It’s a common theme in blended families—the two adults are thrilled to be together, but the kids often have a different reaction. Blending two families into one can be tricky—and sometimes daunting.
And if you’re trying to blend two families into one, you’re not alone. According to the Step-family Foundation, half of all kids under the age of 13 live with one biological parent and that parent’s partner.
Here’s what I’ve learned lately about blended families:
1. Let the kids have a voice. The more you can encourage kids to be part of the process of becoming a stepfamily, the better the transition will be. Too many kids feel they don’t have a voice when two families merge into one.
2. Be honest about what’s different about your new family. Kids often assume that this “new family” will turn out like the “old family.” If kids are dealing with loss through divorce or death, they need time to grieve. They also need reassurances that you don’t plan to divorce—nor do you expect the second partner to die. (Even though adults can’t control everything, it’s better to reassure kids that you’ll do everything you can for this family to work.)
3. Remember that relationships take time to develop. A new parent (and new kids) cannot step into a family and become instantly assimilated. Do activities together so that family members can get to know each other. Expect resistance. Some kids refuse to get to know a stepparent because they feel disloyal to the parent who is not there. Talk about that issue. Explain that you’re not replacing anyone.
4. The older the kids, the longer it will take to become a cohesive family. One parent with three teenage boys and another parent with three teenage girls merged their family into one after divorce. The parents spent a lot of time strategizing what to do next behind closed doors whenever the teens “pulled something new” on them. They continued to care and be involved in all six of their teens’ lives—no matter how the teens reacted. They also were honest about when the teens hurt their feelings and how they expected their teens to treat other people.
5. Kids will adjust better to a blended family when they have access to both biological parents. Even if you and your ex easily fight, work hard to create a positive parenting relationship so that the kids can feel emotionally connected to both biological parents. That will pave the way for kids to begin to connect with their stepparent and half-siblings as well.
6.Listen. Check in with each child and ask how the “new family” is going and what he or she wishes were different. In one family, a child said he hated “having a half brother and a half sister because they were whole people—not halves.” After that, the family agreed that everyone was a “son,” “daughter,” “sister,” or a “brother.” They dropped the “step” and “half” language.
Every blended family will be different. What matters is to create a family that works for everyone and to be patient with the transition.
American Academy of Pediatrics,“I Am Getting Remarried.What Is the Best Way to Blend Our Families?” June 11, 2010.