By Anja van den Berg
You and your partner have decided to make a life together and form a new, blended family that includes children from one or both of your previous relationships. Congratulations! What lies ahead can be a rewarding as well as a challenging experience. It can take a long time for a blended family to begin to feel comfortable and function well together.
While you as parents are likely to approach remarriage and a new blended family with great joy and expectation, your kids or your new spouse’s kids may not be nearly as excited.
They will likely feel uncertain about the upcoming changes and how they will affect relationships with their natural parent, says Dr Alyssa Johnson, founder of the website Remarriage Success. “They’ll also be worried about living with new stepsiblings, whom they may not know well, or worse, ones they may not even like.”
To give yourself the best chance of success, it’s important to start planning how a blended family will function before the wedding day, Johnson advises.
While changes to the family structure require adjustment time for everyone involved, the following guidelines can help blended families work out their growing pains and live together successfully:
- Too many changes at once can unsettle children. Blended families have the highest success rate if the couple waits two years or more after a divorce to remarry, instead of piling one drastic family change on to another.
- Don’t expect to fall in love with your partner’s children overnight. Get to know them. Love and affection take time to develop.
- Find ways to experience ‘real life’ together. Taking both sets of kids to a theme park every time you get together is a lot of fun, but it isn’t reflective of everyday life. Try to get the kids used to your partner and his or her children in daily life situations.
- Make parenting changes before you marry. Agree with your new partner – and your ex-spouse – on how you intend to parent together, and then make any necessary adjustments to your parenting styles before you remarry.
- Don’t allow ultimatums. Your kids or new partner may put you in a situation where you feel you have to choose between them. Remind them that you want both sets of people in your life.
- Insist on respect. This is not just referring to the kids’ behaviour toward the adults. Respect should be given not just based on age but also on the fact that you are all family members now. You can’t insist that people like each other, but you can insist that they treat one another with respect.
- Limit your expectations. You may give a lot of time, energy, love and affection to your new partner’s kids that will not be returned immediately. Think of it as making small investments that may one day yield a lot of interest.
Early in the formation of a blended family, the stepparent should focus on developing positive relationships with their stepchildren, Johnson says. “You will increase the chances of success by thinking about what the children need. Age, gender and personality are not irrelevant, but all children have some basic needs and wants that should be met as a precursor to a great relationship, including encouragement, emotional connectedness and reasonable boundaries.”
Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/surviving-your-childs-adolescence/200909/remarriage-adolescents-the-perils-step-relationship?collection=128548