Helping Children in Blended Families
According to the Pew Research Center, in 2013, four out of ten new marriages included one partner who had been married before, and two out of every ten new marriages were between people who had both been previously married. In many of these marriages, children from previous relationships are involved.
Creating a blended family means everyone’s roles shift. It may take time for one family to get used to living with another one, even if they all got along before.
Couples can face difficulties adjusting to their new roles as part of a larger family unit and those who have no children of their own have to become used to the challenges of parenting.
No family will ever be perfect, but there are several things that blended families can do to make the transition easier--especially for any of the children involved.
Don’t rush things.
One of the biggest mistakes that couples make is re-marrying too soon. It can take children—no matter what their age—several years to adjust to the changes that their parent’s relationships ending can bring. Too many changes will unsettle kids.
Waiting a minimum of two years before remarriage gives everyone—adults and children—some time to adjust instead of piling one drastic family change right on top of another.
Agree on a new parenting plan.
A blended family is a new dynamic and needs its own set of rules and parameters. An important thing for blended families to do is for the parents to agree on house rules and acceptable behavior. Preferably, discuss making these changes before you marry or cohabitate.
Couples should discuss the role each one of them will play in raising their respective children. Decide which parent is responsible for what. Agree on house rules and be adaptable.
Most importantly, talk to each one of the children about the new family structure. Everyone should sit down together and establish rules on how you’ll communicate and treat each other. Set clear priorities and goals for everyone in the house—including the parents.
Let children know that you and your partner are still figuring things out and that some adjustments may need to be made in the future. If the kids are shuttled back and forth between separate residences, try to be consistent between households.
Don’t expect too much.
You can’t predict how your relationships will develop. Even if you didn’t grow up in a blended family, most likely you didn't always get along with your siblings or parents all of the time.
You aren’t able to automatically love each other or force everyone to get along. You may devote a lot of time and energy to your partner’s kids that won’t be returned right away.
Even if you do get along fairly well, you won’t be the mom or dad—because the dynamic will be different. You can’t throw everyone into the mix and expect instant family.
Make one-on-one time a priority.
This applies to every member of the household. The couple needs to spend time with just each other and no children. Biological parents and children need to spend time together without the stepparent.
Even the stepparents and their non-biological kids should have some low key one-on-one time together. This will allow each person in a blended family to get what they need. Making strong individual bonds with each other will benefit the family as a whole.
Set a good example.
You and your partner are the leaders in your household, so set a good example for all the other family members to follow. Realize that this transition can be a difficult one. Be patient, communicate and make amends when you make mistakes.
It should go without saying, but don’t speak badly about your ex or make critical comments about their parenting styles in front of your children—or stepchildren. No divorce is black and white, and no matter what type of person your ex is, or your spouse’s ex is, they are still the parent of this child.
Create routines and rituals.
As a new family unit, you need to create your traditions. Routines and rituals provide a sense of comfort, especially for children.
There are already enough changes going on--often a blended family will mean changes in the home, school, and friends. Keeping changes to a minimum will cut down on both stress and conflict.
Allow children to come up with routines and rituals of their own or let them contribute ideas. This will give them a sense of autonomy and make them feel part of the family.
Bonds between parents and children form gradually over the years. Give all the children space when they need it.
Take an interest in hobbies, attend extracurricular or sporting events. Play video games, read together, help them with homework. Do things together that reflect real-life—not just trips to the amusement park and shopping sprees.
Get kids used to your partner and their children in common situations—grocery shopping, washing dishes, walking the dog, sitting on the couch deciding what to watch on TV. Make sure each partner has some “alone” time with their children.
A blended family can often be a difficult balancing act. It can take a lot of time—sometimes even years—to establish a sense of harmony among family members, but it is a goal worth working toward.
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