What is a blended family?
A blended family or stepfamily forms when you and your partner make a life together with the children from one or both of your previous relationships. The process of forming a new, blended family can be both a rewarding and challenging experience. While you as parents are likely to approach remarriage and a new family with great joy and expectation, your kids or your new spouse’s kids may not be nearly as excited. They’ll likely feel uncertain about the upcoming changes and how they will affect relationships with their natural parents. They’ll also be worried about living with new stepsiblings, whom they may not know well, or worse, ones they may not even like.
Some children may resist changes, while you as a parent can become frustrated when your new family doesn’t function in the same way as your previous one. While blending families is rarely easy, these tips can help your new family work through the growing pains. No matter how strained or difficult things seem at first, with open communication, mutual respect, and plenty of love and patience, you can develop a close bond with your new stepchildren and form an affectionate and successful blended family.
Planning your blended family
After having survived a painful divorce or separation and then managed to find a new loving relationship, the temptation can often be to rush into remarriage and a blended family without first laying solid foundations. But by taking your time, you give everyone a chance to get used to each other, and to the idea of marriage and forming a new family.
Too many changes at once can unsettle children. Blended families have the highest success rate if the couple waits two years or more after a divorce to remarry, instead of piling one drastic family change onto another.
Don’t expect to fall in love with your partner’s children overnight. Get to know them. Love and affection take time to develop.
Find ways to experience “real life” together. Taking both sets of kids to a theme park every time you get together is a lot of fun, but it isn’t reflective of everyday life. Try to get the kids used to your partner and their children in daily life situations.
Make parenting changes before you marry. Agree with your new partner how you intend to parent together, and then make any necessary adjustments to your parenting styles before you remarry. It’ll make for a smoother transition and your kids won’t become angry at your new spouse for initiating changes.
Don’t allow ultimatums. Your kids or new partner may put you in a situation where you feel you have to choose between them. Remind them that you want both sets of people in your life.
Insist on respect. You can’t insist on people liking each other, but you can insist that they treat one another with respect.
Limit your expectations. You may give a lot of time, energy, love, and affection to your new partner’s kids that they will not return immediately. Think of it as making small investments that may one day yield a lot of interest.
Bonding with your new blended family
You will increase your chances of successfully bonding with your new stepchildren by thinking about what they need. Age, gender, and personality are not irrelevant, but all children have some basic needs and wants that once met, can help you establish a rewarding new relationship.
Children want to feel:
Safe and secure. Children want to be able to count on parents and step-parents. Children of divorce have already felt the upset of people they trust letting them down, and may not be eager to give second chances to a new step-parent.
Loved. Kids like to see and feel your affection, although it should come in a gradual process.
Valued. Kids often feel unimportant or invisible when it comes to decision making in the new blended family. Recognize their role in the family when you make decisions.
Heard and emotionally connected. Creating an honest and open environment free of judgment will help kids feel heard and emotionally connected to a new step-parent. Show them that you can view the situation from their perspective.
Appreciated and encouraged. Children of all ages respond to praise and encouragement and like to feel appreciated.
Limits and boundaries. Children may not think they need limits, but a lack of boundaries sends a signal that the child is unworthy of the parents’ time, care, and attention. As a new step-parent, you shouldn’t step in as the enforcer at first, but work with your spouse to set limits.
Let your stepchild set the pace
Every child is different and will show you how slow or fast to go as you get to know them. Some kids may be more open and willing to engage. Shy, introverted children may require you to slow down and give them more time to warm up to you. Given enough time, patience, and interest, most children will eventually give you a chance.
Use routines and rituals to bond
Creating family routines and rituals can help you bond with your new stepchildren and unite the family as a whole. Plan to incorporate at least one new family ritual, such as Sunday visits to the beach, a weekly game night, or special ways to celebrate a family birthday. Establishing regular family meals, for example, offers a great chance for you to talk and bond with your children and stepchildren as well as encourage healthy eating habits.