Due to the number of divorced families, it has been increasingly common to have blended families. Many couples enter into new relationships and new marriages wherein both parties already have children. When these families come together, there are many changes and adjustments that need to be considered and planned.
Parenting is already a tough job – raising kids and navigating the challenges that arise along the way is important. And with blended families, the challenges add up. Parents will need to introduce their kids to a new mother or father figure and new brothers and sisters. Then the new couple will need to successfully merge both families to become one happy family.
Merging two families can be complicated, given that they don’t have the same background and the same family dynamic. Fortunately, a parent can take steps to improve the bond between both sides of the family and bring everyone together.
What is a Blended Family?
A blended family, also known as a stepfamily, forms when you and your partner decide to live together with the children from one or both of your previous relationships. The process of forming a blended family can be a challenging yet rewarding experience. While you as a couple are likely to approach remarriage and having a new family with great joy, your children or your partner’s children may not be as excited. Some may resist the changes, and some may even resist you. While it may frustrate you, know that blending families is rarely easy. No matter how difficult things may seem at first, giving love and patience, maintaining open communication, and mutual respect can help you develop a bond with your stepchildren and let them form a bond with your children.
Ways for Blended Families to Bond
Here are some tips on how to ensure that your transition into a blended family can be successful.
1. Resolve your divorce or previous relationship first
How you manage your divorce or break-up with your ex can play a significant role in the success of your future relationships. You have to deal with them first before entering a new relationship – especially one with kids involved – as bringing unresolved issues and emotions can add to the challenge. It also opens the risk of future issues getting more complicated.
2. Create a parenting plan and adjust even before remarrying
You and your partner must discuss and agree about parenting topics like discipline, behavior, rules, parenting roles, and handling children. The rules must be consistent in the house, and expectations and consequences must be clear. Make the necessary adjustments to your parenting styles before you remarry to make a smoother transition.
It’s also best to talk to your own children first and let them know of your plans too, early on. Don’t spring it on them and surprise them by letting them dive into a new situation right away – they may resent you and your new partner for it. Make sure they have a voice and entertain any of their concerns. Help your partner do the same with their kids.
3. Lead by example
As a basic rule in parenting, leading by example becomes even more important when it comes to bonding blended families. For your new stepchildren to love and respect you, you must demonstrate love and respect first. Know that these kids, as well as your biological children, are watching you and looking for cues. You can successfully help them feel loved and respected by listening to them, spending one-on-one time with them, letting them set the pace, showing them affection, and giving them proper boundaries.
4. Manage your expectations
Another essential thing to consider when blending families is understanding that everything won’t be perfect – not at the beginning and probably never, honestly. It’s because families are never perfect. Even if you have a harmonious and close relationship with your kids, and your partner has the same with theirs, blending the families can still get challenging. And if you don’t really have a quality relationship with your own kids, it might start off a little rockier.
Don’t expect the family interactions to be perfect from the start. Don’t get discouraged if there’s any animosity initially, because if children see their parents getting frustrated, they will pick up the same attitude about the situation. As a parent, be the light of hope that the blended family can be harmonious.
You might invest a lot of love, time, energy, and affection to your new partner’s kids, and they might not return the same feelings immediately. Remember that children adjust in their own way at their own time. Just think of it as making small investments that may lead to a lot of interest in the future.
5. Continue maintaining a relationship with your own children
As you build a relationship with your partner’s children, do not forget your own kids. When you take extra effort reaching out to your stepchildren, it can be easy to take your own children for granted. You need to pay equal attention to your own children so they won’t feel displaced during this time of change. Try to spend quiet time with your biological children daily. Even in the most harmonious blended families, children still crave some alone time with their parents.
6. Be fair and beware of favoritism
As you work hard to have a good relationship with your stepchildren, don’t overcompensate it by favoring them over your children. Though it’s done with the best intentions in mind, it’s a common mistake parents make in an attempt to avoid indulging your biological children. Be fair, and as much as possible, try to treat them equally.
7. Create new family rituals to bond
Creating family rituals and routines can help you unite the new family as a whole. Plan to incorporate at least one new family ritual, like Sunday ball games, weekly movie night, Taco Tuesdays, or special ways to celebrate birthdays. Establishing regular family meals can help provide a chance for you to talk and bond with both your children and stepchildren. If you need ideas for family bonding activities, check this out.
8. Find ways to experience real-life together
Going to the park, mall, or beach together is a lot of fun, but it doesn’t reflect the realities of everyday life. Try to get your kids used to your partner and their children in daily, real-life situations. For instance, if your partner needs to paint the fence, encourage your kids to help. If you need a hand with cooking, try to ask for help from your stepchild.
9. Let your stepchildren set the pace
Every child is different. Some will love you right away, while some may still keep distance. Don’t worry – if you’re doing the best that you can, the problem is not on you. Some kids are more open and willing to engage, while some may need you to slow down and give them more time to warm up to you. It depends on the personality of the child. Given enough time, interest, effort, and patience, most children will give you a chance.
10. Get professional support if needed
Finally, if you believe you can benefit from a little extra help, consider working with a therapist or counselor. These professionals can assist the whole family in sharing how they feel about changes and adjustments. Counseling is beneficial for blended families, as it gives all parties a chance to speak what they really feel and think.
Also, children need time to grieve the loss of a parent or move on from a divorce. If they are still processing this, they need more time to prepare for a new family dynamic. Counseling can help them as it allows them to go through a proper grieving process before they fully accept a new family their parent is building with other people. When a child is forced to move on before grieving, they can end up resenting the stepparent and stepchildren, or worse, their own parent. Working with a counselor can help children process these transitions both individually and as a family.