Surviving Blended Families - Tips to Help Families Get There
As the adults the biological parent and stepparent must determine how they want their household to be run, what type of relationship they are striving for with their stepchildren, and how they will manage to create an environment that allows each child to feel loved, protected, and nurtured by the adults in their lives.
Here are ten tips to help families prepare for blending their families:
- Blending a family is not an easy process, and will have its ups and downs. It’s understandable for the new couple to want their situation to be a smooth transition, but it would be unrealistic to expect children and spouses to simply become a family unit without a few wrinkles. A traditional family has its good days and bad, has stages of growth where children are less than helpful, and have periods of adjustments in which parents and kids are trying to figure each other out. Given that blended family members have less time in which to get to know each other, parent should let go of expectations and let the process progress at its own natural pace.
- Communication is vitally important to the success of a blended family. Each family member should feel their concerns will be heard and addressed rationally. Prior to the actual merging of households some guidelines should be established. Protocol for family meetings (both regularly scheduled and emergency ones) should be discussed with each family member. Make sure everyone knows the procedure in advance, and any family members who may not be residing in the household on a full-time basis be kept in the loop. Not only will family members appreciate knowing there is a place for any grievances to be aired, but also that their feelings matter in the new family environment. Allowing situations to go unsolved will only increase frustration, result in resentments and create disharmony.
- Keep discussions with, comments about and communication between stepparents and biological parents as positive as possible. Many difficulties in blended families result from children feeling torn about their loyalties toward each parent. Providing an environment where conflict can breed and fester is counterproductive to the foundation for a successful blended family.
- Discipline is typically a huge factor in a blended family. Determining who should discipline which children, which forms of discipline are acceptable in the home, and if decisions regarding punishments should be shared are all things that should be discussed prior to sharing a household. The answers to these considerations may also affect biological parents. Therefore, be sure to keep them apprised of whatever household rules are established. This will eliminate the possibility of surprises down the road for all parties, and hopefully, they can reiterate the differences between what occurs in one house versus the other, or even create matching rules for less confusion for the children.
- Blended families must create their “own.” Their own new household rules, their own plan for what behaviors are acceptable and not acceptable between the two adults, and their own new traditions. While children may balk at the idea of doing things differently, gathering the new family together to create new rules and traditions is a great way to develop a bond, while keeping each family member apprised of expectations.
- Dealing with the pressures of merging two households can be very consuming. The new couple should be sure to take time for maintaining and further strengthening their relationship. It’s so easy to get caught up in the daily cycle of family life, but each relationship within the family unit should be nurtured. This is especially true of the relationship between the adults. It’s important for children to see the adults they love in a healthy relationship, for them to understand that the relationship is strong, and for them to realize their parent is happy with their new partner.
- Space is a very important issue when it comes to blending a family. It’s typically easier to arrange for the new family to move into a new space where they can create their own memories, free from ghosts of the relationship past. However, the most important factor is for everyone to have their own space in the new home. Each family member should be able to get away from the rest of the family in a space where batteries can be recharged, wounds can be soothed, and one can be alone with their thoughts. It’s very difficult to be “on” all the time. Thus, having a space where one can be sad, reflect, or simply exist can be necessary in order to keep the peace within the blended family unit.
- Don’t force the “family” issue. It will take some time for both children and adults to feel like they are a true family. One of the main causes of discontent lies in determining what stepparents should be called. Short of anything disrespectful the adults should let children decide what they will call their stepparents on their own, in their own time frame. Forcing the issue of “mom” and “dad” could lead to resentment and stifle the bonding process. Not only could children feel like they are being disloyal to biological parents, but it could cause resentments within the household between biological and stepchildren.
- Parents should never make it easy for children to drive a wedge between the couple. This said, adults should be sure to maintain a united front in front of all children, biological and stepchildren. If there are issues that need to be addresses, parents should do so privately, and present their decision to the children. Adults should also let it be known that children are not to play one member of the blended household or each biological parent against each other, and infractions will result in disciplinary action.
- Most importantly, members of blended families should remember that feelings of uneasiness, resentfulness, envy, and displacement are completely normal. No one expects them to be saints, but communication is expected to help squelch those feelings. Patience is mandatory, as is being tolerant of individuals placed in a brand new unfamiliar environment. Everyone will have to adjust, find their own place, and claim it as a member of the new family unit.
If parents are unsure about how to proceed there are a variety of resources available for stepparents and blended families. Local parenting classes can help parents by teaching coping skills through role-playing, and helping parents surmise the stages children may go through when faced with a blended family environment. Family counselors and child psychologists can help parents ease children through this transition. The Step Family Association of America is a great resource for parents looking to create their very own Brady Bunch. However, parents and children should remember that even fictional blended families face daily challenges, and be ready to rise to the task at hand. It probably won’t be easy, but it may be well worth the initial investment of time and effort for a successful blended family.
Kim Green-Spangler is a freelance writer, columnist, research specialist, budding author, wife, mother (and stepparent.) She has written hundreds of articles on topics specific to women and moms, exercise enthusiasts, small and home-based business owners and homeschoolers. She can be contacted at www.justwrite4u.com.