of the time and your partner's kids visit occasionally, or the other way around.

Changing of the Guard

Semi-combined family life is hard for many adults because, with all the comings and the goings, there's little time to relax, to be adults alone. Semi-combined family life is hard on the kids, too, because with uneven amounts of time spent in the family bosom, power balances often occur.

Moira's two kids live with her and Andrew during the week. They spend every weekend with their dad. Andrew's daughter lives with her mom during the week and comes to visit during the weekend. This means that Moira and Andrew never have down time. When Andrew's daughter comes, she stays in Moira's daughter's room, a fact nobody's happy about. Moira's daughter feels imposed upon, and she constantly complains about messes and stuff being moved. Andrew's daughter feels she's imposing on someone else's space and feels unwanted because she doesn't have a place to call her own. Friday night dinners, when they happen, are the only time they are all together, the only time the kids have an opportunity to talk and work it out themselves.

Be on Fairness Alert

Andrew and Moira's situation is typical. The full-time children (or the ones who spend the most time in the household) often feel territorial. They may consider the “intruders” to be spoiled: “How come Elizabeth never has to clean up her dirty dishes. You're so happy to see her that you let her get away with murder!” Watch for fairness. Try to make sure that nobody gets “guest” treatment, and do your best to create a special private place for each child, even if it is just a drawer. Having their own bedding and towels can also help establish their space when they visit.

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