PBS Kids GO! It's My Life
Stepfamilies: New House Rules

When you take two different families and put them in the same house, it can seem like all the old rules get turned upside down. Bring up questions now to prevent problems and resentments in the future.

Combining households
A new stepfamily's household can be a jungle; in order to survive, you have to learn to adapt!

  • Will I have to go from having my own room to sharing a bedroom?
    Work with your new roomie to decide how the furniture can be arranged so you'll both have space and privacy. Figure out how to decorate and set up rules about sharing. You may have to get rid of some of your stuff to make more room or so you don't have two sets of things.

  • Will I be able to find a quiet place to do homework or just be alone, because there are more people around now?
    This is important for everyone. Ask your parent or stepparent to help you set up a space, either in your room or somewhere else in the home, that's just for you. Make rules about knocking and quiet time if you need them.

  • What are the rules about borrowing stuff from one another?
    How do you feel about your stepsister wearing your clothes? Is it okay as long as she washes them, irons them, and puts them back where they were in your closet? If there's a toy or book that you don't want anyone touching, make that clear.

  • Do we need a bathroom schedule?
    How do you feel about someone coming in to use the bathroom while you're in the shower, or sharing the sink while you both brush your teeth? Decide on a system that's convenient and respectful to everyone.

  • Do I still have to do the same chores I did before?
    Maybe you've always started dinner or raked the lawn, but now your stepparent is around to do those things. Will you have to do less work around the house, or more, because there are extra people here now? It may help to make a list of the chores you'd prefer to do and use it to negotiate a new system.

  • Is my bedtime going to change because my stepsibs have a different schedule?
    Talk to your mom or dad about why you like, or don't like, your bedtime the way it is. Is your bedtime fair in relation to those for everyone else in the family?

  • Am I going to be able to eat the same types of food?
    Maybe you're a junk food junkie but your new family members are into healthy stuff, or you're a vegetarian but your stepdad loves a big steak. It's important for families to eat together, but you may have to change some of your habits to make that work. If that happens, create a list of the foods you really love to have at home and let your parent know it's important that they stay in rotation. Balance those against the foods you absolutely won't eat.

  • Will I be expected to spend more time with the family, or can I spend just as much time with my friends as I used to?
    Families should do things together, and this may eat up more time than when you were living with just one parent. Especially in the beginning, recognize that your new family is important, but talk to your parents about what parts of your schedule you'd like to keep the same.

Visitation
Chances are, you've already been going back and forth between each of your parents' homes, but living in a new stepfamily can bring up new issues.

  • When I'm with my other parent, can I be sure that my stuff here will be safe?
    Work with your family to set up rules so that your belongings are private when you're visiting your mom or dad. If you're only in a home for a few days a month, ask your parent to give you a dresser or closet that's all yours, and help your siblings understand what's hands-off when you're not around.

  • Can I have private time to talk to my other parent?
    If you like to talk to your father twice a week, set up a regular time and day to do that, and make sure everyone else in your household knows that the phone is off-limits then.

  • Will my visitation schedule change?
    With the new stepfamily, you and your parents may have to re-think your visitation schedule. Maybe it works better if you and your stepsiblings are gone on alternate weekends, or perhaps at the same time in order to give your parent and stepparent a break. If your new stepfamily status has caused you to move farther away from your other parent, this might also call for a new schedule. Now, there are other people's needs to consider.

Family rituals and holidays
Special days are special because we get to spend them with the people we love, but a stepfamily can make them a little more complicated.

  • Will we be celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Thanksgiving, etc. the same way?
    Maybe you and your mom have always opened gifts on Christmas Eve, but now your stepdad and stepsiblings want to wait until Christmas morning. Maybe your new stepmom is excited to put giant cardboard Easter eggs all over the front lawn for decoration. It's important that both sides of a stepfamily bring in their own holiday traditions and that everyone works together to create new ones. If you're worried about losing your favorite ritual, make a list of what's most precious to you and share it.

  • Who will I spend my birthday with this year?
    Maybe you've always had a special birthday tradition with your mother, but your new stepmom wants to throw you a family party. You feel torn and don't want to hurt anyone's feelings! When deciding where to spend important days, the secret is to PLAN AHEAD. Don't wait until November 1 to decide where you're going for Thanksgiving. Sit down with your family and do it over the summer so there's time to work out details and any hurt feelings.

  • What if my stepfamily shares different religious beliefs and backgrounds?
    Remember that it's not necessary for everyone in the family to do everything together all of the time, especially around holidays. If your stepmom and stepsibs want to go to synagogue but you and your father aren't religious, that's fine. Look at different religious experiences as a chance to learn new things, and decide which family activities are most important.

Money, money, money
You know that cash doesn't grow on trees or get magically created by the ATM, but your new household might involve some financial changes you're not used to. More people in the family might mean that:

  • You can't go to summer camp this year because the new house costs more.

  • You get fewer clothes, or birthday and holiday gifts, because the budget is stretched tighter.

  • You have to cut down on dance lessons because your parents also have to pay for your stepbrother's hockey equipment.

  • Your allowance might be less than it was in the past, or require you to do more chores, to fit the family budget.

Talk to your parent and stepparent about how money is going to be used in the new household and how this will affect you. You might have to make priorities about what you need and what you want. Getting money to go to the mall with your friends may have always seemed like a "need," but compared to your stepsister's math tutor, now it's a "want." But there are ways you can bridge the gap, such as doing some petsitting or yardwork for neighbors to earn your mall money!

Keeping it in perspective
Feeling like your life has been changed for the worse since you got a new stepparent and stepsibs? It's easy to blame problems on them, but try to remember that NOT ALL CHANGES IN YOUR HOUSEHOLD ARE BECAUSE OF YOUR STEPFAMILY. Maybe you would have moved anyway to be closer to relatives, or money would still be tight because the economy took a downturn. Even if your parents had stayed married, your family would still be changing its rules, rituals, and traditions as you got older. All families evolve, and all families have to adapt.

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