Written by: Caroline Mayer

Marrying in to a ready-made family or bringing your own existing family in to a new one can be very complicated and will take time, patience and dedication to make it work. A partnership between two people can be quite difficult on it’s own. When you become part of a blended family, you have step-children, ex-partners and their families and a lot more to contend with. Here are a few suggestions to making the transition a little easier and more workable for most blended families. 

Your partner is important 

To make any marriage work, your partner has to be a priority in the home. Yes, there are a lot more people to focus on now, but your new spouse must be number one. You need to work together as a couple and be a united front. Children from both sides must know that you stand together when parenting and that you both are in charge. This will help your relationship as well as offering the children security. Your new partnership must be strong enough to weather the new storms that are sure to come your way. 

Respect is an essential building block 

No matter who it is, a parent, child, in-law, ex-partner or any other member of family, they should be shown respect and be required to do the same in return. You need to set boundaries in your home and outside of it for your extended family. Let everyone know what is okay, and what is not. Hold everyone who oversteps these boundaries accountable. Discuss issues with your partner and agree what goes and where you will put your foot down when it comes to the children and everyone else involved in your new family.  Stick to your guns and you will find respect building naturally and everyone settling in easier when they know where the boundaries are. 

Develop a thick skin  

You are going to hear “Your not my mom / dad” more than once, especially in the beginning of your relationship. You will hear kids comparing parents with each other. You may hear comparisons with regards to other step-parents as well if your ex-spouses remarry. You may also experience issues created by your partner’s ex-spouses in relation to the children or your new partner. You have to take this in your stride and not let it get you down. Discuss everything with your spouse and keep the stress levels as low as possible. As long as there is no boundary crossing or open disrespect, accept the little niggles and know they should abate with time.  Take time to talk to your children from your previous relationship as well as the children from the new one. Kids need to know their feelings matter and how to express them constructively without intentionally hurting someone else’s feelings.  

Get some help 

Sometimes it helps to have a neutral ear or someone to offer help and guidance who is not emotionally invested in your relationship. This is when a professional counsellor can be invaluable. Someone who you and your partner can speak to, alone or as a couple as well as someone that the children can talk to to let out some of their feelings without judgement.  

Stand up for yourself 

Yes you want to be nice and you want the new children in your life to like you, that does not mean you have to be a doormat. You may also find children will try and play you and your partner up against each other. Make sure you and your partner have discussed issues such as behaviour and discipline and you both enforce the same rules.  This will make it easier for both of you. Talk to each other and don’t let the children get in between you. When it comes to the kids and even the extended step-family, be prepared to stick to your guns. Don’t let them walk all over you. 

Keep your partnership strong 

Make time for each other.  Take some time away from the kids at least once a month. Go on a date night, alone, and work on your relationship. Concentrate on the two of you and don’t spend the whole time talking about the children. You are entitled to some time alone together and the kids will actually benefit from seeing a healthy relationship at work.  

Share your spouse with the children  

While it is extremely important that the two of you get time together, it is equally as important that you both get time alone with the kids. It doesn’t matter who the kids belong to in a blended family, you need to bond with all of them. Let Dad take all the kids to the movies while mom has a relax in the bath tub and catches up on some reading. Let Mom take them to the zoo while Dad works on his golf game. Besides the group time, allow the kids to also have some personal time with either parent to allow for one on one chats and individual bonding moments.  

Don’t sugar coat the reality of a blended family 

Try and get to know the kids from both sides before you get married. It may help a lot in the long run. Go in to your new marriage with your eyes open and an appreciation for the possible challenges that lay ahead. No one said this would be easy, but it can certainly be worth it.  

Don’t choose sides 

Discussions about the children should not take place in front of the children. Never put your spouse on the spot in front of the kids.  No one should have to choose sides between a partner or a child. Don’t show favouritism to specific children from either side as far as possible either.  Some children will be a bit more needy and you will need to manage this, but always keep things fair. Difficult discussions are always better one on one and not as part of a group discussion. Family decisions are best discussed with all the children at the same time though, so everyone feels part of it.  

Stick with it 

If you have done your homework before becoming part of a blended family, you will know that this is not the easiest thing to do. There will be tears and sadness but there will also be lots of joy and laughter. Enjoy all your moments together as a family. Time will help everyone acclimate and it will get easier.  Stick with it.  It is worth the hard work in the long run.