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Moms Share Their Rules for a Happy Blended Family

Photograph by Twenty20

Once known as a "his, hers and ours" relationship, a blended family simply means a family consisting of a couple and their children from the current and all previous relationships. My husband and I were married for almost two decades before we had kids, so we are in our 40s and have young children while many parents we know have kids around the same age as our own as well as older kids from previous marriages and relationships. Watching how they manage family dynamics and make it all work is inspiring and a little bit head-spinning when I can barely seem to keep track of my two kids.

As the holidays approach and the calendar fills up with "his, hers and ours" events, keep these tips in mind from moms who are mastering the art of family blending. It will help keep the peace at the holidays and all year long.

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Rule 1: Love each other.

At the end of the day, you're all family, and love will get you through anything. "We constantly reinforce that everyone in this family matters, whether they live here 365 days a year or are only here on the weekends," says Michelle, whose blended family includes her two kids, his three kids and their 1-year-old daughter. "It's all about the love—not just between my husband and me but all of us. There's enough love to go around."

Rule 2: Don't try to replace the other parent.

I tell her she's lucky—she gets two moms.

Whether you call yourself a stepparent, a bonus parent or a second mom, remember there is someone else in the child's life who was there first. "I have always made sure my husband's daughter knows I am here for her, too," says Amanda, who has a new baby son with her husband as well as a stepdaughter from his previous marriage. "She is as much my child as our son, but I don't interfere with her relationship with her mother. I tell her she's lucky—she gets two moms."

Rule 3: Give each other space.

You may all love each other to the moon and back, but everyone needs a place to call their own. If you have a big blended family, sometimes you have to get creative. "Everybody has a room of their own," says Gina, a mom to two daughters and stepmom to one. "It's hard, and it meant converting the attic into a fourth bedroom, but that way everyone has a space for their stuff, a place to go that is theirs only."

Rule 4: Hold each other close.

It may seem to contradict Rule 3, but sometimes you need to just hug and hang in there. "All of our kids know that if we're having a rough time, I'm going to be standing right there to give them a hug," says Amy, who has two teenagers from her previous marriage and a daughter with her husband, who also has a son from a previous relationship. "We're a hugging family, and that helps because sometimes I just don't know what to say to make it better. I tell them we're all in this together—and we are."

Rule 5: Acknowledge hurt feelings and jealousy.

Conflict is normal in any family, whether it's blended or not. But it can get complicated when the kids have other parents and don't live with you full-time. "We do our best, but it's hard to make sure everyone is happy with the arrangement," says Sarah, who has a blended family that includes her daughter from a previous marriage, her husband's three kids from two previous relationships and the two children they have together. "Some days I honestly feel like I'm failing all of them, so I just try harder. We talk to them about their feelings and we have family meetings and include the other parents, which helps a lot."

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Rule 6: Make it your goal to be one big, happy family.

No matter how hard it may seem sometimes, your end goal—as a couple and a family—should be happiness for everyone. "I cherish the moments when we're all together and everyone is getting along," says Sherry, whose blended family includes her son, her husband's adult daughter and two grandkids and their two daughters together. "Those are the times that remind me why I chose this man and he chose me—our love and the love we have for all of the kids we share."

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