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How To Make a Blended Family Work

how to make a blended family work

How To Make a Blended Family Work

In today’s rapidly evolving society, the concept of a blended family has become increasingly prevalent as individuals come together, united by love and commitment, to merge their separate lives and create a new family unit.

This journey, while rewarding, often presents unique challenges that require adaptability, empathy, and open communication.

My goal is to provide personal experience, valuable insights, expert advice, and practical strategies for successfully navigating the complexities of blended family life. My mission is to empower families to embrace their unique dynamics and forge strong connections built on a foundation of mutual respect and understanding.

Also Read – How to Tell Your Kids About Divorce

The Start of a New Family

You’ve come through the process of divorce and you’ve met your new life partner. You are in love, ready to take the plunge and move in together. You picture The Brady Bunch, feeling like everyone is going to love this idea and be ok with it. But are they? Are they ready? Are you?

Blending a family takes a tremendous amount of love, patience, clear communication, more patience, understanding and selflessness and there are reasons why. It is a monumental effort for the parents and a large adjustment for the children. If you approach it the right way, with tools in your tool belt, a blended family can not only work, it can thrive.

Also Read – How to Tell if your Spouse is a Narcissist

Heidi can help you and your blended family by:

  • Being your thinking partner to ensure the decision of when the most appropriate time to blend your families is accurate 
  • Coaching you to empathize and look at each child with eyes wide open, evaluate concerns
  • Working with you to ensure you have an appropriate schedule that works for you, your partner, all the children as well as the other parents to minimize conflict.
  • Coaching you to get organized and plan for any professional discussions that might be required such as with your lawyer or parenting coordinator
  • Ensure you and your partner establish clear and appropriate communication tools between members of the family including blended family meetings, biological family time, and individual needs within the family dynamic
  • Helping you set up your blended family ecosystem for success
  • Age-appropriate and consistent rules of the household
  • Reality test situations, allowing you to truly see and understand what the dynamic will be in the household.

Common Problems With Blended Families

Blended families, also known as stepfamilies, are formed when parents bring children from previous relationships into a new, shared family unit. While this can create a rich, diverse family environment, it can also lead to a number of challenges and potential problems:

  1. Adjusting to New Roles: Children in blended families have to adjust to new siblings, and sometimes, a new parental figure. Adults also need to navigate their roles as stepparents, which can be a difficult balance between friend and disciplinarian.
  2. Sibling Rivalry: There can be rivalry and conflict between stepsiblings, particularly if they are close in age or if one or more children feel they are getting less attention.
  3. Jealousy: Jealousy can arise between children from different original families. They may feel that they’re being treated unfairly or that their parent is favouring their new partner or stepsiblings.
  4. Disruption of routines: Blended families often require changes in living situations, schools, or routines, which can cause stress and discomfort for children and adults alike.
  5. Loyalty Conflicts: Children may feel torn between their biological parents, particularly if one or both parents speak negatively about the other.
  6. Differing Parenting Styles: The two adults may have very different beliefs about discipline, chores, homework, screen time, etc. This can create conflict between the adults, and confusion or resentment among the children.
  7. Financial Stress: The financial strain of maintaining and supporting a larger family can cause tension. Disagreements can arise over how to handle financial matters, especially if children from different original families have different financial needs.
  8. Space and Privacy: Particularly in households where space is limited, stepsiblings may struggle with sharing bedrooms or other personal space.
  9. Relationship with Exes: Interactions with ex-spouses can be a source of conflict, particularly around issues of custody, visitation, and child support.
  10. Different Family Cultures: Each blended family comes with its own set of traditions, values, and routines. When these differ significantly, it can lead to conflict and misunderstandings.

Despite these challenges, blended families can also bring about many positive changes and provide opportunities for new, meaningful relationships. Open communication, patience, respect, and professional help (like family counselling), when needed, can all contribute to a successful blending of families.

Let’s dig a little deeper into some of these.

Not Explaining The Situation To Your Children

The formation of blended families is a significant transition that can be confusing and emotional for children. If parents fail to adequately explain this change, it can result in several problems.

Confusion from a lack of communication

First, it can lead to confusion. Children might not understand why a new adult, and possibly new siblings, are suddenly part of their life. They may have questions about their new family structure, their roles within it, and the roles of their new family members. Without clear explanations, they can form their own conclusions, which might be based on misinformation, fear, or insecurity.

Anxiety can come from a lack of understanding

Second, children might feel anxious or scared. Change can be frightening, especially when children do not fully understand what is happening. They might worry about how their life will change, how their relationship with their biological parent will be affected, or how they are supposed to interact with their new family members.

Resentment

Third, not explaining the new blended family structure can lead to feelings of resentment or anger. Children might feel like they had no say in these life-altering changes, leading to feelings of powerlessness or frustration. They might direct these feelings towards their parents or their new family members.

