February 22, 2017
Blended Families: Tips to Help Ease the Transition to Step Family
Written by Rachel Eddins
As divorce is on the increase in numerous places in the world, blended families have become a common type of household. Many families have a lot of difficulties navigating this unique family situation with success.
A major reason is that members of blended families must make many adjustments in their lives. The transition can be problematic. And trying to force it can breed conflict and resentment.
How can you make it easier?
Blended Families – Tips for Easing the Transition
1. Get on the same page with all parents
To help ease the transition into a blended family, your children need as much stability as possible. Having a consistent routine can help make them feel more secure. For that very reason, both parents need to sit down together and agree on how they will handle such important matters as allowances, bedtimes, chores, discipline, homework, and rewards.
2. Foster respect
Model the respect you expect from your children by the way you treat your new spouse. Don’t allow them to disrespect or disregard their stepparent. If you are the stepparent, it’s important that you don’t try to force respect by over-disciplining your new stepchildren. A much better approach is allowing each biological parent to discipline their own children until you both have gained the children’s affection and respect. Then, carefully ease into participating in the discipline of each other’s children.
3. Include the children in the transition process
Talk with your children before making major decisions such as living arrangements. Ask them how they could help make their new step-siblings feel welcome and like part of the family. Take the lead in including your stepchildren in family activities – special ones as well as daily chores. It will keep them from feeling like a guest in the house.
4. Relax, be patient, and don’t set your expectations too high
Don’t imagine for a moment that you can just step into a new family and everything will magically come together. Relax, take it slow, and don’t try to force instant bonds between everyone. Just be patient and give your new blended family space and time to develop. It could take years for everyone to adjust completely.
Establishing new families takes time. Just because you love your new partner, it is unrealistic to think that you will automatically love his or her children. It is equally unrealistic to expect that your new partner’s children will instantly love you. It can be difficult to accept that even though you wish to have a relationship with your stepchildren, they may not be ready for a relationship with you.
5. Keep the biological connections strong
Encourage all the children to keep a close connection to both of their biological parents. It may be difficult when one lives in Seattle and the other in Houston, but it’s not impossible. When you’re supportive in this way and respectful of the ex-spouses, the children will see that it isn’t a competition for affection. Rather, it shows them that you truly care about their happiness.
6. Give support to the children who have to live in two households
Show compassion and understanding to the children who have to move back and forth. Don’t assume all is fine but be ready to listen when they need you. They may worry about missing out on something while they’re gone. They may also still have a lot of unresolved feelings about the end of their biological parent’s marriage or the death of one of their parents. The moment of packing up and moving once again can be highly emotional and feel overwhelming to them. Be by their side.
If you are part of a part-time stepfamily, you may need a longer adjustment period. All relationships take time to grow and develop.
7. Nurture your marriage
Of course, the transition is not just tough on the children but also for you and your spouse. You’ll need your partner’s support and they need yours. So, don’t forget to make time for each other and cultivate closeness. Your relationship needs to be strong to make a success of your new blended family.
Enjoy date nights and keep your bond strong. Your children will naturally fall in place behind your lead.
8. Expect to adjust
With proper help and guidance, children can recover from family disruption. All children experience a difficult adjustment period following a divorce or remarriage. It takes time, patience, and perhaps some professional assistance, but most children are able to regain their emotional bearings. It is critical that the adults manage their own emotional recovery in order to help the children adjust without trauma.
9. Don’t expect your new family to be like your first family.
If you expect that your stepfamily will be just like the family of your first marriage, you are setting yourself up for frustration. Your new family will have its own unique identity and will evolve in its own special way.
10. Allow time for grieving.
Stepfamilies begin with an experience of loss, and everyone needs to grieve. The adults’ losses are not the same as those of the children, and both must be respected. Adults grieve the following losses:
- The loss of a partner
- The loss of a marriage relationship
- Lost dreams of the way they thought it would be
- They must adjust to changes that result from the divorce or death (moving to a new house, starting a new job, adjusting to changes in lifestyle, etc.)
Children grieve, too. Their losses are usually different from those of their parents:
- They may now be living with one parent instead of two.
- They may have less time with one or both parents during times of dating and remarriage.
- There may be less stability in their homes.
- They must adjust to changes that result from the divorce or death. (They may have a new place to live and go to a new school; they may have lost friends in this process.)
- They have lost the fantasy of how they wanted their family to be.
Children have an especially difficult time resolving their grief when their parents are hostile with one another, when one or both of their parents remarry, and if they have trouble accepting their new stepparents.
11. Acknowledge the absent parent.
When one of the original parents is absent, the children need a special kind of understanding. An absent parent (who has died or who lives elsewhere and doesn’t visit) is part of a child’s past. The child must be allowed to have memories of this parent. The children who have access to both of their parents are those who adjust the best to divorce. They should be allowed to regularly speak with, visit, and write to their noncustodial parent.
12. Give the kids their own space.
Make physical space available for the children who don’t live with you. Children need a sense of belonging. Creating a room or section of a room for visiting children will help them feel like part of your family.
13. Expect them to think it’s temporary.
Accept the fact that your children may expect you and their other parent to reconcile. They may fantasize that your new relationship with your partner is only temporary. This is especially true in the beginning. Find a time to sit down with the children and explain that when two people are unable to live together anymore, it doesn’t mean they love their children any less. This is especially important for the parent who has moved away, since the children will inevitably feel a sense of rejection.
14. Expect resentment.
No matter how good a parent you are, you will never be the biological parent of your stepchildren. It is natural for a stepchild to feel some resentment for you, especially when you are setting limits for their behavior.
15. Show the children love.
Sometimes children need love the most at a time when it is the most difficult to give it to them. While bad behavior should never be rewarded, always praise children when they are behaving well.
16. As a stepparent, be sure to take the time to bond with your new children.
Your stepchild may be resistant, but it’s important for you to lead the way and demonstrate that you are interested and care.
17. Children thrive with schedules and consistency.
The transition will be much smoother if everyone knows what’s expected of them. Have a conversation early on that outlines the expectations and ground rules.
18. Communication is vital.
Ask how you can make the children more comfortable and let them know what you need, too. Honor requests and communicate boundaries as appropriate. Most children just want to know that you’ll still be there for them. Reassure them.
Applying these tips will give you a good foundation for creating your own unique family identity. But if you need more specific help, don’t hesitate to seek family counseling.
Contact us at 832-559-2622 or schedule an appointment online. Your new family is worth every effort.