There’s no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to blended families, and no right or wrong when it comes to describing yourself as a blended family. There are great things about being in a blended family, as well as some challenges.

About blended families

Blended families come in all shapes and sizes. 

For example, you and your partner might both have children from a previous relationship, or one of you might be new to parenting. Your children might be of similar or very different ages. Or you might have a child together.

Where children live also varies across families. Some children might live with you some of the time, others might live with you most or all of the time, and others might visit only occasionally. Different children might have different arrangements – for example, a teenage boy might be mostly at his dad’s, while his younger brother might be mostly at his mum’s.

How blended families describe themselves

Many blended families prefer to just call themselves a family. They call all children brothers and sisters, rather than half-siblings or stepsiblings.

They might use terms like blended family, stepmum, stepdad or stepchild when they need to explain their situation – for example, to schools.

Other families use terms like stepfamily or blended family because that feels right for them. What you choose to call your family is up to you.

We stopped using terms like stepfamily and blended family, because there are so many different arrangements out there. So we are just family, end of story. We use both surnames – that includes everyone.
- Ken, 45, in a blended family with three children

Benefits of blended families

There are lots of great things about being in a new family. For example:

  • Gaining a new extended family can add richness to your life. Step-grandparents can add to children’s lives and support parents.
  • Blended families can be fun. There are more people around who bring different personalities and new interests and perspectives.
  • Step-parents can be a great source of extra support for children.
  • Children in a blended family often learn to relate to a wider range of people, so they might be more flexible and tolerant.

Challenges of blended families

Like any family, blended families have challenges.

It takes time to get used to living in a blended family. The first two years in a blended family are about getting used to the new family and routines and building family relationships.

It can also take time to establish your blended family’s boundaries and rules. This can be because the families coming together have different family rules and because everyone is still getting to know each other.

When you first repartner your relationship with your former partner can go through a tricky time because your former partner might be feeling angry, insecure, upset or worried about the change. You might need to adjust your co-parenting agreement to fit with your new family arrangements.

Official definitions of blended families

The Australian Government uses official definitions of blended families and stepfamilies for gathering statistics and surveying trends in Australian households and families.

A blended family is ‘a couple family containing two or more children, of whom at least one is the natural or adopted child of both members of the couple, and at least one is the stepchild of either partner in the couple’.

A stepfamily is ‘a couple family containing one or more children, at least one of whom is the stepchild of one of the partners, and none of whom is the natural or adopted child of both members of the couple’.

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Last updated or reviewed
01-02-2016

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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