Written by: Caroline Mayer
While the divorce rate across the world is quite high, more than three-quarters of divorced people eventually remarry. This means that there are millions of people who find themselves part of blended families. Stepfamilies can be quite complicated and there needs to be proper organization to ensure everyone can still function with some normality. There are more than extra children, there are ex-spouses, their families and extended families to deal with. Instead of just 2 sets of parents, there are now 4 sets or more involved in the lives of the children and impacting yours as well.
While there are challenges, there are also many opportunities for joy. You get to interact with children that may reciprocate your love and affection over time. You get to meet people that have the children’s best interests at heart who may take you in and welcome you as part of their families. You also have more choices of babysitters for when you and your partner want to get some alone time. It takes time to build good relationships but it can make everything worthwhile when they work.
Starting a home together
You may be moving in to the home which once housed your step-children’s mom or dad and this may be quite difficult. In the case of a spouse that has passed away, you have to be extra sensitive about making your mark on the home. While you will need to eventually make the house your home as well, you may have to do this gradually over time. If your partner is moving in with you, you need to ensure that they have some personal space in the home and are also able to make their mark on the place over time. You will also find that things you may have once found endearing or amusing when you were dating and seldom spent time with the children may wear off quickly when it happens every day. You might also be walking in on issues such as children that have been sleeping with a parent and now do not want to give up their place in your spouse’s bed. There will also be issues with discipline and structure as you are blending two families that may have completely different methods of discipline. Some other minor issues may crop up such as dealing with pets, annoying hobbies and expectations that are beyond what you would be prepared to offer. If you are a working parent and your partner is as well, you cannot expect one person to do all the housework, attend to the children and still bring in a salary. Chores will need to be shared.
When it comes to the children, consistency is key. Both parents have to come to terms with discipline that suits both parents and you may have to compromise to find a system that works for both. You then need to apply this consistently and for all children. Parents should never argue over discipline in front of the children. Never allow children to play you against each other. Discipline should be effective and fair and the children will come around and be happier for it. Another good idea is to set up a family routine which can be put up in the home. You can add a list of chores to this for all children that are old enough to contribute to the smooth running of the home. Make sure you put up a list of house rules based on the values you want to teach the children and remind younger children often of these rules. You can also have a reward chart so that discipline is not punishment only but that there is a reward for good behaviour. While deciding on discipline and house rules may seem easy enough, you have to stick to them for it to be effective.
Turning two or more families into one
Now that the discipline is sorted out, things will just fall into place, right? Wrong. This is just the start. Check the family schedules, between custody and visitations, try and find times when all the children and both parents are available and plan some bonding activities. At other times you can start smaller. Individual bonding with little ones by reading to them before bedtime or taking them to the park to play could be a good way to have some quality time with them. For older children, you can do some one on one bonding by taking them out on their own to fun activities or something they enjoy. Individual bonding is great but you do need to try and have family bonding so parents and all the children can spend time together and interact. This may also help to nip issues in the bud that may develop between step-children. As children may spend time between homes, it is also great if they can have their own space in your combined home so they feel at home there too. Having a space to put their stuff will also cut down on sibling fights over touching each other’s stuff.
Don’t leave your spouse out in the cold
You may be putting a lot of work in to ensuring that everything is great with the kids. You may be investing a ton of energy in to bonding with them and trying to make your blended family work. This can be a little overwhelming, but don’t forget the main reason you have a blended family. Your spouse needs to have quality time with you as well. Take some time out each day for discussion on important household happenings and one night a month (or a weekend if possible) when you can have a date night and work on your own relationship. Some time when you can leave the kid’s issues behind and work on your personal bonding with the person you married.
There may be issues with ex-spouses, grandparents, in-laws and other family members which may interfere with putting together your blended family. Where possible, try and iron the issues out as quickly as possible. Where it is not possible to avoid all conflict, try and limit it as much as you can. Get your spouse involved as necessary as well as it is important for the emotional health of your blended family to avoid conflict situations as far as possible with the extended family.
Are the children okay?
One of the harder parts of getting it right with putting together a blended family is if the children do not get on with each other. While some children may welcome their new siblings and love having a larger family, others won’t. Some little ones may not like sharing attention and many may find the additional family members a nuisance. There is no ideal fix for this situation. Make sure you do spend individual time with each child and encourage your partner to do the same, so no one feels left out of your affections. Encourage them to play together and do bonding exercises. Do family activities where everyone is involved as often as is viable in your dynamic. All you can do is be as fair as possible, ensure everyone follows the house rules and hope that siblings may grow to appreciate each other over time.
When all is said and done, a blended family is a family. There may be extra ups and downs which isn’t experienced in other households, but many of the issues remain the same. There will be interfering relatives and sibling rivalry in many families and not everything will go smoothly all the time. You and your partner will make mistakes and children may have difficulty adjusting. Learn from your mistakes and don’t be afraid to seek help when needed. At the end of the day, you are aiming for a family that is well-adjusted, as happy as possible and as blended as you can get them to be.