Quarantine and blended families don’t mix. At least not in most blended families, especially in the early years. And if you’re wondering how to bond with your stepfamily while you are all home, you might feel … well … stuck.

Members of stepfamilies need space in order to function properly. But a pandemic puts everyone together in confined spaces for weeks on end.

Some kids aren’t able to see their other parent because of travel restrictions or medical safety precautions. The parent who has the kids currently might enjoy the extra time, but to kids, it’s heartbreaking.

At our house, both my kids are out of school, my husband, Robbie, is on full military retirement, and I’m both a stay-at-home and working mom. We all feel the tension. But no matter what the situation, everyone in every home is stepping on each other’s toes.

It’s hard enough for biological families to be together this much, but the complications of stepfamilies compound the problem. Loyalty conflicts, differing family norms, and sensitivities from previous misunderstandings make the quarantine a frustrating, maybe even depressing, situation.

How to bond with your stepfamily during a crisis

But there are ways to make the quarantine work for your blended family, not against it. In fact, you may never all be under the same roof for this amount of time again. So make the most of it.

Here are a few tips on how to bond with your stepfamily during the COVID-19 crisis. These might even help with future emergency situations (but who wants to think about that now?!).

1. Keep the atmosphere light and simple.

Social media and Pinterest are full of creative and uncomplicated ideas for family fun. If your family bonds that way, go for it. (By the way, I’m jealous.)

But if your family is like mine, the moment I mention a creative idea, I hear the droning choir of voices crying, “This is so dumb. I’m not doing this.”

To some, “creativity” sounds like “work.” So to avoid a “how to bond with your stepfamily” fail, keep your ideas simple, and your expectations low.

My family started eating dinner on the back patio, and before everyone went separate ways, I plopped down the Chinese checkers board. It was easy and simple, but mostly it’s created a place where we can tease and make memories without hurting feelings.

2. Go for family walks.

Fresh air and sunshine changes a person’s mood. When everyone gets stir crazy and cranky, going for a walk can put some space between you while also enjoying God’s beautiful creation.

My outdoorsy husband bonds with the kids by pointing out types of trees and animal trails along our walks. We took a stroll across a dam on the Arkansas River, and Robbie gathered the kids to explain how the lock and dam work to let water and boats through.

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3. If you’re the stepparent, earn points by providing treats.

Robbie has surprised the kids by bringing home cookies, cakes, candy, and one night we drove through for some frozen custard. It was nice to get out of the house and support local businesses. But mainly, I had fun watching the kids endeared to Robbie’s thoughtfulness.

4. Give everyone space.

Any family has a variety of personalities—some introverted, others extroverted. Combine that with the complications of stepfamily relationships and a pandemic and personal space becomes paramount. It’s important to make sure everyone has a place to get away and chill out.

This gives everyone a way to sort out their feelings. They can listen to soothing music, read a book, or take a nap. Sometimes a timeout is all you need to feel better.

5. Be the first to apologize when bonding attempts backfire.

With all this uncertainty and fear, arguments are going to increase. But don’t take that as a sign your family is failing. Whatever troubles you had before are going to increase for a time, but that’s OK. It’s not your family; it’s the crisis. Remember to keep things in perspective.

So, even if you’re right, and you know you’re right, be the first to apologize. There is always something you can apologize for—insensitivity, tone of voice, impatience. No one is going to handle this quarantine perfectly. When you apologize first, it softens the heart of the other person, and that creates an opportunity for empathy and reconciliation.

Don’t seek perfection in your blended family

With the heightened stress of the pandemic situation, there’s going to be more tension and hurt feelings than normal. Kids and teens miss their friends. High school seniors are unable to enjoy the fanfare. Incomes are low; jobs are on the line. It’s not an easy time for anyone.

And these five tips won’t create a perfect blended family. There’s no perfect recipe for how to bond with your stepfamily.

But they might hold you together during these stormy days. And if you use these tips often enough, you might actually change the way you live for the better, even after the quarantine is over.

Copyright © 2020 by Sabrina Beasley McDonald. All rights reserved.

Sabrina Beasley McDonald has been writing about God’s plan for marriage and family for over 19 years. Sabrina holds a Masters in Marriage and Family Counseling from Liberty University. She is the author of several devotional books, including Write God In Deeper: Journal Your Way to a Richer Faith.