Blended families were once unique. However, a 2019 study conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau confirms that 3.9 million children in the U.S. alone live in a family with a stepparent. When parents who have children from a previous relationship marry, their family becomes a new unit: a blended family. These dynamics can shift even more if the newly married couple decides to have a child of their own.
How to help your kids adjust to a blended family.While it’s tricky to merge families without any bumps along the way, there are three practices you can do to help smooth the path.
1. Begin by communicating with your spouse and children early, often, and regularly.
A blended family that doesn’t struggle with sibling rivalry, craving attention, jealousy, or feeling left out is probably not a blended family. These are common to families that merge stepparents and stepchildren. But as these problems arise, and ideally before they do, it’s important to sit down with your spouse.
Start by setting a routine spousal meeting. It may not be the most romantic date night you’ve ever had, but it goes a long way to make sure you and your spouse are on the same page with routines, school expectations, rewards and consequences, and spending habits.
It might be that you’ve communicated about these things between the two of you before marriage, but you failed to get specific about how these decisions impact each child. Remember, before you married each other, your children didn’t have to clamor for your attention, you had certain expectations and rules, things you allowed, and practices that you didn’t allow.Now that you’ve combined into one household, setting realistic expectations between the two adults first will help you remain a united team as issues come up.
Once you’ve set a regular, ideally weekly, meeting for the two of you, you might want to consider setting up one-on-one times with each child – especially for your own children. This ensures that your children, who have had a new parent and new siblings thrust upon them, get some one-on-one face time with you every single week.
It could be built into activities you’re already doing, such as driving home from school and stopping for ice cream once a week or taking an older child out for coffee before school the same morning each week.
This can be precious time not just to hear about their struggles with the new situation and siblings, but these outings communicate to your child that he or she is important and that you’re still the same parent.
2. Choose one activity to do as a family regularly.
When two families merge, it takes time for children to adjust. If your child has had you all to himself or herself for a long time, it may take even longer than a year for him or her to get used to the idea that he or she is sharing your time and attention with other children. For that matter, it can be difficult for adults to adjust too.Of course, you and your spouse love each other, but different parenting patterns, opinions about how to handle household duties, and different work schedules all contribute to the adjustments you and your spouse are facing.
One way to bond amidst a current of change is to pick an activity that everyone can do together. It might be that you read a novel together each night, or you all play a game of basketball after dinner.
Choose something that, while it may not be everyone’s favorite, you know it’s not a despised activity. (For example, if two of your four children hate sports, then maybe the basketball wouldn’t be a good idea. Take a poll of your children and let them come to an agreement about what this activity should be.)
As you repeat this activity – whether it is nightly or weekly – your children and you and your spouse will bond over time. Make sure your expectations are realistic. It can take a year or more for you to develop as one unit.
3. Allow for some old traditions while also creating new ones.
Maybe you and your children started a tradition with your previous spouse where you drove around and looked at Christmas lights together at the start of winter solstice. If you and your spouse continued to do that with your children after your separation, don’t stop doing that.
You can choose a different holiday tradition to do with your new spouse and his or her children. But it’s important to retain some of the old traditions so that your children recognize that these little ways of life matter to you.
It’s equally important to develop a new tradition as combined, blended family. Maybe you choose somewhere new to visit every spring break. The entire family can get together to research, weigh in on vacation activities, and vote on the places they’d like to visit.
But new traditions don’t have to be costly and week-long either. It might be that you hold a monthly make-your-own sundae night at home and watch a movie together. Any regular tradition can help your new family see the value in one another and get to know each other better.
Rifts and strife will surely come up. But communicating with your children and your stepchildren together will be a priority during these challenges. If you’re also spending time together outside those challenging experiences, you have a foundation upon which to build.
Christian family counseling.
It can be tough when you and your spouse are so joyful that you’ve found each other and are enjoying married life together if your children aren’t so joyful. If you need help with more ideas to connect your blended family, we have counselors who are trained to talk with you, you and your spouse, or the entire family.
“Family Walk”, Courtesy of Orlando Allo, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Campfire”, Courtesy of Mike Erskine, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Extended Family”, Courtesy of Gift Habeshaw, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Mealtime”, Courtesy of Tyson, Unsplash.com, CC0 License
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