What all blended families should know

Advice From a Blended Family Dad

I’m a blended family dad, and here’s what all blended families should know.

Blended families go by many different names. Sometimes they are called stepfamilies, bonus families, or instant families (Have you seen the movie? It’s good). In this post, we’ll examine what these terms mean. Then, we’ll dive into practical wisdom every blended family should know. And we’ll do this from the perspective of a blended family dad and coach!

First, what is a blended family?

As a blended family dad, I prefer the term blended family over stepfamily because it’s more inclusive. Simply stated, a blended family is a complex, non-traditional family unit. Typically, one or both parents have children from a previous relationship. And these families have combined to form a new family. However, this is not the only way that families blend. As we will see, blended families come in a variety of different forms.

What is a blended family?

Some Blended Families are Stepfamilies

A stepfamily is one type of blended family. Stepfamilies are what most people think of when they think of a blended family home. The word stepfamily implies that there is either a stepmother or stepfather around. And this is often the case. For example,

  • According to The American Psychological Association, about 40 to 50 percent of married couples in the United States divorce. Sadly, the divorce rate for subsequent marriages is even higher.
  • According to Wikipedia, nearly 80% of people who have divorced go on to marry again. This may not be the most reliable source. However, it does provide an adequate explanation of how stepfamilies form.
  • According to Smart Stepfamilies, approximately one-third of all weddings in America today form stepfamilies. And an estimated 113.6 million Americans have a step relationship.

So if you are a part of a stepfamily or know someone who is, you are in good company. However, stepfamilies are only one type of blended family.

Some Blended Families are Foster Families

When I wrote 131 Conversations for Stepfamily Success, I received numerous emails from foster and adoptive families saying, “Please don’t forget us!” According to childwelfare.gov, in 2018, there were an estimated 437,283 children in foster care. And when we take into account adopted children, the number of nontraditional blended families grows.

Blended families have many blessings. But they also come with a unique set of challenges. I know because I’m a blended family dad and foster dad—that’s right, our family is twice blended. I also spent over a decade working with non-traditional families in a variety of therapeutic roles. Because of this, I am well acquainted with the unique strengths and challenges of blended families.

When it comes to defining what a blended family is, the bottom line is all stepfamilies are blended families. But not all blended families are stepfamilies—in other words, not every blended family household has a stepparent or step-siblings.

Other Blended Family Language

In addition to the terms blended family and stepfamily, here are a few other words nontraditional families use:

Bonus Families

Today is my wife’s birthday. One of her stepdaughters gave her a card saying how happy she is to have a bonus mom. My wife, Jenny, often refers to her stepdaughters as her bonus kids. Terms bonus family, bonus mom, bonus dad, and bonus kids are important because they focus on the positive side of blended family life. Bonus families have an attitude that says, “I get to be in a blended family home.” As in, “I’m so lucky I get to have these amazing bonus people in my life.” This is in stark contrast to the Nacho Family.

Nacho Families

If the term bonus family is the epitome of a positive blended family attitude, then the term nacho family is the opposite. A nacho family says I am “Nacho (not you’re) parent, you are not my kid, and this is not my problem.” A nacho family is a hands-off approach to blended family life. Although the nacho family attitude is not recommended, it is included in this post because it’s important to understand that some blended families do adhere to this approach.


The term instafamily, popularized by the Instant Family move, highlights the speed at which blended families move. And anyone who’s gone from single to married with kids (either step-kids or foster kids) understands the intensity this word implies. I’ve heard the years in a blended family home are comparable to dog years. Life simply moves at a faster rate. In their book Restored and Remarried, my friends Gil and Brenda Stuart describe “remarried math.” They suggest, “Take the combined number of children that you have, then multiply that by the years married… When you do the math this way, it is a far more accurate measure of time because of the intensity of life with the blending factor of “those people” (also known as the kids, step-kids, and foster kiddos).

Expert Advice from a Blended Family Dad

I had the privilege of interviewing Joel Hawbaker during our Thriving at Home Summit. Joel is a blended family dad extraordinaire. He is also the author of The Ten Commandments of Blended Family Success, and a blended family coach. Here are some amazing blended family tips that Joel offered.

