Family is one of life’s greatest gifts, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy. Even in the most harmonious of families, challenges can, do, and inevitably will arise. But those difficulties can be especially great when you’re trying to raise a blended family with young children.
As formidable as the task may seem at times, however, it is possible to find peace, joy, and connection in a blended family. It just takes time, commitment, and lots of love and understanding. So how can you cultivate a loving, well-adjusted blended family when you have little ones?
Make a Plan
One of the first and most important things to remember when you are trying to integrate families is that you can’t just assume everyone is going to be on the same page. You, your former spouse, their new spouse, your new spouse — each of you will bring your unique values, expectations, and practices to parenting.
Unfortunately, though, unless there’s cohesion among the caregivers, the children will be the ones to pay the steepest price. Without a coordinated parenting plan, you’re setting the stage for confusion and conflict between households. And this can be especially hard on young children, who are just learning to understand the family dynamic and their place within it.
That means that it’s important for the parents in a blended family to come together to define the rules not only within but also between households, including settling on matters such as the stepparent’s role in disciplining their stepchildren.
This should also involve creating predictable and uniform rules which the kids will be expected to abide by, no matter which parent has custody at a given time. For instance, because the internet can pose such a risk to children, parents and stepparents should be prepared to implement standardized online safety protocols, including firewalls, passwords, parental controls, on all devices in all households.
As vital as it is to have a clear plan for house rules and discipline, perhaps the most challenging and the most important concern is the quality of the relationships between the children, their parents, and their stepparents.
When you’re going through a divorce, no matter how amicable, you’re going to experience a fair amount of trauma. And that can have a significant toll, not just on your emotional wellbeing, but also on your relationship with your children. Then, when you remarry, some of those wounds may well resurface with your child.
That’s why, when it comes to blending families, parents and stepparents must meet each child where they may, offering as much understanding, compassion, and support as the child may need during the adjustment period.
And that also means that parents should make a particular effort to spend time with their biological children alone, talking to them about their feelings, asking and answering questions, and simply being together to enjoy the activities that you and your children enjoyed doing together before the divorce and remarriage.
This alone time can also be instrumental in helping your child learn to manage difficult social relationships, including learning to manage conflicts with their biological parents.
But it’s not just about nurturing the relationships between parents and their biological children. Cultivating the bond between stepparents and stepchildren is equally important, though the task may be more daunting, particularly in the beginning.
While older children may feel resentful of someone they may see as an interloper in their relationship with their parent, young children may have difficulty understanding the stepparent’s role in their life. They may not quite understand, for instance, why mommy and daddy no longer live together or why someone else has moved into the home.
For children of any age, though, by far one of the best ways to encourage a strong relationship between stepparents and stepchildren is, once more, alone time. The more time children spend with their parent’s new spouse, the better able they will be to forge a special bond with their new “bonus” parent, a bond that enables the child to expand their circle of parental love without confusion or the fear of hurting or being “disloyal” to their biological parent.
When you’re managing relationships in blended families, you’re also going to need to be sensitive to the reality that the bond between stepsiblings just can’t be forced. Young children may connect with their new brothers and sisters instantly, especially if they are close in age.
But children of any age are likely to resist being expected to embrace a stepsibling as they would a biological sibling before they are ready, before the new sibs have had time to forge their relationship on their own terms and according to their own timetable. To facilitate the process, kids will need space and empathy. And parents should be prepared to provide extra reassurance if and when their children show some jealousy over the growing bond between their bio parent and their stepsiblings.
It’s never easy to build a healthy, happy blended family, especially when you have young children. However, with time, compassion, and care, parents, stepparents, siblings, and stepsiblings alike can forge the unbreakable bonds that go far beyond shared DNA.
Image Source: Pixabay (https://pixabay.com/photos/hands-friendship-friends-children-2847508/)