Finding Balance in Stepfamilies

It’s never easy to blend families, but it doesn’t have to be impossible. One in three Americans is now a stepparent, a stepchild, a stepsibling, or some other member of a stepfamily. Any time there is a change in family structure, whether because of remarriage or just two families coming together, challenges are pretty much inevitable.

“It’s hard. It’s not easy,” says Susan Philbrick. “It’s a struggle.” When Bryce and Susan Philbrick married 5 years ago, he was a single bachelor and she was a mom of 3.

“It was a huge adjustment going from a single bachelor in my own little two bedroom house to somebody who has three kids and adapting to the three kids,” says Bryce Philbrick.

They quickly learned if they wanted to make their new family work, they were going to have to work together. Especially when it came to disciplining the children, or for Susan letting Bryce discipline the children.

“Here I’m the mother bear again and that instinct initially takes over when there’s any sort of you know problem to essentially go to save that child from anybody, even Bryce,” says Susan.

Now they have what they call closed door meetings, and while they’re away from the children they talk a lot to each other and discuss the best route to go so they’re both on the same page.

Another challenge for Susan was how Bryce showed affection. “My view of loving and affection is different than her view,” explains Bryce, “and she’d be like don’t do that that’s not loving and affectionate, but to me it is.”

Now, there’s less rough-housing and teasing, and more talking and hugging, and Susan says having a child together, 15-month Ella has helped too.

Susan says, “I think it made him understand a little better where as a parent, that mother bear instinct comes in.”

Splitting time between parents can also put kink in the balance of a stepfamily. “As a child looking at their position on it, it would really stink to have to go back and forth every other weekend to someone else’s house,” says Susan. “You live with one parent, you have to then go to the other parent’s house. You know, you have two lives.”

Susan says as a parent, you have to be patient. “Understand that when they get home they’re excited to be home but they may need some down time to compress. Just like when you get home from work after a long day and you just need a few minutes to sit back and say okay.”

Most of all, Susan says you just have to be there. “I want them to know that i am their lighthouse in the storm. I want to be their safety. I want them to be able to trust me and talk to me if they have questions.”

The Philbricks, like other blended families face an assortment of challenges on a daily basis. It would be impossible to talk about every possible scenario , but with the help of Steve Allred, a well known family therapist in southern Utah here are a few tips for families who are working to find balance:

Watch Your Terminology

Don’t use terms like stepfamily, step-sibling, and real mother or real father because they carry negative connotations. Instead, use terms like blended family and biological parent.

Get Familiar with the 5 Blended Family Stages

The stages come from a book by Elizabeth Einstein and Linda Albert called “Strengthening your Stepfamily.” The stages are Fantasy, Confusion, Crazy Time, Stability, and Commitment. Click HERE for more information.

Get Help

Thanks to a federal grant and Utah State University, Family Support Centers across the state offer Stepfamily Education. It’s a six-week course that discusses everything from finances and communication between spouses to child discipline and how kids fit into their new family. Click HERE for more information.

What are the classes like?

Paul Ricks/Clinical Director, Family Support Center in Taylorsville: “The first class is usually geared to helping legitimate the challenges they’re facing. To deal with some of the myths stepfamilies encounter and to outline some of the things that we’ll hopefully be able to address, help manage some of the stress that will help facilitate and manage frustration. It will help you deal with crisis. It will help you support your kids as they’re going through the changes that you’re also going through, and how to better strengthen your role as parents.”

Other Resources

National Stepfamily Resource Center (

Stepfamily Myths

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