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40 Survival Tips for Blended Families

When families "blend" to create step-families, things rarely progress effortlessly. Some kids may resist changes, while moms and dads can become perturbed when the new family doesn't function like their previous family. While changes to family structure require “adjustment time” for everyone involved, the following tips will help blended families work out their growing pains and live together successfully:

1. Address conflict positively. In other words, view each "trouble spot" as an opportunity to learn and grow together. "Conflict" is a good thing when it is used constructively ...don't view it as something that "shouldn't happen."

2. Agree with your new spouse how you intend to parent together, and then make any necessary adjustments to your parenting styles “before” you remarry. It’ll make for a smoother transition, and your children won’t become angry at your new partner for initiating changes.

3. All siblings have conflict, so don’t assume all family arguments are the result of living in a blended family.

4. As a new step-parent, you shouldn’t step in as the enforcer at first, but work with your partner to set limits.

5. As you merge two families, differences in parenting, discipline, lifestyle, etc. may become more pronounced and can become a source of frustration for the kids. Make it a priority to have some unity when it comes to daily living (e.g., rules, chores, discipline, allowance, etc.). Agreeing on some consistent guidelines will show the children that you and your partner intend to deal with issues in a similar way. This should diminish some feelings of unfairness.

6. Be sure to discuss everything. Never keep emotions bottled up or hold grudges.

7. Blended families have the highest success rate if the couple waits two years or more after a divorce to remarry, instead of piling one drastic family change onto another.

8. Children often feel unimportant or invisible when it comes to decision making in the new blended family. Recognize their role in the family when you make decisions.

9. Create a list of family rules. Discuss the rules with the kids and post them in a prominent place. Also, understand what the rules and boundaries are for the children in their other residence, and be consistent.

10. Creating an honest and open environment free of judgment will help children feel heard and emotionally connected to a new step-parent. Show them that you can view the situation from their perspective.

11. Creating family routines and rituals helps unite family members. Decide on meaningful family rituals and plan to incorporate at least one into your blended family (e.g., Sunday visits to the beach, a weekly game night, special ways to celebrate a family birthday, etc.).

12. Do things together (e.g., games, sports, activities, etc.).

13. Don’t overcompensate by favoring your step-kids. This is a common mistake, made with best intentions, in an attempt to avoid indulging your biological kids.

14. Don't expect to fall in love with your spouse’s kids overnight. Get to know them. Love and affection take time to develop.

15. Enforce a respectful attitude. You can’t insist all family members like each other, but you can insist that they treat one another with respect.

16. Establish an open and nonjudgmental atmosphere.

17. Establish the step-parent as more of a friend or counselor rather than a disciplinarian.

18. Establishing regular family meals offers a great chance for you to talk and bond with your kids and step-kids (as well as encourage healthy eating habits).

19. Find a step-parenting support organization in your community. You can learn how other blended families address some of the challenges of blended families.

20. Find a way to experience real life together. Taking both sets of children to a theme park every time you get together is a lot of fun, but it isn’t reflective of everyday life. Try to get the children used to your spouse and his/her kids in daily life situations.

21. Help your children feel safe and secure. Kids want to be able to count on their parents. Kids of divorce have already felt the upset of having people they trust let them down; therefore, know that they may have difficulty giving second chances to a new step-parent.

22. If family members can be civil with one another on a regular basis rather than ignoring, purposely trying to hurt, or completely withdrawing from each other, you're on track.

23. If some of the children just “visit,” make sure they have a locked cupboard for their personal things. Bringing toothbrushes and other standard fare each time they come to your home makes them feel like a visitor, not a member of the blended family.

24. Kids may not think they need limits, but a lack of boundaries sends a signal that the youngster is unworthy of the parents’ time, care, and attention.

25. Kids of all ages respond to praise and encouragement and like to feel appreciated for their contributions.

26. Let the biological parent remain primarily responsible for discipline until the step-parent has developed solid bonds with the children.

27. Let the children know that you and your ex-partner will continue to love them and be there for them throughout their lives.

28. Limit expectations. You may give a lot of time, energy, love, and affection to your new spouse’s children that will not be returned immediately. Think of it as making small investments that may one day yield a lot of interest.

29. Listen respectfully to one another.

30. Members of your blended family may be at various life stages and have different needs (e.g., adolescents versus preschoolers). They may also be at different stages in accepting this new family. Family members need to understand and honor those differences.

31. Most families have very different ideas about how annual events (e.g., holidays, birthdays, family vacations, etc.) should be spent. Children may feel resentful if they’re forced to go along with someone else’s routine. Try to find some common ground or create new traditions for your blended family.

32. One challenge to creating a cohesive blended family is establishing trust. The kids may feel uncertain about their new family and resist your efforts to get to know them. Learn not to take their lack of enthusiasm personally.

33. Present a unified parenting approach to the kids. Arguing or disagreeing in front of them may encourage them to try to come between you.

34. Set aside time as a couple by making regular dates or meeting for lunch or coffee during school time.

35. Tell the children that your new partner will not be a ‘replacement’ mom or dad, but another person to love and support them.

36. The way a blended family communicates says a lot about the level of trust between family members. When communication is clear, open, and frequent, there are fewer opportunities for misunderstanding and more possibilities for connection, whether it is between parent and youngster, step-parent and step-child, or between step-siblings.

37. Try to spend at least one “quiet time” period with your biological youngster daily. Even in the best of blended families, kids still need to enjoy some “alone time” with each parent.

38. Understand that it isn’t that the children don’t want you to be happy; they just don’t know what it will be like to share their parent with a new partner, let alone his/her children. These feelings are normal.

39. Without the marriage, there is no family. It's harder to take care of the marriage in a blended family because you don't have “couple time” like most first marriages do. You'll have to grow and mature into the marriage while parenting.

40.  Your children or new spouse may put you in a situation where you feel you have to choose between them. Remind them that you want both sets of people in your life.

Conclusion:

If, despite all of your best efforts, your new partner and/or kids are not getting along, find a way to protect and nurture the kids despite the difficult environment. Hopefully, if the children see and feel your emotional support, they will do their best with the situation. 

Know that it might be time to seek outside help from a therapist if a step-parent or parent openly favors one youngster over another, a youngster directs anger upon a particular family member or openly resents a step-parent or parent, or members of the family derive no pleasure from usually enjoyable activities (e.g., school, working, playing, being with friends and family, etc.). It may take some time, but choose a therapist that everyone in your blended family is comfortable with. A good connection with a therapist should result in some positive changes right away. You can obtain referrals from family or friends, mental health associations, provider listing from your insurance company, or your family doctor.

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