Blended families bring their own set of rewards and challenges. It’s not always easy to seamlessly meld two families together, especially when children are involved. If you’re currently in a relationship and either yourself or your partner have children, there are some things to keep in mind when introducing your children and preparing for a life together. Here are some suggestions for making the transition smoother for all those involved.
Have Realistic Expectations
This relationship or marriage is not the same as any other relationship or marriage you’ve had before, so don’t try to make it something that it’s not. Embrace and acknowledge the uniqueness of your new family.
Everyone wants to have a “big happy family”, but it’s important to understand this transition will take time, especially for the kids. A great way to establish a good relationship between stepparent and child is to focus on individual relationships. Try to set aside individual time with each stepchild. During this time you can get to know them, what their interests are, and establish open lines of communication. Approaching each child as an individual makes them feel special. It also shows that you care about them and their feelings.
Be sure not to push too hard. If the stepchild isn’t interested in spending time alone with you just yet, try to respect their space and boundaries. Let them know you’re available when they want to talk, but don’t force the connection.
Involve the Children in Decision-Making
Of course, at the end of the day, you and your partner are the parents. I’m not suggesting you give complete control to the children or allow them to dictate your lifestyle, but there are ways to involve them in the process within reason and parental guidelines.
If you’re looking to purchase a home with your new partner, allow the children to come along while house-hunting. Listen to their opinions and concerns. If there are ways to accommodate their feelings without compromising your own, that’s a great place to start. Let the child pick out which bedroom they want or what color they want to paint it. Just be careful not to overcompensate. Feelings of guilt could result in compromising the parent-child roles. Remember, you’re still the parent.
If you and your new partner plan to marry, include all the children in the wedding ceremony. There are so many creative ways of doing this. The children can be at the wedding party or speak at the reception. You can set aside a special time during the ceremony to acknowledge the children. Use wedding sand to show two families coming together as one. Sometimes, stepparents give their stepchildren a small token of their affection, along with a card or verbal expression of their love and excitement over becoming a family.
Understand Your Role
Though you are a parent to both your biological and stepchildren, it’s important that you and your partner discuss parental roles beforehand. Some parents don’t want their new husband or wife reprimanding their child. But in the same turn, your stepchildren need to respect you as an adult and authority figure.
It’s not always easy to parent your partner’s children. We’re all familiar with the phrase, “You’re not my real mom/dad.” This is a tough situation to overcome, but it is possible.
Make sure that you and your partner have a mutual understanding of how discipline and rules are established in the household. All rules should be the same for both sets of children. Don’t argue or debate in front of the children. This shows uncertainty. You and your partner need to be a united front when it comes to parenting. If you aren’t happy with the way your partner reprimanded your children, speak about it in private, where the children can’t hear you. Communication in this situation is imperative.
Use Team-Building Activities
Team building activities are a great way to connect people, and they aren’t just for the office! Plan outings, events, and activities with your blended family that require you to work together, but be sure to make them fun! If you force the family into an activity they don’t want to do, you won’t get the result you’re hoping for.
Hiking is a great outdoor activity that the whole family can enjoy. Teamwork comes into play when reading the trail maps and even navigating the pathways. Help one another and call out if there are rocks, tree limbs or other obstacles up ahead.
Family game nights and daily outings offer similar benefits. Any time spent together participating in structured activities can be an opportunity for building bridges, getting to know one another better and connecting.
This might be the most important component of a successful blended family. The adults involved need to have patience with the children and their individual needs as they adjust to this new situation. Stepparents need to respect the child’s biological parents as much as possible. Perhaps the children are a little less open following a weekend visit with their parent. Try to understand these feelings and approach the child with care.
Don’t expect change to happen overnight. Like anything else in life worth having, creating a blended family that works will take time. And remember that every situation is unique and special, so embrace your blended family’s individuality. It really is a beautiful thing.