Before we get started, I would like to introduce you to and explain the concept ‘Blended Families’, as some of you may be unaware of this term.
‘Blended Family’ is, in its core, a step-family system. A married couple with children divorces, and then either one or both of the partners go on to re-marry, thus creating a new ‘blended family’. The new partner might also have children from previous relationship.
This family system is very common these days. ‘Blended Families’ constitute a big part of my client base. I personally identify with the system due to my own past experiences. I know first-hand how important communication, bonding and strong family base is in blended families; and I also know how destroying it can be if these foundations are not in place.
These days the divorce, albeit still painful and complicated, is no longer seen as shameful. Following a divorce, people are more open to recreating family systems with new partners, compared to statistics from a decade ago.
Of course, creating a new family where children are present is no easy task. In this article, I will talk about 7 ways to make the transition process as smooth as possible for all parties involved, especially children.
1. Plan easy transition into your new blended family.
This step involves discussing the formation of a family system with your new partner. Care is needed to take it slow, bearing in mind the impact on the children. You and your new partner might be excited about moving in together/ getting married, but your children feel differently. Chances are, they are still hurt from the divorce/ separation so unless strong foundations for new family system are laid, the transition process will be painful and complicated.
So what should you do?
Wait before you re-marry. I can not stress how important this is. Wait a year or two after you meet your new partner to let the children get to know him/ her. Let the bond between them strengthen. Children will accept your new partner and possible siblings in time so do not rush into a new marriage.
2. Bond with your new blended family.
Each partner will want to create a strong bond with stepchildren. To do that, plan plenty of fun activities together, but also plan for a quality time spent at home. Real life is home-based mainly, and the bonding will develop when going through normal day-to-day tasks and routines. For instance, a new step-parent may want to find an enjoyable task to do with the children, thus having some alone time with them. What that task should be depends on the age of the child; if it’s a small child, perhaps read a book together in the evening; if it’s a teenager, offer help when he/she is doing a homework, or drive him/ her to a favorite after-school activity.
Do not get offended when there are problems. Children won’t just accept a new person; they need time. Give them the space, love and understanding that they need, whilst making sure they know you’re not taking place of their biological parent.
3. Set clear boundaries for your new family system.
From start, the child will need to know who is in charge of ‘parenting’. In early stages, it is recommended that biological parents set discipline to avoid confusion. Step-parent should act more as a friend and less than a parent in the first year of marriage at least. As time goes on and trust/ bond deepens, disciplinary tasks can be introduced by the step-parent. Important aspect of setting parenting tasks by a step-parent is a positive input from both biological parents. Clear communication is needed between all adults to maintain a happy life for the children.
4. Stick to the routines learned in the previous family setting.
As we all know, children thrive on the routine. When marriage breaks down, it will bring along insecurity, stress and loss of a safety blanket- a routine. When new family system is created, loss of a familiarity from the earlier marriage will be hurtful for both adults and children. From start, work on creating new routines together to include each family member, consciously choosing routines similar to your previous family setting.
Important part of this is a holiday routine. Here we are talking about Christmas, Birthdays etc. Adults should talk about these events without children being present to avoid further insecurities. Set firm boundaries about who will see the children when and stick to them. Alternate important holidays and plan for them to make the children excited.
This sounds so obvious, yet communication is often neglected. Parents under-estimate children’s need for information when creating a new family. Yet at this confusing time, they will need lots of talking to! They need reassurance, love, they need to be able to express themselves to both parents and step-parents. They need to be shown how to approach conflict, how to discuss issues in the new environment. The parent should also be prepared to deal with the child’s issue regarding his new partner.
Especially important is a communication between biological parents. New partners should develop an understanding for biological parents to talk in private, not react with jealousy. Parents should feel safe to discuss their children’s needs together without having to include a new partner, if they so wish. Decisions such as child maintenance, which parent the children stay with when and other important matters can be rightly discussed by biological parents only. However, a new partner should be involved in many decision- making talks to avoid feeling excluded. Again, lots of empathy, respect and understanding is needed for all involved adults to work as a successful parenting team.
6. Maintain trust, safety and family traditions.
By communicating clearly, allowing time for the new patterns to take hold and new routines to firmly integrate into a blended family, you will create a safe, happy environment and ‘normalize’ the situation. If you as parents act comfortably with the situation, show love and respect towards one another and your children, then the transitional process will be much quicker and easier. Above all, respect and be civil towards a biological parent of your children.
7. Create strong marital bond with your new partner.
When a new blended family is created, life can be chaotic. Things are very different for parents who re-marry than for people who marry for the first time. In blended families, the strong focus will be on the children and their happiness; however, do not neglect your own new marital bond!
Whenever possible, plan for a special time alone together. Make the most out of the weekends when it’s just the two of you. If you are talking about having another child, make sure there is a ‘room to grow’.