Blending families can be a challenging activity, one for which few people are ever adequately prepared. Though about one-third of Americans are a member of a blended family, about 60 percent of those relationships results in divorce.
But blended families can survive and thrive if they follow these basic guidelines:
▪ Allow spouses to discipline their own children. Parents are often overly protective of their biological children. They may view the stepparent’s interventions as harsh or unfair. In addition, children have a stronger bond to their parents than they do with their new stepparents — and may even resent that person’s presence in their lives. It’s best to minimize this dynamic early in the relationship and let biological parents call the shots.
▪ Create a safe environment for kids to express their feelings. Children as young as 5 years old will have opinions about the major changes occurring around them. Hold regular family meetings where they can express their concerns and where adults can help them find solutions.
▪ Get along with your spouse’s ex. Regardless of what happened in the past, the ex is going to be a key player in your new family. Be as pleasant and respectful as you can. Encourage your partner to do the same.
▪ Create your own traditions. Whether you’re getting pizza after the softball game or having movie night in the den, you’re having fun, defining yourselves as a new family unit and creating a sense of belonging for your children.
▪ Develop a relationship with each of your stepchildren. Spend one-on-one time together, tailoring activities to the child’s age and interests.
▪ Don’t attempt to be your stepchildren’s parent. Most stepkids already have two parents. They certainly don’t need a third. Instead, you can assume a unique role similar to a loving aunt or uncle who has their best interests at heart and who can serve as a role model and confidant.
▪ Work on your marriage. Blended families are only as strong as the marriages that create them. Find ample amounts of adults-only time. Foster joint hobbies and interests. Create a network of mutual friends. Your commitment to each other sends an important message to your children: “We are a strong team, and we’re committed to each other and this household.”
▪ Be flexible. Blended families are an exercise in adaptability. His kids might visit during the summer. Your children live with you two weeks at a time. The youngsters themselves morph from one stage to the next at breakneck speed. Embrace the chaos as best you can. Don’t get lost in the petty squabbles. Learn to laugh at the mess.
▪ Get support. Find a counselor who can guide you through the blending process. Or join a group of couples who are in the same boat. You’ll get useful ideas, have a vital outlet for your emotions and know that you’re not alone.
▪ Be patient. Blended families can’t be hurried. They may take years to gel. Don’t get frustrated by the seemingly endless string of problems. Instead, set your sights on the future. Hopefully, on their wedding days, your stepkids will say, “Thank you for being in my life.”
Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit lindalewisgriffith.com.