Parents who try to make their blended family like their first family may be headed for frustration and disappointment. It’s important to accept that things are different and focus on some fundamentals that can help make a happy blended family.
A Strong Marriage
Although it’s harder to work on your marriage in a blended family because you won’t have the adjustment period that couples have the first time around, it’s important to be intentional about working on your marriage. Date nights, daily communication, having a united front–these are crucial habits to instill from the beginning.
It’s become very evident to me as I’ve worked with families–blended and non-blended alike–that parenting is as effective as the marriage is strong. Even in single-parent homes, if the divorced parents cannot agree on parenting strategies, there will be more confusion for the kids.
A Parenting Plan
It’s wise to discuss your parenting strategies before you get married. Agree with your new spouse on boundaries, core values and work out the major issues before you get married. I urge all couples to get pre-marital counseling. Being proactive will help your families make a smoother transition and keep the kids from blaming your new spouse for making changes they don’t like.
Patience for Your New Child
Every child is unique and some may warm up immediately while others are reluctant to accept the change. Take your cues from them and proceed at their rate; they will let you know how fast or slow they are willing to go to open up. If you are patient, loving, and show interest and understanding, most kids will eventually open up to a relationship with you.
According to authors Jeanne Segal, Ph.D. and Lawrence Robinson, Children under 10 may adapt more easily and be more accepting of a new adult. They may also feel they are competing for their parent’s attention and require more daily attention.
Children 10-14 may struggle the most in accepting a new stepfamily. They may need more time to bond with a parent before they will accept their discipline. They probably won’t express their feelings openly at first, but they are sensitive to the change and need your love and support even if they act like they don’t want it.
Teens over 15 may pull back from being involved in the stepfamily because they are forming their identity. They may keep to themselves more, but they still need to feel loved and supported.
New Traditions and Routines
Creating new family traditions and routines helps set your new family apart as being unique and not as a replica of the former family. Try to establish at least one new family ritual, whether it’s daily, weekly or monthly. Maybe you start a new tradition at family meals or begin celebrating birthdays in a new way.
Ours Not Mine
One couple I worked with faced many frustrations in their parenting and as a couple because they consistently referred to the kids as “Yours” or “Mine.”
Your kids did this….
My kids are not going to do that….
This mindset caused them to constantly be battling each other as well as their kids. It was not healthy for their marriage or for their family.
The new reality in blended families must shift from mine and yours, to OURS. It may start with the simple habit of not using mine and yours when you are talking about the kids and use OURS instead.
From there, move towards expectations, actions, boundaries, and values that are for every member of the family. There should not be two standards for two sets of kids. That divided thinking will cause disunity in the marriage and family.
Know the Challenges
As a blended family, the biggest challenges you will face are sibling rivalry, your kids’ need for attention, stepparent discipline, the lack of family unity, and the struggle to nurture your marriage while adjusting to a new family. Recognize these difficulties, talk about a plan for facing and conquering them, and move forward with patience and persistence. Your goal of being a family has truly blended will be a journey, not an instant success.
If you’d like help blending your family, I’m a parenting coach. Please schedule a free consultation here.