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Blended Families

Almost every couple getting married again who already have children agonize over creating blended families. Even if only one of you have children, bringing in a new Step parent is still creating a blended family.  You want to be accepted and indeed loved by your new partner’s children and want to be part of the team.  You also want to build trust and strong bonds in the soonest possible time. However, it is rarely that easy.  There is caution through to down right mistrust, which although painful, is also to be understood.

Don’t wait until after the wedding to create the Blended Family

Waiting until after the wedding is NOT the time to start the processing of creating blended families.  In fact, even the term ‘Blended’ isn’t right, as you are not trying to wipe out all recognition of what went before.  What you should actually be doing is to create something new and unique that is non-threatening and largely acceptable to all members of the new family.Blended families

Below are some general advice worth considering before you venture down the aisle for that second (or more) time.  Most of what is listed is common sense when you are considering how you will be as blended families. Sometimes though, when we are rushing or overwhelmed with preparations, it is good to be reminded.  There are also a number of strategies that can help to bridge the gap.  I often liken it to snakes (chutes) and ladders.  It takes a long time to climb up, but only a moment to slide right back to the beginning again.

One of the best places to start is to involve the children in your wedding in roles that they are comfortable in.  The downloadable handbook that we are giving away FREE through this article can help you with that.

  • Avoid too many drastic changes at any one time– Give your children time to get used to the idea of you as a new partnership and that you have blended families. Studies have shown that blended families are more successful when the partners waited at least two years before getting married.
  • Don’t expect that you will love your partner’s children immediately– Your children will have been brought up with different values than your own, and will have their own personalities.  Even though you might adore their parent doesn’t mean this will be automatic with his/her children.  It will take time to get to know them, but it will be worth it (and don’t push it).
  • Stay over and have some ‘practice’ runs before moving in together– Until you deal with real life situations (getting the children to school, feeding them, helping them with their homework, etc.), you won’t know what it is like to bring the family together.  Try to have some time in the real world, not just when you go on outings together.  During this time try to understand each other, and each other’s children.  Work out what is important to them, what their personalities are like, what ‘pushes their buttons’ and what makes them feel loved (see Five Love Languages).
  • Make household and rule changes before you get married– Even if you have been living together for a while, getting married is a positive statement of longevity and reinforces that you have blended families.  It is an opportunity to set down or clarify house rules, change living arrangement or formalize any agreements with the children.  There will not be a better opportunity to ‘put a line in the sand’.
  • Be prepared for ‘stand offs’– There will be times when you will side with your own children above your partner (the same will happen in reverse).  This is due to each set of children being brought up with their parents’ values.  The important thing is not to take sides in front of the children. Deal with the specific situation without ‘taking sides’.  Then speak privately with your partner as to why you disagree with them.  Better still, KNOW that this will happen and discuss it ahead of time and agree a strategy together as to how to address the specific issue when it arises.

Blended Families

  • Engender respect between the families– Whilst it is very possible that the blended families may not like each other, it is paramount that they are taught to respect the differences.  Once you let disrespect creep in, including speaking badly (badmouthing) to/about each other, yelling, ignoring, playing off one parent against the other etc., it is downhill from there.  This will have an increasing impact on your relationship with your partner as well.  This may not be immediate, but over time resentment will build up and wear away at the fabric of your own relationship.
  • Have no or low expectations– Whilst you will probably put a lot of time, effort, patience and love into your partner’s children, it may not be reciprocated.  Getting used to a new person is a slow job, full of bumps in the road, but perseverance is the key.  Eventually, if you are authentic in your desire to be part of their life you will be accepted.  However, it can take anywhere from 3 – 10 years depending on the age of the children and the impact of the other biological parent has on them.
  • Don’t ignore your own children – Some step parents get over enthusiastic in their desire to bond with their partner’s children, to the detriment of their own. Often they do not want their new family to think they are favoring their own children and so go the opposite way, leading to resentment within the biological family.
  • Set clear and fair boundaries applicable to all children – Discipline will certainly be an issue during your relationship, so set the boundaries early. Discipline (by the biological parent) should be based on a common set of rules for both of the blended families.  The rules need to be set up (and preferably written down) before you start to co-habit. If they are different to your present rules these need to be carefully explained to the children as to why you are changing’  Try to combine rules from both houses so each children can see there is a fairness and consideration that the families are being merged (and not a hostile takeover).
  • Step Parent relationshipsStep parents (especially those without children of their own) often struggle with what kind of relationship they should have with their new family.  Definitely (in the early days) it should not be as a replacement mother or father.  It is better to be a mentor, friend or someone they know it is safe to come to when they need a mature ear.

Use the Term ‘Bonus Families’ rather than Blended Families

Think of yourself as a bonus parent – one they did not expect to have.  Make it a positive bonus though.

The bonus parent should never discipline their partner’s children for at least a couple of years.  This needs to be deferred to the biological parent and carried out in accordance with what has been agreed.  When disciplining has to occur, the bonus parent needs to be supportive of the biological parent and not undermine them in order to ‘win points’ with the children.

Second Wedding Mastery

There is no common formula for blending families, it depends on so many factors, all of which need to be considered and addressed, preferably before co-habiting i.e.:

  • the age of the children;
  • whether they are close in age or have a big gap;
  • how supportive or disruptive the ex-partner is;
  • how much time the children spend with each biological parent;
  • whether there is a mismatch of time e.g. some children are full time and others are occasional/weekend visitors;
  • the proximity to each other (same town or long distance);
  • the personalities of the individuals;
  • the match or mismatch of social-economics;
  • the parenting styles;
  • any existing/known behavioural or medical issues;
  • recent history e.g. if the other biological parent has passed away;
  • the time available to focus on the family (tough if both partners are working);
  • the wider family.

The list can go on and on.

One way to start off on the right foot is to view everything as a BONUS (as mentioned earlier). Instead of calling your new family your ‘step children’, try introducing them as your ‘bonus family’.  Just the use of one word can change attitude and acceptance from both within, and by those who have an impact on your family life. Cheers to added breeze in your step parenting and blending families!

Blended Families

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Author and experienced coach, Gillian Andale is the owner of Love2Last Weddings which is dedicated to assist second time (encore) grooms and brides as they prepare for a truly memorable binding of hearts and families. She is also the force behind Love2Last, the global coaching and resource centre for couples who have found love again, want a new beginning and aim to strengthen and grow their relationship as well as their blended families. Visit www.love2last.co to browse and see the wealth of information available.
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