Managing a Healthy Blended Family
Blended families, or stepfamilies, consist of partners with children from one or more different relationships. Being part of a blended family can be both difficult and fulfilling at the same time. On one hand, it can take quite some time for all members of your newly blended family to feel comfortable together and trust each other. On the other hand, it creates an opportunity to give and receive love from more people whom you care for. It may feel like a delicate process, but when done with care, managing a healthy blended family will be rewarding for you, your partner, and your children. Here are some things to think about to help you manage your healthy blended family.
Start off slowly. Bringing your new partner into the lives of your kids and/or you into the lives of your partner's kids should be treated delicately. Multiple family changes all at once is a lot for kids to handle, so don't rush introductions or blending your families too soon. If you're recently separated or divorced from the parent of your children, give it some time before you bring your new partner and new kids into their lives. If a good deal of time has passed and you feel confident in your new relationship, you can start the process of introducing your new partner to your kids and/or meeting your partner's children. Next, you can start to slowly introduce the kids to each other. This might be by way of having a get together at a park or a backyard barbecue so that everyone can get to know each other in a fun, informal setting.
Know that affection takes time to build. You might be worried that your partner's kids dislike you or that the kids don't get along with each other very well. Even more, you might be concerned that you don't like your partner's kids all that much. While this might have you feeling distressed, it is not out of the ordinary. To the kids, they may see the situation as you trying to replace their other parent. This might cause them to act out or be rude to these new people they are meeting. Always be respectful to your partner's kids and talk to your kids about doing the same when it comes to your partner. Get to know your partner's kids, noticing their likes and dislikes. Look for what you might be able to bond with them over, whether it be a similar interest in something like art, books, sports, etc. Over time, the small gestures you make to get to know them and to bond with them will help encourage an affection to grow between you and them.
Create some kind of routine. As part of a newly blended family, you'll want to create some sense of expectation and normality in your home. In the beginning, it might feel awkward to come home to all of these new people. Finding some way to make the situation feel more comfortable will be important, and establishing some kind of routine can help. Sharing a routine with others can make people feel like they are a part of a group, and it can feel quite special. Find something to center your routine around such as regular meals, weekend outings, nightly games, or something else that your whole blended family can enjoy.
Encourage communication within your family and with the other parents. Communication tends to fall in the center of managing a healthy blended family. It is important to know what every family member is feeling in regards to your situation, especially when they are experiencing negative emotions. With your new partner, talk often about how things seem to be going within your blended family. Talk about the kids, observations you've both made, and anything else that pertains to your family. Next, talk to your own and your partner's kids. Make an effort to spend a little one-on-one time with each child just to casually talk about their day and how things have been going. If you notice one child is having a more difficult time adjusting to your situation, give them a little extra focus. Listen to what they each have to say, and acknowledge that their feelings are valid. Keep judgment out of the conversation by encouraging respect and understanding. Always remind them that neither you nor your partner are trying to replace their other parent; instead, let them know that you are another person who will be there to love and support them.
Communication within a blended family is so important, and so is communicating with the other parent of your children. One particular topic that must be discussed is the family schedule in each of your homes. You and your co-parent may already have a working parenting schedule in place, but things like long weekends or holidays could throw a wrench into that agenda. While you might wish to take your blended family on a vacation over spring break, your co-parent may also have the same thought. Communicate early about plans you have in mind and potential scheduling conflicts so that you can tackle the issues before the eleventh hour arrives. Maintaining a shared family calendar can help to make this easier to manage. The shared parenting calendar on the OurFamilyWizard® website allows co-parents to maintain parenting schedules plus events and holiday schedules all in one place. If a trade in parenting time needs to be proposed, there's a tool on the calendar to help you make the proposal without stress and have it documented thoroughly. Your and your co-parent's partners can also be granted access to view your family calendar and stay in the loop of changes made to your schedule. Using a calendar such as this can be a great help in managing a blended family because it helps to make scheduling information available, encourages parents to discuss scheduling issues in a non-hostile environment, and keeps a thorough record of what the family schedule was and what it will be.
Managing a healthy blended family is a process that will take some time to get right. Make introductions slowly, and remember that affection takes time to build between people. Routines will help your blended family start to feel like a cohesive group, and open communication is one of the most important things to encourage within your home. When communicating with the other parent of your children about the family schedule, using a shared online calendar can help you to stay on top of your agenda. Learn more about how the calendar on the OurFamilyWizard® website can help you to manage your blended family's schedule.