Let’s face it…blended families are not easy. Marriages and raising children are hard on its own, adding step parents, step children, half children, and marriages can feel nearly impossible at times. I can give some helpful hints with dealing with blended families, but there are no magical answers. Different experts on the topic may have different ideas on what is the best way to deal with blended families. I will stay out of details of running blended families, but here are some ideas that will help you get started in improving your blended family.
Clear expectations: I cannot stress this one enough. Clear expectations are extremely important in any relationship or marriage and they are absolutely vital in a blended family. Not only should the parents understand and agree on these expectations, but the children should know what these are! Who is going to discipline and how? What happens if that parent is not home and a rule is broken? Who will pay for what? It seems like a very long and tedious task to go through and work out all of the various issues that may arise during child rearing in a new relationship, but you will be so thankful you did when issues arise. Write it down! Be as clear and concise as possible. It is not an end all be all that will fix everything. It can be changed, but it is a place to start. It will decrease the ability for children to manipulate or take advantage of the situation if the expectations have been spelled out. Also, it can help with conflict that may arise with a step parent on discipline issues. If you are a new blended family or an old blended family do this now!
Avoid triangles between old spouses and new spouses. Occasionally, I have a blended family where the ex-wife and the new wife (or husbands) get along. They can chat, do children drop offs, and work on concerns about the kids together. As a general rule though, this is not always the case. There is not always intense hatred either, but let’s face it, this is an emotional situation and it can be difficult to keep our anger, jealousy, and reactivity off the table. I encourage ex spouses to talk to ex spouses and to keep new spouses out of those interactions. I do not mean keeping secrets from your new spouse, but often I see the ex spouse getting their new spouse involved and then they eventually feel stuck in between two reactive parties. You understand your ex spouse, you at one time had good feelings towards them, these are your children so keep the interactions between you two. Your new spouse does not know your old spouse the way you do. They never had warm feelings for that person. This makes not being reactive even more difficult for them! If the new spouse has jealousy issues regarding this, that is a whole different issue that needs to be addressed. That is not just an issue about the blended family. It can be hard enough to co parent with two people, adding in three or even four only complicates matters. Trust me, it is easy to rant about your ex spouse to your new spouse, but there will come a time where you wish you hadn’t. Keep your new relationship about your new relationship.
Always remember blended families are tough. People often get into the honeymoon period in their new relationship and fantasize about their new relationship and how wonderful it will be, they forget to be realistic. Blended families can work and can be happy, but there will be difficult times along the way. Be prepared for those times. We never know how kids will react to step parents at different points in their development, we never know what new issues may arise, and we cannot control how ex spouses will act towards us or our new relationship. Knowing the hard times are in front of us will keep us from feeling caught off guard or blind-sided. Living in a fantasy that everything will run smoothly can leave us feeling disappointed and hurt.
I have seen blended families that have ran very smoothly all the way to the blended family that falls apart because of issues with the ex spouse and pretty much everything in between. Having a non-bias third party can save a blended family or get them off on the right foot. Come in regardless of whether you are just divorced or have been remarried many years. Let’s get your family where you want it to be.