Do you want to be right or do you want to be together? I recently put together these tips for blended families to thrive:
1. The couple needs to come first.
Some clients find this tip a bit shocking, but remember that your partner is best placed to soothe you and take care of you. This then has a trickle-down effect on children which means a less reactive household in general. It is not a child’s job to do this for us, so it makes sense that the couple take the roles of ‘king and queen’ presenting a strong, united front in the household, instead of the alternative: a bickering, unstable couple.
This can be especially tricky for parents where there is a lot of residual guilt from a previous, troubled relationship and its ultimate breakdown. Various allegiances and alliances can start to occur in the newly blended family – definitely something you want to avoid or nip in the bud early on.
2. Manage your expectations.
A lot of people enthusiastically embrace the blended family while in the throes of the honeymoon period of the new relationship. In line with the passion they feel, much energy is directed at making things work – but often the other parties involved, particularly the children, are not quite as thrilled. This is normal and it might help to be aware that you may represent a lot of grief and loss to these children, however unjust this feels. Try not to take it personally.
Studies suggest blended families can take around 2-5 years to settle, so be patient and expect ups and downs.
3. Connection first, discipline later
You may have different parenting styles, and this is okay as long as you keep talking, see how you can compromise, then discuss with the kids (in that order).
One of you might be more of a disciplinarian while the other is more nurturing. Talk about the differences, and set some clear, consistent
family rules which you agree with all family members. Be clear on what behaviour you expect and what you won’t tolerate. But remember, rules need to be flexible and might need to be adjusted as kids get older, or circumstances change.
For a new stepparent, it is much more important to focus on building a bond first – as without a healthy relationship containing rapport and trust, discipline is not going to be well received, particularly with adolescents. Get to know them first and for the time being, leave the discipline to their parent.
4. Love language – kids and quality time
Don’t forget a blended family is a family within a family, so you and your children need your own time together.
This helps kids to feel they are still special to you and not lost as part of a bigger group. Families these days are busy, so it doesn’t always have to be huge chunks of time, though weekend outings can be great fun. Keep some of your old traditions, and create new shared ones. With families that share care, acknowledge this can be tricky navigating two different households so break up the journey with a milkshake or an ice cream treat when you can.
So, ideally, your time looks like this: time to all be together, time to be with just your kids, time for your partner to be with just their kids and time alone as a couple.
5. Always speak of other parents with respect
Even if you don’t ‘get’ the other parent or their behaviour or actions, it is absolutely critical for the overall wellbeing of the blended family that you still discuss other parents with respect. Children should not be in the midst of conflict between adults. If this is difficult for you, please seek some help immediately.
Research shows that one of the main reasons for children’s problems after a divorce is the inability of parents to keep their negative feelings about their ex (or their ex’s new partner) to themselves.