A Lack of Foundation in the new situation

Lastly, children might feel insecure or unloved. They might worry that their parent will love them less now that they have a new partner or stepchildren. They might feel like they have to compete for their parent’s love and attention.

By having open, honest, and age-appropriate conversations with your children about the formation of your blended family, you can help to mitigate these issues. Explain what changes they can expect, reassure them about their importance in your life, and encourage them to express their feelings and ask questions. It’s crucial to validate their emotions and let them know that it’s okay to feel mixed emotions about the changes.

Throughout this process, patience is key. It takes time for children to adjust to a new family structure. Maintaining open lines of communication can help ensure that your children feel loved and secure during this transition.

House Rules, Roles and Structure

Creating a successful blended family often requires a careful approach to establishing house rules, roles, and structure. This can help to promote a sense of unity, reduce conflict, and create a stable environment in which everyone can thrive. Here are some strategies:

House Rules:

  1. Collaborative Rule-Making: Rules are more likely to be respected when everyone has a say in their creation. Include children in the process of setting house rules and listen to their input. This can help to ensure fairness and mutual respect.
  2. Clarity: Rules should be clear and specific to prevent misunderstandings. This includes rules about household chores, homework, screen time, bedtime, and respectful behaviour toward others.
  3. Consistency: Apply rules consistently to all family members. This promotes fairness and can reduce feelings of favouritism.
  4. Communication: Make sure all family members understand the rules. Consider writing them down and putting them somewhere visible.
  5. Flexibility: Be willing to revise rules as circumstances change and as children grow and their needs evolve.

Roles:

  1. Defining Roles: Each family member’s role should be clear. This includes who is responsible for certain tasks and what is expected of each person in terms of behaviour and contribution to the household.
  2. Respecting Boundaries: Stepparents should understand and respect the relationship between the biological parent and their children. It may take time to build a meaningful relationship with stepchildren.
  3. Encouraging Individual Relationships: Each parent should spend one-on-one time with their biological children to maintain their unique bond. Stepparents should also gradually build a personal relationship with their stepchildren.

Structure:

  1. Establish Routines: Regular routines can provide comfort and predictability, which can be particularly important in a time of change.
  2. Create Traditions: Developing new family traditions can help create a sense of unity and belonging.
  3. Balancing Family Time: Balance time spent as a whole family with time for individual relationships.
  4. Prioritizing Communication: Regular family meetings can provide a forum for discussing issues, making decisions together, and airing any grievances or concerns.

Remember, each blended family is unique and what works for one family might not work for another. Patience, respect, and communication are key to finding what works best for your particular family. Additionally, seeking help from a family therapist or counsellor can be very beneficial in navigating these complex dynamics.

Solutions: Set house rules for everyone; discuss parenting styles; approach discipline as teaching and not punishment

Blended Families: Try To Get Along With The Ex

Communication with ex-spouses or partners can often be one of the most challenging aspects of creating a successful blended family. However, maintaining a respectful and cooperative communication style is often in the best interest of the children involved.

Heidi Dinning offers high-conflict communication coaching and parenting communications coaching.

Here are some strategies:

  1. Focus on the Children: The children’s well-being should always be the central focus of any discussion. Try to set aside personal differences and feelings towards each other, and prioritize the needs of the children.
  2. Respectful Communication: Even if the relationship ended on bad terms, it’s crucial to communicate respectfully with each other. This can model positive behavior for the children and reduce potential stress or tension they might feel.
  3. Establish Boundaries: Clearly define what topics are acceptable to discuss. Keeping conversations focused on the children and not venturing into personal or contentious issues can help maintain a civil dialogue.
  4. Consistency Between Households: Try to maintain consistency in rules and expectations between the two households, as much as possible. This can provide a stable environment for the children and prevent them from playing one parent against the other.
  5. Use Neutral Locations or Platforms: If face-to-face communication is difficult, consider using neutral locations for exchanges or using a communication notebook or digital platform to share information about the children.
  6. Don’t Use Children as Messengers: Children should not be put in the position of conveying messages between parents. This can put undue stress on them and create opportunities for miscommunication.
  7. Keep New Partners Informed: Make sure your new partner is aware of the situation and feels comfortable with the communication process. They should be supportive but not necessarily directly involved unless it’s beneficial and agreed upon by all parties.
  8. Seek Professional Help: A family therapist or mediator can provide valuable guidance if communication becomes particularly difficult.
  9. Managing Conflict: If a conflict arises, try to resolve it calmly and rationally. If this isn’t possible, it may be best to temporarily disengage and revisit the issue later when emotions have cooled.
  10. Patience: Building a functional communication system with an ex-spouse can take time. Be patient with the process and with yourself.

