Blending families not only creates challenges that are unique, but that can seem quite overwhelming. Consider these comments, for example:
“I had hoped to win my stepchild’s affection and approval with lots of love and attention. But after many years I still have not succeeded.”
“When I try to discipline my wife’s children, she takes their side instead of supporting me.”
“It took many years before my stepchildren were fully committed to supporting our stepfamily.”
If these statements sound familiar, what could help you make blending families easier?
Tips for Blending Families
1. Build Trust:
Communicate often and openly – Have a regular family meeting. Let everybody speak without interrupting and listen with respect and without judgment. Begin with sharing positive things and expressing affection. Then, discuss concerns, set boundaries, and address problems in a positive way. Allow everyone to offer solutions.
Speak with respect – Insist on respect within the family and for the other parents. Even when you’re frustrated with the parent who lives in the other household, keep negative comments to yourself. All children want their parents to get along. So, don’t make them feel like they’re in the middle of a conflict.
2. Form a Bond:
Spend time with your new spouse – Make their importance and status clear to your children by how the way behave toward them. Spend special time together – without the children – at least once a month.
Spend individual time with your children – Show children how important they are to you and reassure them of your continuing love.
Spend individual time with your stepchildren – Get to know stepchildren and find common interests. Don’t expect to fall in love with them overnight. It takes time to nurture a relationship and create a strong foundation.
Don’t be a harsh disciplinarian – Understand and empathize with your stepchildren’s struggle to accept the new family arrangement. Become a friend and support. Be someone they can count on and trust. Refrain from creating too many rules or changing routines too quickly. It could be overwhelming for a child who feels their entire world has already become unhinged.
Have realistic expectations – All the love, affection, time, and energy you give your new stepchildren may not pay off immediately. Don’t become disheartened. Simply try to set more realistic expectations.
3. Create a Team:
Engage in activities that unite your new family – Nothing bridges the gap between stepparents and stepchildren better than enjoying good times together. Play a fun game and laugh together to keep tension at bay and build closeness. Keep in mind though that, rather than sharing special activities, it’s actually more important to get used to one another in daily life situations. Consider, for example, simple things like a regular family mealtime. It can be a great opportunity to get to know each other better.
Avoid showing favoritism – Be fair. Don’t make the mistake of overcompensating to favor your stepchildren, no matter how much you want them to like you.
Don’t make anybody feel like an intruder – Every child – stepchild or biological – should feel like a member of the family. Give each one a space of their own in the home, including a place at the dinner table. Also, assign them chores, even if they’re only with you part-time. And make sure to give those who have to move back and forth from one parent’s house to the other, extra attention during each transition. Emotions might erupt easily. Don’t make them feel bad about it. Just be there for them and listen.
The fact is, blending families rarely moves along smoothly. Although not every family encounters the same challenges, keep the above-mentioned tips in mind. With time and patience, you can succeed!
Lori Hunter, LMFT specializes in working with families, co-parenting and those high conflict couples struggling with relationships. She helps couples build intimacy, teaching effective emotional processing techniques that directly improve thoughts and behaviors.