Can Blended Families Work?
Parents face many new challenges when entering into a second marriage and creating a stepfamily after a divorce. When one or both partners have children from a prior relationship, the remarriage doesn’t merely re-create the two-parent household; instead, the children now have a combined, “blended” family of the parents and new stepparent or stepparents. Accepting and handling all of the new relationships can be a struggle for the parents and children alike. The first step after deciding to create a blended family is identifying the issues that often arise.
Common Problems With Blended Families
Almost every family encounters problems once they have children: differences in parenting inevitably arise, and the parents must figure out how to compromise. The parenting challenges that most families face become even more complex within blended families. Sometimes, the single-parent family unit has become extremely tight-knit, and it can be difficult for the new spouse to enter into that relationship or for the existing parent to find a balance between his new spouse and his biological children. Adversely, it can also be hard for the children to accept their new stepmom, stepdad, or step-siblings. When parents remarry, it can also cause a strained relationship between the child and one parent, as he may feel like an outsider when visiting the non-custodial parent’s new family. It is interesting to note, however, that the biggest challenge in figuring out a blended family can actually be unresolved conflicts between prior spouses. Trying to decipher and coexist within so many relationships can be stressful on everyone involved, and a blended family definitely requires work from everyone to succeed.
Most problems will arise within the first two years of creating a blended family, but if the family can fix the issues it will often be very successful.
Dealing With Blended Family Problems
Below, we discuss five solutions to problems that arise when a blended family isn't working:
- Time Management. In addition to spending time with the entire family, make the effort to reserve time for you and your spouse, parent-child time, and stepparent-stepchild time. Factoring these relationship-oriented time slots into your schedule is crucial to creating a well-balanced household. The time doesn’t have to involve you and your stepchild just sitting at the kitchen table staring at each other either—volunteering to take the stepchild to soccer practice and supporting him or her during the event is a great way to get in some time with your stepchild without making it too awkward.
- Realistic Expectations. When creating a new blended family, don’t expect too much too soon. Aim for respect from your stepchildren first, and don’t be offended if they don’t fall in love with you immediately—forming a strong, loving relationship with a stepchild often takes time and effort. Establishing mutual respect for each other is the first step toward fostering a deeper relationship with your stepchild—just make sure your expectations are grounded in reality. Also, doing “normal” things like eating dinner together as a family can foster more of a lasting relationship and make your stepchildren feel more comfortable versus always taking them to movies or theme parks. While doing fun activities with your stepchild is great, make sure you’re involved in more routine events as well.
- Parenting Plan. Develop a parenting plan with your spouse by going over some key issues that may arise as you co-parent. For example, decide on a general formula as to how and when to punish your child for misbehaving, how to handle your child dating someone, etc. By deciding these issues before they occur, you can assure that both you and your spouse are on the same page and can present a united front to the child. This is especially when the new spouse isn’t as familiar with the intricacies of raising a child.
- Equal Treatment. It is crucial to treat stepchildren and any other children you and your spouse have equally: be especially careful not to favor your own children or your spouse’s children. The parenting plan really comes into play here, where two sets of children are becoming one blended family with new rules and consequences. Moreover, recognize differences in bonding with different age groups: although you may be harsher with older children, make sure the difference in treatment is truly age-based and not just different because they are or aren’t your stepchildren.
- Take a step back. Assume a secondary role at first when you marry someone with kids instead of trying to immediately become the authoritative figure. For the first year or two, consider making an effort to remain the secondary parent as you and your stepchildren adjust to your new blended family. Additionally, be prepared for the inevitable “you’re not my parent” comment as well—one way to handle this situation is to explain that, while you are not their parent, you are the “adult in charge” and should be respected. After enough time has passed, you can assume a more primary role, but take a step back at first to ensure a smoother transition.