There are a myriad of ways families come together — some more challenging than others. One of the more typically challenging dynamics can be a blended family. Whether a person without kids marries someone with kids, or two people with children marry each other, adding kids into the mix can make things complicated. It need not be a disaster, though. There are several ways your family can be intentional about creating harmony within the walls of your home.
Discuss Expectations. A major way conflict and bitterness can arise is when expectations are not voiced and therefore not met, causing arguments and resentment. To avoid the majority of these issues, discuss expectations from day 1 and continue this discussion often. Talk to your spouse about expectations concerning quality time together — particularly if he or she is not used to sharing time with children. Come to a conclusion about what seems reasonable, even if you both have to compromise a little. Then you are at least on the same page. Be sure to check in regularly with one another to make sure expectations haven’t changed, or to adjust them intentionally. Expectations should also be discussed concerning parenting responsibilities. After you decide how you will approach managing discipline, chauffeur duties and other day-to-day responsibilities, be sure to include the children on the plan so they know what to expect.
Talk to Your Kids. Children often understand and pick up on more than you might think. Shifts in dynamic, increased tension, unmet expectations — they will usually notice. This is a new (potentially scary) situation for them, and they may even host resentment about it out of loyalty to their other parent. Talk to them about how they’re feeling often. They may not always have something to say, but knowing you care how they feel and are working to make their needs just as much of a priority as yours will let them know their feelings are valued and they are an important part of the family.
Be Specific About Your Needs. This goes along with discussing expectations, but when you feel frustrated or bitter, try to identify what it is you need and voice it to your spouse. Rather than letting a nagging feeling fester, complaining, or toughing it out — embrace it and determine whether or not there’s something to be done. It may be as simple as talking to your spouse or changing a schedule slightly to alleviate your stress. Your spouse is not a mind reader, so be specific with what you need and have grace for your family as they adjust to the new normal.
Create a Culture of Respect. While unconditional love may take a while to fully form in a new family, respect should be established from day 1. Whether it’s from children to adults (particularly the spouse with whom they are unfamiliar), adults to children, children to their new siblings, or even adults to their former spouse — respect is key for building healthy and productive relationships. While your children shouldn’t be expected to see your new spouse as their parent right away, they should treat him or her with the same respect they would a teacher or other authority figure. Additionally, your relationship with your former partner — your children’s biological parent (if applicable) — should also be one of respect, even though you are no longer together.
Form New Relationships. To fully embrace a blended family, a spouse whose new husband or wife already has children should seek to form relationships with those children outside of their shared relationship with the spouse/parent. Try to engage the children without pushing — perhaps on their own terms. Suggest an outing they might enjoy or ask them what they like to do. Try to get to know them on a one-on-one context to show them you are invested in them as an individual rather than them being simply a package deal with their parent. Have patience and grace during this transition, regardless of how long it takes for them to open up, understanding they may feel threatened on behalf of the parent you are “replacing.” Being available and present without forcing the relationship will allow a relationship to form naturally and create a strong bond over time.