One of the most immediate decisions you’ll have to make for your new blended family is deciding on living arrangements. Whose house should you live in? Should you buy a new home? How do you squeeze the kids together? How to best ensure everyone feels at home? This information will provide some insight that can guide you in terms of stepfamily living arrangements.
Should you buy a new home for your stepfamily?
If you’re in the position to buy a new home, research suggests that this is probably the best decision, though responses are mixed, and either decision comes with its own set of problems. On one hand, moving to a new home will require additional adjustments during this already difficult transition for some members of the family. (One side or the other would be forced into this position regardless.) On the other hand, starting over in a new home can be symbolic of a new beginning for everyone. It can be an exciting adventure that solidifies you as a family, and it allows you to hunt for a home sufficient for your new needs, which is unlikely in either of your current homes if both of you have children. Around 43% of people start over in a new home.
Artlip, Artlip and Saltzman report that “Overall, those respondents who continued to live in their former homes after remarriage were 24% more likely to be unsuccessful than those who moved. When the new family lived in the former home of one of the spouses, the members of the family who had not lived there before often felt like intruders. In addition, the family members who had previously lived in the home frequently felt as if their space had been violated. As a result, most families would have preferred to have moved to a new home.” (1993, p. 59)
A lot of this will depend on the needs of the new family. If there’s enough space (and especially enough bedrooms) for everyone, and if neither parent is real picky or territorial when it comes to their home, then you might be fine keeping a pre-existing home.
If you choose to start your stepfamily in a new home
- Involve kids in the house shopping. Obviously you can’t let them make the decision, but you should invite their input so they feel like they’re involved.
- Do your best to keep some of the furniture, decorations, or fixtures from each of your former houses to bring to the new home. This will help everyone feel at home in the new house.
- Try to time your move so that it doesn’t happen in the middle of the school year, which will make things more difficult on your kids.
- Assuming the two of you live in relatively the same area, you might want to try and look for a home that splits your two current ones. This can make it easier for children to stay in touch with friends and might avoid the necessity for children to switch schools.
If you start your stepfamily in one parent’s home
In the Artlip et al. study, 57% of families began their new life in either the man or woman’s home after the wedding, sometimes by choice, other times out of necessity. The most obvious factor in deciding which house to live in will depend on which home better accommodates the family’s needs. If both homes are comparable, you should try to go with the one that requires the fewest kid moves, unless there are other factors you need to consider. If only one person has kids, it’s usually best to have the other spouse move in with them, regardless of who has the better house. Once again, talk things over with the kids and get an idea of where they stand on the matter.
- If you can’t afford to move, let the incoming kids redecorate their own rooms or arrange it how they’d like so it feels like their own territory.
- Consider room arrangements carefully. A child who loses the “best” room in the house to a new stepsibling can develop a lot of animosity. Same for kids who had their own room before but now must share. So consider these living arrangements carefully. If it’s necessary to make such moves then you do what must, but you should expect a lot of battles over turf at first.
Younger kids are typically more amicable to sharing than older ones. Teenagers especially crave their privacy. So it might be better to decide room arrangements based on age rather than sex. If kids must share a room, see the information in our Super Siblings book for when kids share a room.
General advice on stepfamily living arrangements
- Try to give your kids access to a locked area that is all their own. One of the most common issues to arise in stepfamilies between siblings is that everyone gets into each other’s stuff. You can prevent a lot of these fights from happening by giving each child a locked cabinet, closet, or other space where they can store some of their more personal items that they don’t want the other kids getting into.
- Try to ensure that each child has a space of their own – somewhere to get away to. This can be as simple as giving a kid a beanbag in a corner of the basements with a curtain they can draw or a divider that gives them a little privacy. You also might build a partitioned clubhouse in the backyard that gives each child their own little area. Kids are going to get overwhelmed, especially at first. Having an area of their own that they can withdraw to not only helps them to cope, but it diminishes the arguments that would otherwise occur by providing an outlet of escape.
- Redecorating can be fraught with issues, especially when it’s someone else’s house. One parent may desire to make a home her own, whereas the kids have a fondness for the way things are, especially if they’re reminiscent of the prior family. So talk this issue over ahead of time, and realize that each person may have to compromise on what they want.
- Try to involve stepkids in any redecoration projects whenever possible. Once again, this does not mean you have to cede control, but invite their input and have them help pick out any new items.