Maintaining a functioning, happy family can be complicated. This is made even more complicated when two families blend together into one. It is understandable to have some concerns and insecurities about how to handle this process. Here are ten tips to guide you in effectively managing this transition for your new blended family.
1. Make sure you and your spouse are on the same page.
When blending two families together, it is important for spouses to be on the same page about what you expect from each other in terms of parenting the other’s children. These may be uncomfortable conversations, but they will be necessary to clarify how rules and expectations will look within the home. Having these discussions in advance will help to prevent confusion about appropriate boundaries and the role each of you has in parenting the other’s children.
2. Establish equality among children.
Make sure to teach your children about their importance within the family. It is important that each child understands that their rights and privileges are just as important as the other children within the family. This may be especially complicated if children from one part of the family are moving into a home that the other children have already grown up in. Those who are new to the household may feel that they are guests or strangers in this home, instead of equal members of the family. Therefore, having a conversation about equality and a lack of hierarchy might help to sort out some of these insecurities.
3. If possible, take time to prepare roles and rules before “blending.”
Take some time to prepare before the marriage or blending officially occurs. If there are going to be changes in the living environment or to the rules, have a discussion with the family as a whole beforehand. Leave time for your children to voice concerns or ask questions about what this will mean for everyone. Reassure your children that it is understandable to be uneasy about change. It is important to validate their feelings, but be mindful of how you can ease some of these concerns. It is also important to be honest with them about how these changes will and will not impact their day-to-day life. Do your best to make sure that all members of the family understand that their blended family can improve with effort and time.
4. Make time for children as individuals.
Sometimes, children may feel that they will be replaced or become less important as these changes and new relationships are created. Consider carving out special time for activities with one of your children and another day for activities with your spouse’s child. Try to set aside equal room for every member of the family to feel appreciated and supported, despite the changes occurring within the group as a whole.
5. Spend quality time together as a new family.
Although it may be beneficial to offer opportunities for individual interactions, it is equally important to spend time together as a new family. Try to plan activities that the whole group can enjoy together. In some cases, it may be appropriate to implement a voting process to allow every family member to have a voice and be acknowledged. These activities may help to create a cohesive family unit.
6. Expect bumps in the road.
Expect discomfort and a need for adjustment. Even with your best efforts and intentions, this may not prove to be a totally smooth transition. It is not a simple task to blend two units together effectively, and there likely will be some ups and downs. It is important to recognize that these issues do not indicate failure or the inability for your family to improve or blend successfully. Try to see this as a normal part of the process, and troubleshoot to figure out how to ease through any obstacles.
7. Remember, you are still the parents.
When times are confusing and stressful for your children, you want to be sensitive to their fears and concerns. However, it is important to remember that you stay consistent with rules and boundaries. Be wary that your children may attempt to manipulate your sensitivities and push boundaries. If this occurs, be careful to follow through with necessary actions and changes, even if you face resistance. You are still the authority figures within the family. It may be challenging, but you can continue to respect and understand your children’s discomfort even while consistently enforcing the rules of the new home. Although you will need to show your children you are still in charge, try to have conversations about this in a calm manner to ease conflict.
8. Limit your expectations; be realistic.
You may have hopes and dreams for a strong bond with your significant other’s children, but that bond may not happen in the way you imagined it. Yes, it is important that you do your best to create a safe and comfortable home for your spouse’s children and to develop as much trust and rapport as possible. But it is also critical to avoid placing high expectations on children to have a relationship with you that may not be realistic. Remember that your blended family does not need to look the same as any other blended family you have seen or known. It is okay for different relationships to vary in closeness.
9. Find someone to lend emotional support.
As a parent, you are likely to be primarily focused on how to make this situation work best for the children, but your stress and concerns are also relevant. It may be beneficial to consider reaching out to someone outside of the family unit for support. This could be a friend, a therapist, or someone else that you trust to help you manage through this transition. Remember that your needs matter, and you will be at your best for your family when you feel supported.
10. Have patience.
Try to have patience with all family members. Some in the group may adjust more quickly than others. There may be days when the blending seems to be working effectively, but then setbacks may occur. Continue to work on this process with your blended family day by day. Celebrate your successes, and do not be discouraged by the occasional lumps and bumps in the road. There is no set time limit for building a family… it’s an ongoing process.
Blending a family comes with many positive consequences, connections and relationships. However, this process is not simple and will require patience, awareness, and important conversations about boundaries and roles. Remember that each family is unique. Your goal should not be to mold this family into something it is not, but to help establish a more comfortable and secure version of what already exists within your home.
Resources for further information:
- Chapman, G. D., & Deal, R. L. (2020). Building love together in blended families: the 5 love languages and becoming stepfamily smart. Chicago: Northfield Publishing.
- Jurchenko, J., & Jurchenko, J. (2017). 131 Conversations for stepfamily success: how to grow intimacy, parent as a team, and build a joyful home. Create Space Independent Publishing.