Parenting in an intact family is like learning Spanish, you know a little bit about it, you’ve probably heard it spoken and with some time you can get the basics down. Parenting in a blended family is like learning Farsi, you know it exists, everything you have heard about learning Farsi is that it is very difficult, as well as challenging and it takes a really long time and patience to learn even the simplest words. It’s not impossible to blend two families effectively but it takes a lot of maturity, flexibility and non-judgement on the part of the adults.
For a family there is probably nothing more emotionally charged than trying to blend two families together. The emotional triggers come not only from the children in the two families but also from the relationship with the ex-spouses. Always remember this is a process and doesn’t happen overnight. You often make headways in one area or with a couple of kids and then another issue will pop up.
There are many excellent books written on this subject, but I believe based on my own personal experience as a step-parent, there are five essential strategies that all blended families can utilize to make life more pleasant for everyone.
- Rarely do I say never do something but this is one that I feel falls in that category. Never talk with your children, in front of your child or with your spouse or family members when children are around about their other parent in a negative way. The other parent may not have a lot of admirable qualities in your eyes and often does things that really makes you angry or in convinces you but those traits have nothing to do with their relationship with that parent. If you need to vent to your spouse or a friend do it when no children are around, write in a journal, go to a yoga class or do meditation in a class or with a free app such as Insight Timer on your phone to learn to live in the present. When parents talk about the other parent in a negative way the only person it is hurting is your child.
- Once you determine you are going to re-marry, begin having family meetings with your children if you are not already doing this so there is an effective way to handle their concerns. Both sets of parents should have family meeting with their children separately, so this becomes a norm in both families. Once the families are blended family meeting need to happen weekly. Please read the blog “Family Dinners Are Important” on the Austin Therapy for Girls website for a guide on how to conduct family meeting. Family dinners info here.
- Let go of all expectations. You have chosen to re-marry because you are in love with your prospective mate. Does this mean you also love their children to the same degree as you love their parent? Probably not and that is perfectly normal. You have had no influence on how the children have been raised and they are probably very different from your own children. You have taught your children do to things a certain way and act the way you expect but two other people have raised your new step children. Don’t expect them to act like your children, it will only frustration you and cause tension in the family. Be flexible and get to know them without judgement.
- Think about issues that might arise and discuss the solutions with your spouse. You won’t think of everything, but it is important that you are on the same page and have a strategy. For example, when I remarried my new husband had come out of a very contiguous divorce and he was committed to spending time with his children, especially his 10-year-old son. To make him feel welcome and for him to want to spend time in our home we bought Dr Pepper for him to drink when he was there, even though my children were not allowed to drink soda because I didn’t feel it was good for them. This is just an example of the many things we did to accommodate him, and it was a dis-service to all of the children. It caused resentment and frustration and indirectly sent the message that he was the special child and did not have to conform to the family norms.
- Spend time with each of the children individually. Daily carve out ten minutes to spend with each of the children living in the home with the birth parent. They have been used to having the birth parent available to them and now that they have re-married they must share their parent with another person. Being intentional about giving children the one on one attention they need will make the transition to a blended family much easier. When the step-children come to visit it is also important for them to have alone time with the biological parent. Doing family things is important but it is equally important to carve out time for each child.
Hang in there, it will pay off!!!
Parent, single mom, step-parent and step-grandparent