Regardless of what you call it, a blended family has a unique set of challenges that you may not have experienced with your first family. The good news is that with patience, understanding and time, you can create a positive, loving family relationship. Here’s how to begin.
Step #1: Start with a positive attitude and realistic expectations. Accept the fact that this won’t be easy. You’ll have frustrations and challenges. Surveys of remarried couples with children show that children are the number one reason for conflict between remarried couples. If you take the right steps and if you are willing to work, the result can be a loving, caring, supportive family of blended and biological children. Blending your families can be your second chance at success.
Step #2: Create a new plan for parenting. With blended families you cannot simply continue where your previous marriage left off. Instead, your new family involves different people who have not lived together before. As a result, you need new rules to address the new family dynamics.
Step #3: Focus on respecting, communicating, and empathizing for all involved. This means you need to watch more carefully for sensitivities and tones of conversations, especially with the children. While you cannot make blended families love each other, you can make serious strides toward respect and constructive behavior. Start with leading by example.
Step #4: Make one-on-one time a priority. The blended family does not need to be together all of the time. In fact, it helps when blended families spend some time apart. Biological parents and children need alone time without the steprelatives. Likewise, the stepparent and child need one-on-one time without the biological parents. By mixing how they spend time with each other, you strengthen the bonds within the stepfamily, which helps to strengthen the entire family unit.
Step #5: Give family members permission to express their feelings. Stepfamilies are often weighed down with guilt and insecurity as well as confusing emotions. By giving family members the freedom to feel, grieve, love and act, you help them release built-up tension. Suggest to family members that they take care of themselves by exercising and spending time with friends.
Step #6: Give relationships time to develop slowly and naturally. Don’t be in a hurry. You can’t force one person to like or love another person. But you can urge stepfamily members to get to know each other better. Give the stepmembers time to get to know each other and don’t try to mix it up too quickly. The more experiences they share – and the more time they live together – the more you help them form lasting bonds.
Step #7: While discipline is a joint effort, each parent has a different role. Discipline must be discussed by and between all of the parents. Children will feel the most support when rules are common in both households. The children must be taught to respect each parent and step-parents role.
Step #8: Draw on all the patience you can muster. Patience is your secret. Depending on the stepchildren(s) ages, they may reject the other stepparent and stepchildren at the beginning. Some children feel guilty about loving their stepparent, thinking it is not appropriate. Children of all ages need time – sometimes lots of time – to adjust to the new family structure. Patience prevails.
Step #9: As children change, you must make adjustments. As children grow, they go through major life changes. This means your parenting needs to change as well. You may notice the children acting out to test the new family dynamic. Don’t take this personally. Stay flexible and ride the tide, knowing that you will need to make mid-course corrections along the way.
Step #10: Look for people who can support you. You might look for a therapist or a coach. Or you might find a support group of people who are going through the same challenges you are. Getting input from an objective third party may be exactly what you need, since you may be too close to the situation to make the best decision(s).
Achieving a healthy blended family is a process. Rome was not built in a day. The effort is worth it and your children will thank you.