  • J.R. Token says, “The burned hand teaches best. After that, advice about fire goes to the heart.” Blended families can avoid pain by leaning into the wisdom from other blended family homes.
  • Every blended family is unique. Every blended family is different. The way each family applies these principles may be different.

Blended Family Foundational Principle #1

  • The first foundational principle for blended families is, “Be the adult you want your children to become.” It’s a principle that simple but not easy. Blended family parents should model the qualities they want to see in their kids—especially toward their ex.
  • Remember, your child is 1/2 your ex. If we speak negatively about our ex, there is a good chance our kids will internalize this. After all, they are 50 percent that person. This is why being the adult we want our kids to become starts with how we treat our children and how we treat our ex.

Blended Family Foundational Principle #2

  • Blended family foundational principle #2 is “Follow the golden rule.” Treat the other adults like you want to be treated.
  • This doesn’t mean that life will always be fair. Blended family homes and family members will have some disadvantages. The bright side is that sometimes life is unfair in our favor too.
  • To follow this rule, choose not to treat people the way they deserve to be treated. Also, choose not to base the way you treat people on the way they treat you. Instead, treat them in the way you want to be treated.
  • Achieving different results will mean doing things differently. Are you willing to try a new way of doing things?

Blended Family Command #1: Communicate Well

  • Blended family command #1 is, “Communicate well.” Everything begins with good communication. This includes everything from choosing the right medium for communication, the words we use and our tone of voice.
  • When in doubt communicate about it. Overcommunication is better than under communication.
The importance of good communication in a blended family home

Blended Family Command #2: Always Show Respect

  • Blended family command #2 is “Always show respect.”
  • The Bible teaches that a soft answer turns away wrath.
  • Ask the question “What do you hear me saying?” and “What message are you receiving?”
  • Many roadblocks can be overcome by asking good questions.
  • Other good questions include “What are you worried about?” and “What are you afraid of?”
  • Most issues are not a hill worth dying on. Sometimes blended family parents need to remind themselves of this. Couples can agree to disagree and do this respectfully.

Blended Family Command #4: Give Way Graciously

  • The fourth Blended Family Commandment is “Give way graciously.
  • When you don’t get your way, move on graciously. This isn’t the same as being a doormat. Often, it’s better to simply let stuff go.

Joel concluded his message for blended families by reiterating that there is always hope. If things are not going well right now, your blended family life doesn’t have to say how it is. Things really can get better over time if we are willing to do the work. Then, turn up the music and celebrate all of the things going right in your incredible, God-given, blended family home!

Dive Deeper into Blended Family Wisdom

To dive even deeper into the topic of feeling better by practicing extreme self-care, be sure to check out our full interview with Joel on The Thriving at Home Virtual Summit!

Thriving at Home Virtual Summit

Here’s what one summit attendee had to say:

I highly recommend the “The Thriving at Home Virtual Summit“. I’m only about two-thirds of the way through all the teaching and I’m very impressed with the quality of information contained in it. I can’t believe I got this for only $47. I would expect to pay five or 10 times the price for a quality marriage conference or good marriage conference videos. The variety of teachers and the quality of teaching is very impressive. There are so many good resources and tips in the videos. It’s especially helpful in this time when families are closer together and stepping on each other’s toes. I would say run don’t walk, to get this high-quality program. It can change your life.”

– Rob

Preview the summit (That’s 19 amazing speakers diving into the topics of thriving relationships, thriving kids, a thriving you, and thriving faith) and get the all-access pass here: Thriving at Home Summit all-access pass.

Continuing the Blended Family Conversation

  • What blended family ideas in this post resonated with you?
  • What tips or tricks for stepfamilies would you add to this list?
  • Which blended family comments have you tried, and how have they worked in your home?
  • What other blended family questions do you have?

Jenny and I would love to continue the conversation in the comments below. And we look forward to hearing from you!

More Blended Family Content:

Jed Jurchenko

Jed Jurchenko is the husband to an incredible wife, daddy to four amazing girls, and a foster dad to one more. He's served as a children's pastor, marriage and family therapist, psychology professor, award-winning writing coach, and life coach. Jed is the author of 23 books on relationships, parenting, writing, and doing life well. In his free time, you'll find Jed reading, preparing for an upcoming marathon, barbecuing, paddle boarding, and enjoying life with his incredible family. Find out more about Jed's books, coaching, and courses at www.ithrive320.com.