Are you prepared for the hard work and dedication needed to create an amazing blended family?
While we’re all familiar with single-parent families, stepfamilies and traditional families, the phrase blended families may be less obvious. What, exactly, is a blended family? 65% of remarriages include children from previous relationships, so the number of families “blending” to create stepfamilies is ever-increasing.
Are you about to join the ranks? Unsure about how to mesh with another parent’s children? Perhaps Cinderella’s and Snow White’s fathers have a lot to answer for! We grew up on these stories with wicked stepmothers and stepsisters, jealousy and intrigue. But what about the father’s role? What steps did he take to ensure his child’s happiness in the new, blended family? He seems to be a very distant figure, unaware of the cruel family dynamics in these storybook blended families.
Any single parent knows how difficult it can be to introduce a new partner. You’re negotiating a minefield: When is the right moment to talk to your children? When should you introduce your “special someone” to the kids? When should you actually live together as a blended family? If you’ve watched your child react with pain or anger when meeting your ex’s new partner, you may be especially wary about revealing that you’ve fallen in love with someone new. It can be a bittersweet pill for the child to swallow. You want to enjoy your new relationship to the fullest, but your concern about how your children will react to sharing you and to being part of a stepfamily is valid.
Of all of the questions that come my way, balancing a new blended family is near the top of the list. One often hopes that two children of the same age will become close friends, that an only child will relish the idea of having siblings or that the merging will occur without major fallout.
Many parents are bewildered to find that their children—who seemed quite happy during outings with another adult and his or her children—suddenly become angry and sullen when a wedding is announced and the prospect living with the stepfamily becomes a reality. For instance, how the original family breakup was handled and the way the new couple’s union is celebrated can definitely set the tone.
I was amazed to hear of the diverse ways in which couples arrange their blended family weddings. It’s critical to consider the attitudes of both parents’ children to ensure the new stepfamily runs smoothly. It is also essential to consult everyone involved before wedding arrangements are made. One bewildered father of four adolescents (two of his, two of hers) said he could understand why stepfamilies were called “blended” because he felt, for the last six months, as though he’d been whirled around in a blender. Life had become extremely hectic.
I like to remind parents that their children have already been through the trauma of a divorce and have had the difficult job of adjusting to life with only one parent, often dealing with visitation issues with the other parent. Now they’re being asked to make another change: living in a stepfamily. Not an easy task.
Tips for Establishing Healthy, Happy Stepfamilies
- Go slowly. Don’t expect to fall in love with your partner’s children overnight. Take it slowly, and get to know them. Love and respect have to be learned and a step parent has to earn them.
- All brothers and sisters have “falling out” periods, so don’t assume all family arguments are the result of living in a blended family.
- Beware of favoritism. Be fair. Don’t overcompensate by favoring your stepchildren. This is a common mistake, made with best intentions, in an attempt to avoid indulging your biological children.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate. Be sure to discuss everything. Never keep emotions bottled up or hold grudges.
- Make special arrangements. If some of the kids “just visit,” make sure they have a locked cupboard for their personal things. Bringing toothbrushes and other “standard fare” each time they come to your home makes them feel like a visitor, not a member of the blended family.
- Find support. Locate a step parenting support organization in your community. You can learn how other blended families address some of the challenges of blended families.
- Spend time every day with your child. Try to spend at least one “quiet time” period with your child (or children) daily. Even in the best of blended families, children still need to enjoy some “alone time” with each parent.
- Patience is a virtue! Don’t just cross your fingers and hope the kids will like each other. They need time to get to know their stepbrothers or sisters. It shouldn’t be hurried.
It’s not unusual for a couple with children from previous relationships to want to have a child of their own, hoping a new baby will bind the family together. But parents in blended families offer words of caution on this issue: “Wait until you’re truly bonded as a new family” and “Be careful. A new baby can upset the fragile applecart.” The consensus is that you need to allow a sufficient period that encourages the different personalities to find a way to “gel.” Even if the courtship days were blissful, living with others is the only way to know them. Be prepared for the new family to have plenty of “teething trouble,” and arguments over tidying up, money, noise, discipline and the everyday ups and downs of family life. Keep calm, work out compromises and avoid the pitfall of referring to the kids as “your” children versus “my” children. Rules and compromises need to be worked out.
Always remember, however, that you and your partner have decided to make a fresh start and a new, blended family. With love, plenty of patience and understanding, you’ll know you’ve been blessed with a second chance. Take it.