How To Blend Two Families Into One
Dr. Patricia Nan Anderson
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Congratulations on finding a new love. But when you already have children and your new love has children too, and you’ll be throwing all the kids together into one big, happy household, well, it’s natural to be nervous. Can children who began their lives in different families come together in a new, blended family without much difficulty? Sure they can. Is it easy? No.
There’s a lot going on when adults who have children from previous relationships combine their households.
- First, each set of children must share their birth parent with a step-parent. This feels like a loss for them.
- Second, this new relationship absolutely squashes any fantasies about birth mom and birth dad getting back together and it may also change the children’s interaction with their non-custodial birth parent.
- Third, each set of children must learn about the new parent and adjust to him or her and accept the authority of this new adult in their lives.
- Fourth, at least one set of children and often both sets of children move to a new home, so that their familiar setting is gone.
- Fifth, the children who moved to a new home must figure out new schools and make new friends.
- All of this upset happens and we haven’t even talked yet about adjusting to new siblings.
So add to all that the new siblings. This can be a delightful experience, like a perpetual sleepover, or it can be a source of continuous sniping. Children are naturally on the lookout for favoritism, unshared privileges, and seemingly intentional slights. They naturally seek to capture their birth parent’s attention. A child may try to sabotage the relationship between her own parent and a step-sibling or even with the step-parent. Things can get really ugly really fast.
Keep in mind that even in biological families, there are personality clashes, difficult moments, and unhappiness. Avoid blaming the past or a non-custodial birth parent. Resist blaming the kids. Raising a blended family takes some finesse and some sweetness, the same as every family needs. To help your family make the transition, here are some tips:
- Accept that this won’t be easy for anyone and will take time. Don’t rush to create “the perfect family.”
- Listen. Hear what’s being said for the information it conveys and not as criticism. When a child says, “I hate this,” she’s saying she’s unhappy. She needs support, not an angry response.
- Be consistent without being rigid. Base decisions on a consistent framework or value system so that it’s not difficult for kids to anticipate what you might agree to. Be on the same page with your new spouse.
- Recognize that children have a special bond with their birth parents, including the non-custodial parent. Make room for this. Adding a step-parent shouldn’t mean losing one’s biological parents.
- Avoid playing favorites or making comparisons between the children or even appearing to do so. Be fair. Don’t say what you’re thinking if you’re thinking of making a comparison.
- Understand your position. You are not your step-children’s “mom” or “dad” and it’s unwise to insist that they call you that, especially if their biological parent is still living. Many children call their step-parent by that person’s first name, especially if the kids are older. Work out something agreeable to everyone.
- Be flexible about holidays and other traditions. The ways you and your children have celebrated birthdays and holidays aren’t the only ways. In fact, “your” holidays aren’t the only holidays there are! Be open-minded about celebrations and special days and concentrate on adding – dates and traditions and even religions – instead of insisting only on yours. The more the merrier!
- Model the behavior you want to see. Be cheerful, compassionate, patient, and accepting. If you’re not, who else can be? If you are, others will learn from you.
Realize that blending a family is not automatic. It will take some effort on your part and it will take some time. The waters may never be entirely smooth.
But the happiness of all the children is essential to the success of your relationship with your new spouse. So take the time to make this work.
© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Look for free downloads on Dr. Anderson’s website at www.patricianananderson.com.