You have had your share of failed relationships in the past, but there is something different about this one that tells you to go for it – take the next step. You are happily and optimistically entering a new stage in your life and hoping for the best. He has kids, you have kids, and they actually get along. Everything seems to be falling into place so it should work just fine…right?
You are about to enter uncharted territory for your children. They now have to share you with not only your partner, but with other children and that is not going to sit well with them. Blending a family is hard work and not for the faint of heart. Both families involved have grown accustomed to their existing routines and those routines are about to get flipped upside down. While there are no guarantees for successful blending, there are things that you can do as a parent and as a partner to stack the deck in your favor.
Successfully Blending your Stepfamily: As a Partner
It is important that you and your spouse make time to connect as a couple. This can and will be a challenge as you find yourself being pulled in different (and often competing) directions. While the needs of your children are important, the family is only as strong as your relationship with your partner. Don’t skimp on the emotional and physical connection no matter how much the kids may beg you to stop. They will thank you for modeling a healthy relationship when they’re older. This means doing a regular date night, spending one on one time with each other and setting boundaries with your children so you and your spouse can bond.
You and your partner must also stay on the same page when it comes to parenting. What one of you says, the other must support in front of the children. Children young and old, are masters at finding cracks in the parenting structure and exploiting these cracks for all they are worth. Don’t be a casualty in their relentless attack. Plan ahead and talk to your partner. Make sure you are both on the same page with rules, discipline, and rewards. The fewer cracks – the easier the blending and the happier the family.
Successfully Blending your Stepfamily: As a Parent
I know it, you know it, and your children know it – you love you biological children differently than your step children. This does not make you a horrible step-parent or a horrible person, it makes you human. With that said, just because the love is different doesn’t mean the treatment should be. You are now a parent to every child in the house and while your responsibilities with each child may differ, your treatment of them should be consistent. All children must follow the same rules, get the same rewards, and without a doubt get the same consequences.
Along with treating all children in a consistent and fair manner, it is imperative to allow time for relationships to develop. Chances are they are struggling to adjust to their changing family and they will be looking for someone to blame. Don’t take on the role of punching bag. While it is important to present a united front as parents, it is also necessary to let the biological parent do the “yucky” parenting (laying down the law, taking away toys, and grounding) in the beginning. Depending on your children’s adjustment patterns, this could take anywhere from months to years. It is not uncommon for biological parents to take primary responsibility of the “yucky” parenting for up to 5 years. When dividing parenting in this way make sure the children still know that you and your partner are in agreement about all parenting decisions.
Regardless of your feelings towards your exes, you must include them in the parenting decisions if you don’t want to alienate your step-children and setup your blended family up for blended disaster. When the adults act like responsible adults while blending a family, the children win and the developing family unit wins. Treating exes with kindness and respect is not always easy, but it is invaluable when trying to successfully blend a family.
A Note Just for You
Set realistic expectations for yourself, your partner, your children, and your exes. Unfortunately there is no step-by-step manual for blending a family. It is a “learn as you go” adventure and there are sure to be missteps. Go easy on yourself and others and be willing to offer grace and forgiveness in abundance. Reading this article can be a first step, but if more support is needed – Don’t hesitate to ask! Resources are everywhere just waiting to help you blend your family.
You are embarking on long and tumultuous journey that promises to bring laughter, tears, and with a little luck and a lot of hard work – a larger, loving, happy family.
About the Author
Amber groves is a marriage and family counselor and infertility specialist at The Marriage and Family Clinic in Denver, CO. She helps couples, families and children to have the calm and peaceful life they want in their relationship and family. In her spare time, she is the mother of one busy toddler.