Marriage looks a lot different in the modern world compared to our parents’ or grandparents’ experiences. It’s not at all uncommon now for one or both partners in a marriage to already have children from a previous union.
Sometimes children from previous marriages will all live together in one household. In other cases, they might live with you and your spouse part time, or only on certain weekends. No matter how your organize it, there’s no doubt that a blended marriage is a challenge.
Successfully blending two families can feel like an uphill struggle. There will be days when you wish you could just hide away and let your family sort itself out. But with care and time a blended family can work and become a fulfilling, nurturing place for everybody in it.
Check out the dos & don’ts of marriage in a blended family with our 12 tips for a healthy, happy second marriage.
Do Be An Equal Opportunities Parent
Playing favorites is a quick way to alienate some members of your family, and provide a breeding ground for bullying and one upmanship. It’s natural to feel more strongly towards your own children, so don’t feel guilty for that. However, it’s vital that you treat your children and stepchildren equally in all ways. The same treats, the same rules, the same boundaries and the same punishments.
Don’t Try To Be A Replacement Parent
Your step kids won’t relate to you as a parent at first and that’s absolutely okay. Focus on building a good relationship with them that is all about the two of you, not about how you shape up compared to their biological parent. They won’t accept you as a replacement but with time they can accept you as a confidant, guide and role model.
Do Encourage Respect
Children can quickly get frustrated with each other and with their parents during difficult times. Model respect and good boundaries, and be clear about ground rules. This includes making sure children have their own time and space to be alone, and have respect for each other’s belongings.
Don’t Try To Rush Things
Blending a family takes time. Everyone needs time to get to know one another and to adjust to the new people and situations in their lives. Don’t try to force happiness or even normalcy at the start. Let things develop slowly.
Do Spend Time With Your Step Kids
A little one on one time with your step kids can work wonders. Ask them what they’d like to spend the time doing, then just hang out and do what they enjoy. You might have a picnic, go for a swim, or watch a movie together. Take the time to get to know them – just make sure you allocate the same amount of time for each child, and for your own kids too.
Don’t Force Children To Hang Out Together
Pushing kids to hang out together breeds resentment and increases tension. Set ground rules for how they treat each other, and set up situations where they can spend time together if they want to. If they don’t, just let it be. Not every kid will become firm friends with their new siblings, and that’s okay.
Do Support Children With The Transition
A divorce followed by mom or dad living with a new partner is stressful for any child. Be patient with them during this difficult time, and let them know you’re there for them. Encourage them to tell you how they feel, and be sure to acknowledge and validate that even if it’s hard to hear.
Don’t Speak Ill Of Their Parents
Your step kids love their parents, and speaking ill of their other parent will only drive a wedge between you. Stay neutral or even positive when the subject of their other parent comes up.
Do Take Time Out For Yourself
Blending a family is hard work. Make some time for yourself to recharge and recuperate. Go get a manicure, take a stroll, or have a coffee with a friend. Keeping your own battery charged makes it easier to be there for your spouse, kids and step kids when they need you.
Don’t Try To Go It Alone
There’s no shame in asking for help and support as you all make the transition. Confide in trusted friends or family, or even see a therapist if you need to. You can also find support and resources online to help you navigate the tricky waters of starting a blended family.
Do Keep A Sense Of Humor
A sense of humor is one of the best tools you can have in your toolbox right now. Things will go wrong. Emotions will run high, ground rules will get broken, and things will get messy. A sense of humor helps dissolve the tensions.
Don’t Take Things Personally
Adjusting to new family dynamics is stressful for children. Despite your best efforts they will sometimes resent you, or see you as trying to replace their mom or dad. It’s not personal and it won’t last forever. Hang in there and no matter what happens, treat them with respect and understanding – you’re the adult.
Blending a family is hard work but with time, patience, and commitment you can form strong relationships with your step children and build a nurturing family dynamic for everyone.