Families today can look very different than they have historically been represented. Our society contains variations of the nuclear family, sometimes broken down and reassembled into new, blended family units. The definition of a family has certainly changed, for better or worse, however in doing so, new challenges have been created. There are few things as challenging as blending a family as the result of finding a new love. A second marriage (or third or fourth) will offer many challenges, not the least of which will be developing successful relationships with your significant others children, or between them and your children.
There are some important guidelines that can help you navigate these turbulent waters. The first step is to identify your particular pitfalls and discover how best to handle them.
Anyone who has experienced the death of a committed relationship can tell you it’s an emotional roller coaster. When there are children involved, the roller coaster seems to be short a seat belt or two. After a first marriage fails, for whatever reason, it takes a special sort of bravery to go out and find a new love. Once we’ve found another special someone we want to share our lives (and those of our children) with, we enter a starry-eyed phase where we believe our future can be nothing but bright. It’s normal, but we need to reign in our enthusiasm a bit and ensure our expectations are realistic.
Here are some typical expectations that may not be entirely realistic, but nonetheless are part of the sunshine and rainbows a new relationship can reflect:
Unfortunately, most of these are just pie in the sky concepts. Most often, even if all the others are true in your particular situation, it’s the expectation that the new children will immediately accept you and love you. The best thing you can do for your new blended family is give your “new” children plenty of time to adjust to the new dynamic. It may even take a year or two, but the resulting relationship is worth the wait.
While you are sailing blissfully into a new relationship, your children are fostering hopes and fears of their own.
The best prevention is to spend time discussing your expectations, and even fears, with your new partner. It’s also highly recommended that you revisit the conversation if any problems arise. Don’t let things fester. Most of the wonderful things you want for your new blended family aren’t going to happen overnight. Have the patience and perseverance to keep working through any challenges that arise and ensure lines of communication remain open throughout the family.
You should also spend alone time with your own children to discuss any issues that may come up. Even if they don’t feel comfortable discussing their fears with you, encourage them to talk to someone and perhaps find them a counselor. Usually, once they know someone is listening and they aren’t going to lose you in the process, they’ll typically resolve their issues pretty easily.
One of the more predictable reactions to a blended family, insider/outsider syndrome can affect all your relationships in the family. As a new couple, creating a sense of family togetherness is your first challenge. If unsuccessful, your image of a happy family can quickly devolve, with everyone feeling like an outsider.
Potentially, the step-parent can feel like an outsider stepping into a secret club without the rule book. The history shared can overwhelm any feelings of togetherness if the step-parent is always left out or ignored. Challenges can also arise if discipline isn’t shared or if one spouse undermines the efforts of the other. Define each others roles and limitations up front and support each other in all things, consistently.
Children can feel like outsiders of a new relationship, especially if custody is shared with the ex. While you may enjoy your “kid free” time, when they return they can’t feel like they just interrupted something. Your kids are more sensitive than you realize and you would serve them well to make the effort to make them feel welcome and valued no matter what was going on while they were gone.
Keep in mind that children that take extended visits with the non-custodial parent will foster some feelings of resentment, and ensure all members of your new family feel connected and part of the family unit. Depending on their ages, this may take some work. Parents will need to be aware of the various perspectives of their family members, both new and old. The role of mediator and the responsibility of maintaining a functioning family structure falls to the biological parent, each knowing their children best, to ensure smooth integration and inclusion in the family unit. It’s not an easy tightrope to navigate, but maintaining open lines of honest communication will go a long way to smoothing the landscape.
Yes, a blended family offers many diverse challenges, but succeeding in bringing everyone together is such a rewarding goal that it makes all your efforts worthwhile. Be patient, endeavor to understand the various points of view your family will encompass, and love each other. Make the effort to be supportive of each other and be a compassionate listener.
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