Blended families face special challenges. As stepfamilies try navigating their new family roles, there’s a delicate balance between fostering these new relationships and allowing everyone time to adjust. Consider these suggestions with your partner to help everyone thrive together.
Steps to Take With Your Partner
- Build a strong relationship. You’re the captains of this ship. As parents and heads of your household, you set the course for your family. Make time for each other and communicate openly and respectfully.
- Structure your household. Create the division of labor that works best for your individual needs. You may be the financial genius while your partner is a gourmet cook. Your older kids may find it gratifying to share their experience and watch out for their younger siblings.
- Decide on house rules together. Kids need consistent expectations. Come to an agreement with your partner on what you consider acceptable behavior and the consequences for violations. If the children spend time in more than one household, try to coordinate the rules as much as possible.
- Talk about money. Money is an important issue when you’re merging two families. Share all the details about your income, assets and debts. Find common ground on how to spend, save and invest. Consider prenuptial agreements if it’s important to document your separate property.
- Respect your differences. There are many advantages to bringing more life experience into your role as parent and spouse. There’s also the possibility that you’ll need to reconcile your different traditions and habits concerning everything from holidays to curfews.
- Put the good of your family first. Above all, keep your eyes on the wellbeing of your family as a whole. Try to consider everyone’s needs and make reasonable accommodations to keep things running smoothly.
Steps to Take with the Kids
- Understand your role. As a stepparent, take it slow. You can be a very constructive force in your stepchild’s life, but they already have their own parents. Work at being a loving mentor and positive role model.
- Empathize. Try to see things from the perspective of all the kids involved. Validate their feelings and acknowledge the major adjustments they’ve been asked to make. Be sensitive to their concerns about what their peers will think and how the rest of their family is getting along.
- Spend time together. Invite your stepchildren to spend some time alone with you so you can get to know each other. Identify your common interests and plan outings around them.
- Enforce the house rules. Explain the house rules clearly at the outset. It’s usually best for your partner to provide most of the discipline for their own children, especially in the early stages.
- Expect setbacks. Your family relationships will fluctuate over time. You and your partner will probably learn by trial and error as you take on new challenges. Children may feel conflicting loyalties and need to pull back sometimes.
- Support the child’s relationship with their grandparents. If both of your stepchild’s grandparents are still alive and engaged in their life, work to protect that sacred relationship. Put the child’s interests first. Grandparents are a precious resource who can provide extra love and attention.
- Consider counseling. Counseling may help smooth the transition or get you through rocky episodes. Look for a licensed therapist who is familiar with the special dynamics of blended families.
With patience and love, you can pull off the balancing act required to help your blended family bond. Build a strong relationship with your partner and help the children feel secure as they cope with all the adjustments involved.