With all that the word “blended” implies, you might expect combining families to go smoothly, but that’s not always the case, especially when it comes to children.
What’s Different About Step-Siblings?
A step-sibling relationship is very different from any other sibling relationship. Unlike full or half-siblings, steps don’t have a parent in common. Sometimes they don’t have anything in common aside from the house they live in and the fact that their parents are married to each other, both of which can be sources of conflict.
Mom (and step-mom) Molly M. says that’s why her daughter and stepdaughter don’t get along. After numerous family meetings, she and her husband realized the girls "are just really different and resent having to share their respective parents [and] house with each other.”
While these teenage step-siblings have decided to “peacefully coexist,” they had the advantages of being old enough to come to a truce on their own and of being three years apart in age.
Birth Order Matters
Child development and parenting expert Dr. Lawrence Kutner says one of the things that can fuel step-sibling rivalry is confusion of birth order. When families come together, kids might not be the oldest or the youngest anymore.
Some kids are used to being only children and don’t know how to be a sibling. “They fight and argue over everything,” says mom Amy W. of her stepson and her son, who was an only child previously.
In Circle of Mom member Jennifer H.’s house, her oldest son and stepdaughter are only a year apart in age and are “in a constant power struggle.” Each says the other has “ruined their lives.”
While Jennifer feels like she’s in the middle trying to help them gain perspective, mom Jaime R. has taken a different tactic. Though the kids in her house are also a year apart and have similar issues, she has chosen to stay out of the middle and “just let them work it out.”
3 Ways to Manage Step-Sibling Rivalry
A lot of moms think their kids are reacting to sharing their parents' time as well as having to share space and possessions. With that being the case, not everybody thinks staying out of it is the way to resolve step-sibling rivalry.
That’s not to say that moms and step-moms are jumping into the middle of the fray and taking sides. Their interventions are subtler and sometimes as simple as giving advice to one another, as Circle of Moms member Deidre Z. did.
She pointed out to Amy that it’s important for her son and his new stepbrother to “have their own stuff” to ease the transition from being only children to siblings.
Providing children some individual time with their parent is another way moms are trying to ease the feelings of rivalry. Andrea M. says even though she wants her 7-year-old stepson and her one-year-old daughter to get along, she and her husband “make sure to make time to do something with [her stepson] one-on-one.”
Others work at creating opportunities for everyone to be together as a family. Deidre suggests starting a family night as a good way to make everyone feel welcome.
In the end, that’s what moms hope for: that everyone feels welcome. As Molly says of her daughter and stepdaughter: “They may grow to like each other more as they spend more time together.“
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