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‘My children have not settled in to our new blended family. Should I consider moving us out?’

Ask the Expert: Blended families can work well, but it takes a lot of sensitivity and patience

'My 13 year old totally refuses to speak to or acknowledge my partner, or join in any family activities.' Photograph: iStock

A year ago, my children and I moved in with my partner and his two children. My kids, in particular my 13-year-old daughter, have not settled in the new blended family and often say that they would prefer to live just with me. My nine-year-old child sometimes enjoys the company, but continues to be shy with my partner. My 13 year old totally refuses to speak to or acknowledge my partner, or join in any family activities. They have an unsettled relationship with their dad and I think this is a factor. He is not supportive of the living arrangement. My partner is always understanding and gives them lots of space. How can I help them feel happy in our new home, or should I consider moving out? Many thanks.

Bringing two families together under the same roof can be complicated and difficult to get right. I usually suggest to parents that this is not a decision to be taken lightly and one that is best done slowly. It is important to take children’s feelings into account and it is best to consult with them and to usually get their agreement before moving forward.

While as a parent you might be excited about living with a new partner, your children may not share this enthusiasm. They might fear losing their relationship with you, be nervous about living with new people and experience a sense of “being disloyal” taking this step, especially if their own father does not support the new living arrangements. Blended families can of course work well, but it takes a lot of sensitivity and patience.

What to do next?

Just as it is important not to rush into living together, it is also important not to rush to make the change to move out. Changes to living arrangements can be very stressful and you want to take your time to consider what is best for you, and your children. Young teenagers often suggest dramatic solutions to challenges such as “living somewhere else”. While it is important to understand their feelings, you don’t have to react immediately and it is important to make a balanced decision in everyone’s interest.


A lot depends on your practical options. Could you easily move out and find new accommodation that is not disruptive to your lives? Perhaps you have accommodation nearby that allows your children to continue their lives and for you to maintain your relationship with your partner or maybe you don’t and moving out is a more drastic step that needs to be considered more carefully. Whatever you decide, below are some principles that can help.

Prioritise your relationship with your children

When their parent starts a new relationship and when families blend, many children feel they “lose” their parent and that they are no longer a priority. You can counteract this by making sure you have regular “one to one time” with each of your children. As well as creating new family activities with the new family members, make sure to preserve your previous family activities and relationships as well.

Go at your children’s pace

At 13, it is completely understandable that your daughter is reluctant to join new family activities and is unsure of what type of relationship she wants with your new partner, just as it is understandable that your nine year old is shy and taking their time to get involved. You and your partner are absolutely right to give them lots of space and to go at their pace – any pressure is likely to be counterproductive.

Listen to your children

Encourage your children to talk about how they feel about the living arrangements.

There could be lots of reasons as to why your 13 year old is unhappy and it is important that you give her space to talk and that you listen non-defensively. Your daughter could feel awkward starting relationships with a stepfather or step-siblings, or she might feel disloyal to her own father if she does. While she might be happy to see you happy in a new relationship, she might also feel jealous that it means you have left her behind. When your children say they would like to live just with you, don’t dismiss this and instead draw them out to say more. What do they miss about the old arrangements? What is hard about family arrangements now? What would make things better for them now?

Negotiate with their father

You say in your question that your children have an “unsettled relationship” with their father and this could be a source of insecurity. Is there any way that this relationship could be improved and made more regular? While communication may be challenging and you may have little control over this, a more solid and regular relationship with their father could help them settle. Do you have an opportunity to meet their father, reviewing contact arrangements and how these could go more smoothly? If appropriate, you could discuss your blended family arrangements and ask for his support in helping the children settle. If this conversation is difficult, you could consider going to mediation to try to agree arrangements.

Either way it might be a good idea to seek your own counselling or to attend a parenting when separated course to tease out how to approach things (see,

John Sharry is clinical director of the Parents Plus Charity and an adjunct professor at the UCD School of Psychology. See