In the 1968 comedy “Yours, Mine and Ours, ” a widower and widow meet, fall in love, get married and create a blended family with 20 kids. It’s a cute film with lots of laughs. But real life blended families often struggle to find a balance between love, sharing, discipline, and trust.
Blended families, also known as stepfamilies, are more common than ever. About 65% of remarriages involve children from the prior marriage and form blended-families.
When families merge together, it’s unlikely that things will go smoothly. It would be nice if everyone got along great from the moment a new family was blended together… but that just doesn’t happen very often.
Children frequently resist the changes, and parents can become frustrated when their new family doesn’t function like their old family. But with the right guidance, tons of patience, and realistic expectations, most blended families are able to work out their differences.
One of the keys to a successful blending of families is have a plan before you get married. Differences of opinion on how to parent can become a big stressor on relationships. Have lots of discussions before moving in together about how each of you handles conflict and what you each consider the most important parenting do’s and don’ts.
Also realize that, although you may agree to things and work them out ahead of time, as stressors and different situations happen, it’s common for both you and your spouse to react in ways you didn’t anticipate. This is because it’s impossible to plan for everything. Personalities change under stress, unforeseen circumstances happen, family dynamics change, kids change, and so on. Life is just messy sometimes.
Having said that, planning also gives everyone a chance to speak their mind and set some rules. You may have to make adjustments as you go along, but at least you have a starting point.
Rule number one- give it time. Give everyone a chance to get to know each other, and to get used to the idea of a new family structure.
One challenge to creating a cohesive blended family is establishing trust. The children may feel uncertain about their new family and resist your efforts to get to know them. Learn not to take it personally. It isn’t that they don’t want you to be happy; they just don’t know what it will be like to share their parent with a new spouse, let alone his or her kids. These feelings are normal.
Building trust goes hand in hand with discipline. It can also become a major conflict. Discipline should be about learning and not punishment.
You and your spouse need to discuss the role each will play with respect to discipline.
To help strengthen the foundation for a blended family, Helpguide.org offers these suggestions.
▪ Establish the stepparent as more of a friend or counselor rather than a disciplinarian.
▪ Let the biological parent remain primarily responsible for discipline until the stepparent has developed solid bonds with the kids.
▪ Create a list of family rules. Discuss the rules with the children and post them in a prominent place. Try to understand what the rules and boundaries are for the kids in their other residence, and, if possible, be consistent.
Keep ALL parents involved
Children will adjust better to the blended family if they have access to both biological parents. It is important if all parents are involved and work toward a parenting partnership.
▪ Let the kids know that you and your ex-spouse will continue to love them and be there for them throughout their lives.
▪ Tell the kids that your new spouse will not be a ‘replacement’ mom or dad, but another person to love and support them.
▪ Listen respectfully to one another.
▪ Address conflict positively.
▪ Establish an open and nonjudgmental atmosphere.
▪ Do things together – games, sports, activities.
▪ Show affection to one another comfortably.
It’s also important to establish new routines and rituals for your new family. Holidays, birthdays, vacations and after-school activities are great times for establishing new family rituals together. Take it slow and make it easy for everyone involved. Too much drama is never a good way to create happy memories together.
There are times when all your best efforts just aren’t enough. Your new spouse and/or children are not getting along, you can’t get along with your spouse’s children, the continuing conflicts are detrimental to your marriage. It may be time to seek help from an outside source.
Consider seeing a family therapist if:
▪ A child directs anger upon a particular family member or openly resents a step-parent or parent.
▪ A stepparent or parent openly favors one child over another.
▪ Members of the family derive no pleasure from usually enjoyable activities such as school, working, playing, or being with friends and family.
It can be tough for a blended family to actually blend well together, but all the pain and frustration can be worth it in the end. A blended family can be a new and exciting journey, a special bond and many lessons in love and acceptance. Yours, mine and ours can eventually become one loving and supportive family.