Child, Family, Family Life, Family Planning, Parenting, Relationship Guide

The patchwork family

The patchwork family

What is a blended family?

Patchwork families, also known as stepfamilies, are not an invention of our time. In earlier times, for various reasons, it was necessary for parents and children from previous families to join together to form a new one. While stepfamilies used to be the result of the death of a partner, today an increased divorce and separation rate is the main reason.
In television comedies, patchwork families are often portrayed as a chaotic community in which there is always something going on and things are chaotic, but in the end everyone sticks together. Reality doesn’t always match what’s happening on the screen, and the blended families are as different as the people themselves. The dissolution of a nuclear family and the formation of a new family do not always go smoothly. In addition, organizational and even bureaucratic aspects play a role.

The blended family is one of several family forms

In the psychological and pedagogical literature, a distinction is made between different family forms, while colloquially both the stepfamily and the rainbow family are commonly referred to as patchwork families.


  • Nuclear family:
    The nuclear family consists of the parents and their biological children. Parents are either mother and father or same-sex partners.
  • Patchwork family / step family:
    A step family is when at least one parent has brought a child from a previous relationship into the relationship. The term patchwork family has been used as a synonym for step-family or mixed family since the 1990s. It comes from the English, in which patchwork means patchwork. However, the term is not used in the English-speaking world, but here mixed families are called blended families.
  • Rainbow family:
    Families consisting of same-sex parents and their biological children or stepchildren, adopted children and foster children are referred to as rainbow families. The name goes back to the rainbow flag, which is a symbol for lesbian, gay and bisexual people worldwide.

Step families and patchwork families are usually second or even third families.
As the family psychologist Wolfgang Hantel-Quitmann writes in his book “Basic Knowledge Family Psychology”, two thirds of second families are stepfather families. This means that these consist of the mother with her children and the stepfather. In many patchwork or stepfamilies, the couples do not marry but opt ​​for non-marital cohabitation. According to Hantel-Quitmann, the reasons for this are partly the fear of another divorce. But consideration for the children should also often play a role. Rainbow families can be nuclear, step, or blended. In addition, single parents with their children are considered a separate form of family.

Peculiarities of the second family compared to the nuclear family

The patchwork or step family differs from the first family in various aspects that can influence living together. This includes, among other things, that the new parents did not have any time together without children before the beginning of the cohabitation or marriage. All family members may have to deal with the loss of a previous nuclear family. In some cases, the children are members of several families, for example when the second biological parent starts a second family himself.


Problems within the blended family

During family counseling, Wolfgang Hantel-Quitmann found that the atmosphere in stepfamilies is often characterized by false expectations, a strong desire for harmony, avoidance of conflicts and even a “fighting readiness to deal with conflicts”. In addition, such families are often under pressure to avoid the mistakes of the first family. Conflicts often arise because the adult partners cannot agree on common parenting rules that do justice to all children from the different nuclear families. Many children are also heavily burdened by the divorce or the separation of their biological parents. Unresolved issues between them or a negative relationship with the absent parent can also be risk factors for children’s behavior problems, like the changes in parenting styles in the second family. Parents should therefore give the children plenty of time to get used to the new family situation and meet their children with individual support and empathy. How the biological parents live up to their responsibility for bringing up children depends, among other things, on the relationship they have with one another after the separation. In the specialist literature, a distinction is made between different forms of parenthood. that they have each other after the breakup. In the specialist literature, a distinction is made between different forms of parenthood. that they have each other after the breakup. In the specialist literature, a distinction is made between different forms of parenthood.

  • Parallel parenting is a form of parenting in which the biological parents exercise parenting responsibility separately. It is recommended if their relationship to one another is very conflicted and conflicts can arise when they meet face to face. With this form of parenthood, the parents only clarify the general conditions and otherwise avoid direct contact. As a result, the children are largely kept away from the conflicts and do not act as a buffer between the quarreling parents.
  • Cooperative parenting is possible whenever the separated parents are able to talk to each other without resentment and make decisions together.
  • The worst forms for children are destructive parenting, where parents fail to resolve their conflicts or avoid each other, or destructive parenting, where one parent withdraws entirely and is no longer there for the child.

The most ideal form of parenting is cooperative parenting, as surely everyone can understand. However, psychologists see the chance that parallel parenthood does not conflict with the needs of the children. It is important that the parents agree on basic educational issues and do not play off against each other.
Also read our tips on how to deal with the stepchild

Problems that can arise from the patchwork family form

So far, the laws and general customs have mainly focused on the nuclear family, i.e. the family that is characterized by marriage and the lineage of the children. Problems that can arise from the formation of blended families are therefore evident in various areas, such as:

  • Name regulations: After the divorce of the parents, a child always keeps the surname that it had until then. As a result, the children in a blended family may have different names. If one parent remarries or enters into a registered civil partnership, name matching is only possible under certain conditions.
  • Visitation rights: Visitation rights are not only a right but also an obligation of legal parents. If they no longer live together, they must therefore agree on how to deal with them and put their own sensitivities aside. Stepparents and former life partners have no obligation to deal with the child after a separation. However, they may have the right to do so if they were responsible for the children before the separation.
  • Inheritance law: According to the legal regulations, only biological or adopted children have the right to the inheritance or the compulsory portion. Stepchildren are excluded unless the parents have made a will.


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