by Chris Taylor, MFT, Author “Back to Basics”
In today's society of frequent divorce and remarriage the term blended family has become a norm. While "The Brady Bunch" highlighted the reality of this arrangement back in the 60's, it is more often than not a more painful transition and ongoing experience for both the children and the parents. Thankfully, by incorporating these 5 critical strategies, you can have the best plan to eliminate many of the challenges that might otherwise derail your new family dynamic.
1. Time for change
Blending families is not instant. Families shouldn’t be rushed or pushed into blending, it will take time to fully click, and it may never fully click. It is easier for children to accept a new parent into the picture if it has been awhile since their parents went their separate ways. Accepting a parent’s divorce or separation is a big change, and piling on additional changes all at once can be harder to process.
It is also easier to accept other siblings in the picture if the children are slowly introduced over time. Depending on age, children might move at different speeds to adjusting or accepting the blended style of family. In addition to the initial time establishing families, it will also take time for everyone to show familial affection toward each other. You won’t be in love with your partner’s kid(s) overnight, and they won’t with you, and that’s okay.
2. Talk parenting styles and rules
Although you and your partner vowed to love each other and treat each other a certain way, parenting styles and rules must be discussed where the kids are concerned. Each parent may have their own parenting styles, and therefore must discuss conflicts or disagreements that might arise. If possible make these decisions before marrying, and start to implement them. It’s unfair to change a rule overnight, and doing this in advance will prevent the kids from feeling as if marriage changed you and your style.
Routines can be part of parenting styles and rules as well. Routines can be blended, and might take some compromise by both parties. Having some type of routine is important in order to manage the kid(s) expectations when they are staying with you and your new partner.
Other parenting factors to be discussed include schooling, other family involvement, and division of labor. Since there is a chance one parent may be present at times and the other not, it should be decided if the step parent is to help with school work and development, and it should also be cleared by the child if possible. Blended families also bring more family members outside the immediate family. A decision should be made on how involved the step-kids may be with their new extended step-family. Lastly, raising kids is no easy feat, and involves a lot of hard work. This labor division should be discussed so neither parent feels taken advantage of.
3. Realistic expectations
Blending families is a journey not a race. In order to not be disappointed by the progress, don’t have expectations or have realistic ones if anything. For example, you can’t expect your step-children to call you mom or dad, it has to happen on their terms. Same goes for affection, love takes time. However, you should still show your affection toward the child, so they know it is okay to do so.
There is a large amount of respect in various relationships and areas needed for blended families to work well. First respect has to be present for the kids; respect what they are going through, and be civil rather than try to hurt one another. The next way respect is needed is for your partner or new spouse; you shouldn’t give them ultimatums to choose between you or the kids. Respect should also be demanded from you; you shouldn’t be the punching bag for blending your families, and self-respect for yourself and what you are going through is important. Lastly --and this may be the hardest area of respect to show-- respect is needed for the ex spouse or partner, the biological parent of the step-children. There may be a lot of anger, resentment, or disagreements with them and your partner, but you must still respect them as the parent of the kids you have decided to blend with, and leave the lines of communication open to encourage that relationship.
5. Create a relationship with each individual person
Strengthening and growing the relationships in your blended family is another part that will take time. When you start building those relationships you should do so with each member of the family, as well as the family as a whole. Your spouse or partner and you may have a strong bond together, but you may not have a strong relationship with them as a co parent. Building a relationship with each individual child will be necessary as well. Each child may take to the blended family at different speeds, so individual time and activities will allow you to adjust to that level of bonding they are at. Do not think of the children as “his kid” or “her kids” to encourage any separation.
After a few years of work on blending your families and following these steps, hopefully your family will grow, members will accept and grow with the changes, and your hard work will pay off in the best way. www.christaylormft.com