Remember, the ultimate goal in a blended family is to create a healthy and stable environment for the children involved. Getting everyone on the same page often requires ongoing effort, compromise, and sometimes seeking help from outside resources.

All family relationships in general require input, work and effort, each family structure has different nuances, family rules, values and ways of communicating. Time and energy will be needed to make sure everyone stays connected.

Not Letting Your Partner Parent Your Children

When entering into a new relationship where children are involved, it’s natural to feel protective of your children and their relationship with their biological parents. However, preventing your new partner from taking a parenting role can potentially create issues down the line.

Consistency in a child’s life is paramount. If your partner lives with you and your children, they become a part of the child’s everyday life. They are not merely a visitor, but a member of the household, and they will naturally take on some parental roles just by virtue of being an adult in the home.

Parenting roles include setting boundaries, helping with homework, and contributing to the general running of the household. If the new partner is barred from taking on any parenting role, it can lead to confusion and a lack of consistency for the children.

Subversion and Undefined Roles

Subverting your partner could potentially hinder the formation of a strong bond between your partner and your children. Over time, a healthy, loving relationship can develop between a child and a stepparent, and this relationship is often reinforced and deepened by shared responsibilities and experiences, some of which include elements of parenting.

This can also introduce friction in your relationship with a new partner. They might feel like an outsider in their own home or feel that their authority is being undermined. This can lead to resentment or frustration and cause unnecessary tension in your relationship.

Defining the role of each parent and then supporting each other in those roles is critical to a healthy home and healthy family structure. It may or may not be defined down to the letter but there should be an agreed-upon framework for how things will go.

It will take time

Integrating a new partner into a parenting role should be a gradual process and should always take into account the feelings and comfort levels of the children involved. They will need time to adjust to the changes and to build their own relationship with your partner. Open communication among all parties can help to ensure that this transition is as smooth as possible, and the needs and feelings of everyone involved are respected.

Remember, these are general guidelines and individual circumstances may vary. Professional guidance from a family therapist or counsellor can be very beneficial in navigating these complex dynamics.

Dealing with the death of a parent

Although our work is primarily focused on divorce and remarriage, some blended families are the result of a parent passing away. The set of circumstances are so unique and individual that we can’t cover them here. We strongly recommend having input from professional counsellors and therapists in this area to assist you on your journey.

Start New Traditions

Regardless of how your blended family arrived at the place that it is, starting new traditions and rites of passage can be a healthy way of establishing something new. A blended family will also be a blend of previous relationships, previous household rules and previous traditions.

One way to help establish your new blended family is to start new traditions that only your new group has experienced. This will allow people to bond over the experience and create a shared story or memory. This can then be repeated to help form bonds in your new blended family.

Not Explaining The Situation To Your Children

Blended Families FAQ

What is Soft Parenting?

Soft parenting, sometimes called permissive parenting or indulgent parenting, is a parenting style that is characterized by low demands with high responsiveness. Parents who practice this style tend to be very loving and nurturing, but they set few rules or expectations for their children. They may also avoid confrontation and discipline.

Blended families can at times feel like this might be the best way to go, allowing the behaviour to direct the family. A blended family, however, may actually benefit from stronger roles, rules and structure until trust, acceptance and genuine connectedness occurs. Blended families can struggle with attachment and a feeling of togetherness. Using strong parenting can give kids a solid foundation.

Here are some key characteristics of soft parenting:

  1. Few rules or expectations: Soft parents tend not to set many rules or expectations for their children’s behaviour. This can lead to children not understanding boundaries or societal norms effectively.
  2. High responsiveness: These parents are usually very responsive to their child’s needs and wishes. They often prioritize their child’s happiness and comfort above discipline or teaching moments.
  3. Avoidance of confrontation: Soft parents tend to avoid confrontation with their children. They might give in to tantrums or negotiate with their child to avoid conflict.
  4. Lack of consistent discipline: These parents may struggle with enforcing discipline or may avoid it altogether. Children may not learn the consequences of their actions.
  5. Friend more than a parent: Soft parents often value their relationship with their child above their role as a parent, which can blur the lines between a friend and a parent.

While every parenting style has its strengths and weaknesses, it’s worth noting that children raised with soft parenting can sometimes struggle with self-discipline, respect for authority, and handling disappointment, as they are used to getting their way and not facing firm boundaries. That being said, these children also often feel secure, loved, and confident because of the high levels of support and affection they receive.

It’s important to note that effective parenting typically involves a balance between setting clear boundaries and expectations while also being responsive and nurturing to a child’s needs. The optimal balance may vary depending on the child’s temperament, the parent’s values, and the blended family’s circumstances. Parenting styles can also evolve as children grow and their needs change.

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