Merging two families into one is no easy task. It requires patience and effort from all parents and kids, no matter how old they are. It can take several years, or more, for stepfamilies to find a groove that is comfortable for everyone. The first years can be especially difficult. Not only is welcoming a new spouse into the mix stress-inducing, but including new stepchildren, new rules, new schedules, demands, traditions and more can be equally challenging. But creating a comfortable atmosphere, full of love is not impossible. What can you do to make blending two families easier? Try these strategies:
A little patience goes a long way
Making your blended family flourish can’t be done overnight. Creating a home of your own and trying to establish a connection between two or more homes requires a great deal of understanding between partners who have to repair unresolved issues from their earlier marriage, and equality and respect in managing the behavior of their stepchildren. Young kids may cling desperately to the ex-spouse, refusing to separate at the appointed drop-off time. And older kids may pull away both physically and emotionally, and may even feel guilty about loving a step. Patience is key, as kids of all ages will need l time to adjust to the new family dynamic. During this adjustment period, adults need to show patience and make an effort to bond with their step-children. Sit down and build LEGOs or throw a ball around with little ones; attend an older kid’s games and matches or make recipes together that you all like. Be supportive by showing an interest in her activities and friends and eventually they will let you into their lives. Remember, you’re there to build a relationship gradually, not to parent or take the place of your stepchild’s mother or father.
Keep lines of communication open
Open communication for the whole family is really important. But if most of your discussions are taking place in the form of an argument, you need to take a few steps back and reevaluate how you are trying to get your message across. That means watching the tone of conversations and being hyper-sensitive to what things are like for the other people in the relationship, especially the kids. Although you can’t force stepchildren and stepparents to love each other, you can set an expectation for considerate behavior and communication. Respectful communication is even more important in a blended family because you have so many new dynamics and personalities that are playing a part. While some conversations should only take place between parents, family meetings and sit-downs should be encouraged so that everyone involved feels like they have a say in what is going on. And don’t wait for negative things to arise. Encourage positive discussions as well so that the members of the blended family don’t immediately dread family meetings.
Establish ground rules and discipline strategies
When it comes to raising children from previous marriages, every family experiences challenges. Especially when it comes to adjusting to a new living arrangement. Talk with your partner about the extent of your involvement in your stepchildren’s discipline. This can be tricky because you have to make sure you don’t over-parent. For example, you may think that time-out is an effective discipline tool, while your partner may feel it’s a wimpy way out. Put in place rules and boundaries that mesh with the parenting principles that you and your partner agree upon. Don’t assume that your style of disciplining will be appropriate for your stepchildren. It’s important that you talk to your partner about the methods that existed before you joined the family. It’s unfair to change the rules on a child overnight and expect them to adhere to them.
Spend time apart
Sometimes the best way to help your new blended family is to spend time apart. Parents and kids need time alone together without the stepparent. This helps reduce the displacement and loss the children might be feeling, and assures them that they hasn’t been displaced by somebody else. And the couple needs time alone together without the children. Conversely, the stepparent and the child need some easy, low-key, one-on-one time together without the biological parent, This allows each person in the stepfamily to get what he or she needs from the other. Strengthening the individual bonds in the stepfamily will help strengthen the stepfamily as a whole.
Expect bumps and make adjustments as needed
A blended family is not picking up where the other marriage left off. It is a brand-new creation with new players and new parameters and therefore needs new rules. Instead of trying to fit the new people, places, and situations into the old mold, design something new. This can be achieved by trial and error. And don’t view the errors as failures, but rather as building blocks to create a solid foundation for the whole family. Kids may test how much control they have and may try to play both parents off each other or go out of their way to create tension. Don’t take this as a personal attack or a sign that your stepfamily is doomed. Work with the ebb and flow of the stepfamily. There will be times that our efforts to make our stepfamily work become inadequate. This is not the time to back down. Be consistent. Keep your eye on the goal, discuss issues with your partner privately, affirm the house rules and give space and time for everyone to adapt and adjust within the new environment.