Madissyn Fredericks, Licensed Professional Counselor, Symmetry Counseling
Everyone goes into their first marriage expecting it to be their last, yet in today’s society, the terms “divorce” and “blended family” (or “stepfamily”) are not foreign concepts. A blended family or stepfamily forms when you and your partner merge your lives together with children from one or both of your previous marriages. Knowing there are many difficulties you and your family may face, it can be incredibly intimidating and scary when merging your families. For example, your children may not get along with your stepchildren, you may not gain the approval of your step children right away, you may experience rebellion from your own children, or you get blindsided with new rules and roles you have to take on within your new family. These are all normal struggles, but the good news is, with a lot of communication, respect, love, and patience, you can blend your family with another successfully. Below are a few tips to make blending your family a smoother transition.
1. Acknowledge and Plan
While you may feel you learned everything you need to know about raising a family in your first marriage, it can feel very different parenting with a new partner. It is crucial to acknowledge this transition period and take the time to make a plan with your new partner (as well as ex-partners). Try taking this first step before moving in together or getting married so you can start to put some of these changes into play to make the transition less sudden on children involved. There should be an agreement on household rules, finances, disciplinary strategies, and boundaries.
Once you have acknowledged the change that will be happening in the near future and have made a plan with your partner and other parents involved, take time to sit down with the the children for a discussion. Communicate to them some of these new rules and changes they can expect and leave the lines of communication open for them to voice their concerns as these new rules and boundaries are put into action.
3. Support All Children Equally
Gaining the approval of your stepchildren doesn’t happen overnight. Be an active listener in your child’s life as well as the lives of any step children involved. Being an active listener will help them feel heard, supported, and understood. Continue to get to know any step children and give them time to get to know you. Respect where your children and step children are at with the transition by being there for them emotionally and physically through this process.
4. Spend Time Together
Throughout this period of transition, continue to engage in family activities both outside and inside home. It can be helpful to engage in fun activities such as theme parks, having game nights, or planning family vacations. These types of activities are great for building closeness and bonding as a family. However, it is equally as important to expose your children to what their everyday family life is going to look like. Creating some routine, such as having a set dinner time, can help with adjustment and foster an environment to learn about other members of the family on a daily basis.
5. Be Patient
It can be easy to assume your new blended family will get along great and adjust beautifully, but for many this is not the case. Expect to endure disagreements, rebellion, conflict, and frustration at times. Disruption of a family, regardless of the circumstances, is difficult for children to experience emotionally. They will need a lot of time to think through their experience and sort out what it means for them. It could be several months, a year, or even a few years before your family is comfortable blending with their new family.
If you are currently struggling to blend your family and would like some support, it may be useful to connect with a therapist. Contact Symmetry Counseling at 312-578-9990 to set up an appointment with one of our very skilled therapists today!