Blending families is not an easy task with children. It will take time and patience as well as lots of love. I learned lessons from when I remarried and from my children years later. Here are the top five tips that I learned while working on blending two families into one.
- Communicate. Each child will have his or her own attitude about the new family. Consider the age and relationships that have been built prior to living together as one under one roof. Ask your children individually what sacrifices the child expects to be made during the initial months and by whom. If you need to consolidate two households’ belongings have a family meeting to clearly discuss what is expected; what can be kept; what must be discard, sold, or donated; and what will replaced with new. Talk with your ex-spouse about any expectations and try to reach an agreement for the children calling the new parent “Mom” or “Dad.” This early conversation can minimize any hurt feelings, when the children start referring to the new stepparent as “Mom” or “Dad.” If both of you agree that the children should not refer to new parent as “Mom” or “Dad,” then share that information with everyone. Discuss your expectations surrounding discipline by the stepparent. While you are having this conversation, this would be the time to discuss what each of you expect the new parent’s role to be when it comes to making decisions for the children.
- Allow the children to decide. When it comes to stepparents, each child will have their own pace on accepting the new parent. Allow the child to move at his or her own pace. Do not force any names that the child is not comfortable with. Remember the children already have a mother and father that the children love and have bonded with. Do not be hurt if your child does not love your new spouse as much as you do. This is someone you choose to start the next chapter of your life with. Do not allow your children’s cautious affections toward a new parent to determine how you feel. I learned that the older the children are, they may never decide to develop a parent-child relationship with you as the new parent but may embrace one of friendship.
- Insist on respect. This would apply to all family members. Everyone needs to show one another respect. Respect in privacy, boundaries, and time frames. If you are the stepparent, it may be important to the older child that you ask if it is alright for you attend something that a parent typically attends. Insist that while your children may not feel the same as you do about your new spouse that the children always show respect.
- Limit your expectations. Do not set a time frame for how quickly your children will warm up. For some, it will be quick, and others will take a while. Your blended family is not the Brady Bunch. Do not expect that the parenting styles will mesh easily. When I remarried, we had different expectations on parenting the children. I expected that I would continue my parenting style since only my children were at home and he expected that I would adopt his ways. This would have been easier if we had followed the first tip and communicated well in advance.
- Make new family traditions together. This is important around the holidays. Each family will have traditions and blending those traditions into new ones will be important. When I was blending families, we had a tradition of opening one present on Christmas Eve. But as holidays are shared, this may not always be possible. Communicate with the children and have family councils to determine what the new traditions for the blended family will look like.
When you give everyone an opportunity to voice his or her concerns, fears, or expectations, then work together to find common ground everyone will have felt like they were heard and valued as a member of the new family. Just like marriage, a blended family takes work. The only difference is now that there are more than two people working on the process of blending two separate families into one.