• Step-families

    Making Stepfamilies Work

    StepFamily Counseling and Services, Leslie Terner, Chevy Chase, MD

    When one or both adults bring children into a new family, it’s a stepfamily. These blended families are very different from other families. The dynamics of the previous marriage will influence the family – as divorce or death cause very different emotions. If a new parent was never married or childless, that fact also affects the family.

    In stepfamilies, there are “insiders” and “outsiders,” and those roles shift as the new family structure develops. The “outsider” status leaves children and stepparents feeling rejected and lonely.

    A young child might feel abandoned by a parent who is devoted to a new spouse. Teens may feel uneasy about the sexuality of their romantic parents. The children must also face that their parents are indeed divorced and everything is changing.

    How Can Family Therapy Help?

    Family therapy can help resolve these and other issues in newly blended families.

    The issues typically include:

    • Resolving anger from the previous marriage
    • Living arrangements and finances
    • Parenting the other spouse’s children
    • Keeping the couple relationship strong
    • Stepparent-child relationships and affection
    • Child’s emotional issues about non-residential parent
    • Strengthening child-parent relationships

    Under the best conditions, it may take up to four years for a new stepfamily to adjust to living together. Parents need at least two years to start functioning as a unit. Their stepchildren will likely need more time, depending on their ages. For most families, seeing a psychotherapist can help the process can go more smoothly.

    Strategies to Make Stepfamilies Work:

    Commit to making it work

    If you want everyone to get along, acknowledge that it’s no small feat. It will take work to figure out co-parenting styles, finances/money, and other issues. You will need a plan. You will also need to be aware of the difficulties.

    You will need to discuss multiple issues regarding parenting styles, the division of labor, date nights, access to grandparents and extended family members, long-term goals, financial planning.

    Consider your kids’ feelings

    Imagine how it must be to have all these strangers in your space. The kids didn’t vote on this arrangement, so be patient, and help them adapt to the new situation.

    Agree on discipline strategies for kids

    Don’t assume that your style of discipline will work for your stepchildren. It’s important that you talk to your partner about your rules and discipline style. It’s unfair to change the rules on a child overnight.

    Get personal with your stepchild

    The relationship you have with your stepchild should be a special one. Take time for you and the child to spend special time alone. Make it clear that you care. Quit thinking of the child as “his/her kid.” Realize you are now an important person in this child’s life. It’s time to get better acquainted.

    Of course, there’s much more to integrating two families. A psychotherapist can help you get started with the process before you get married — and continue to help you integrate your family after the big day. If your relationship is to succeed, it’s important that you put time into planning for that success, preparing for the bumps along the way.

    Contact the office

    To find out more about Step-Families Services, contact Leslie Terner’s office located at 5480 Wisconsin Avenue Suite LL8 Chevy Chase, Maryland 20815. Leslie Terner provides Step-Family counseling in Chevy Chase, MD, and its surrounding areas.

    To book an appointment by calling 301-718-1758
  • Our Location

    5480 Wisconsin Avenue
    Suite LL8
    Chevy Chase, MD 20815


    Mon-Thu 12:00PM-8:00PM
    Sat: 12:00AM-5:00PM
    Fri and Sun: Closed


    (301) 718-1758


    (301) 718-1767

    About Leslie Terner, MS, PMHCNS, BC

    I am a Certified Psychiatric Mental Health Clinical Nurse Specialist in Chevy Chase, Maryland. I have been in private practice since 1999. I help clients to heal and gain insight into why they have developed their behaviors.