What is a Blended Family or Stepfamily?
A blended family or stepfamily is created when you and your mate decide to make a home together that includes children from one or both of your past relationships.
Your previous relationships may have ended due to death, divorce, or a decision to dissolve the relationship. The other parents of your children may, therefore, be an influence on the children and may or may not be involved with them.
The experience of forming a healthy family can be a rewarding yet challenging experience. The kids involved, both yours and/or your new spouse’s, may not be excited about this new family that you are attempting to form and may even be resistant or rebellious. This is to be expected. They will most likely feel apprehensive about the changes being made in their lives and living arrangements and how these will affect their relationship with their other parent. They may be concerned about living in the same space as their new stepsiblings, whom they may not know well. It is possible that, even if they do know them, they may not like them.
You will likely become frustrated at some point because of all of the issues around blending families. It is rarely easy. However, like others before you, you can successfully (even if not perfectly) integrate your new family. No matter how daunting the task seems at first, with patience, mutual respect, open communication, and an abundance of love, you can enjoy a close bond with your stepchildren and form an affectionate and well-blended family. These tips will help you and your mate to do so.
- Lower Expectations.
Put aside any expectation that this will be easy. Do not expect your children or your spouse’s children to love or even like each other. It takes time for you, your mate, and the children to find for themselves how to interact, relate, and fit into this new family. It will take years – not months – to develop a solidified blended family with its own identity. You can do it!
- Have Patience and Empathy. It is so essential that you practice patience. Be patient with each other as parents/stepparents and with each of the children and each other. Compassion and empathy for what each person is thinking and feeling will help you connect in ways that rules or demands won‘t.
- Make Your Couple Relationship #1. The relationship between you and your mate as a couple is the most important in the family. The family will only be as healthy and as solid as your couple relationship is. It is vitally important that you have a unified front with the kids. When you disagree about parenting decisions, you do so in private, away from them. Have a date night. Take mini-vacations as a couple when possible, and do the things that nurture the two of you and your relationship. The kids will learn what a healthy relationship looks like and be unable to drive a wedge between you and your spouse.
- Set Boundaries and Establish Structure. Set boundaries so that the kids may learn what is okay and what is off-limits for them. Structure will help provide stability and security in your home, which kids need to help make this transition. If they are old enough for chores, assign them to age-appropriate tasks to develop a sense of responsibility in the home. Provide a plan for the day, including mealtimes, playtime, screen time, and bedtime.
- Be Flexible. Blended families have many moving parts, and therefore you must be flexible within the structure you have established. This is especially true in the matter of visitation schedules. Make the schedule so that it benefits the children most – not you or your plan. Nothing is more important than their sense of well-being and security. It is ideal if their other parent is flexible as well so that wise decisions can be made in their best interest.
- Open Lines of Communication. This begins with you and your mate. If you cannot communicate well, there is little hope for the successful blending of your families. If you need better communication skills, a coach or a marriage seminar may be most helpful. Likewise, the kids need a platform by which they know that they are heard and validated. Knowing that their parent/stepparent listens to them and values their thoughts and opinions is very powerful.
- Have Respect for All. Treating each other with respect is one of the boundaries that should be established in every home to establish a healthy family. Everyone should be held responsible for respecting all other members of the family.
- Build a Relationship before Discipline. The stepparent’s primary responsibility, especially in the early stages, is to build a relationship – a heart connection- with the stepchild(ren). It is usually best for the natural parent to administer discipline at the beginning of the new family’s blending. This prevents unnecessary resentments from the child toward the stepparent. Building a relationship bridge first will give the stepparent the ability to discipline later as needed effectively.
- Allow Children to Grieve. They have suffered a loss of the life they knew and need the time and space to process that grief. Even if the situation was not healthy, it was what they learned. Changes bring a sense of loss and grief. They may grieve throughout their lives, especially during holidays, graduations, weddings, and other special occasions. It doesn’t mean that they don’t love their new blended families or stepparents. Acknowledging and validating their feelings will strengthen their bond with you, their parent/stepparent.
- Keep Traditions and Make New Ones. If possible, keep the traditions that the kids are used to, but don’t fail to establish new ones unique to their new family. Customs, rites, and rituals develop lasting bonds between family members. Starting a game night, choosing new foods for holiday menus, creating new bedtime rituals, developing new catchphrases – all of these and more can become part of your shared family experience.
- Make Special Arrangements. This is particularly important for the kids who live part-time with each original parent. Make sure that there are dedicated spaces for their clothes, toothbrush, toys, etc. They need to feel that they belong and that they are a part of this family as well.
- Keep ALL Parents involved. Of course, the ideal is for all parents, step or otherwise, to be involved and cooperative for children. Even if you cannot be friends with your former spouse, you must do all you can to keep things amicable and friendly.
- Develop a Support System. Many have found that a community of faith helps deal with the challenges of life and parenting. There are also support groups and ministries whose focus is blended or stepfamilies. A quick internet search will find several. Don’t go it alone! It would help if you had the encouragement and insight that can come from others in like situations.
- Stay Committed! You will want to quit at times. Don’t! It has been said that in a blended family, the honeymoon comes at the end rather than at the beginning. If you and your mate persevere, you and your children will enjoy the benefits of a beautifully blended and loving family.