It is difficult for most families to develop happy and healthy relationships, which is why it is even harder when attempting to blend two families. It can take years and a lot of work for stepfamilies to establish working and comfortable relationships. The hardest years and generally the first few, as there are unique challenges to the couple in getting to know each other, while also trying to nurture the children’s relationships with each other and the stepparents as well. Here are some tips on blending families:
1) Focus on individual relationships
While the ultimate goal is to have one happy family unit, it can be helpful to take things slow and try to nurture individual relationships. Stepparents should take time aside for each stepchild to get to know them and develop a personal connection, away from the rest of the family. Even if it just one hour per week with each child, you will notice a difference. Let the child pick the activity and try to follow their lead, while showing them appreciation and respect. This creates the opportunity to find common interests and a relaxed environment for the child to show you who they really are. This will start the relationship on a stronger foundation.
While building relationships with your stepchildren, each parent should also spend special time with their biological child in the same fashion. This will remind your child how special they are to you, even throughout the household and family changes.
2) Support children in their transitions
Transitioning between two houses is not easy for kids and transition days can be hard on them. This is where most people find that big feelings come out and small things can set the child off. If they start to feel overwhelmed about something that is seemingly small - lean in, make eye contact, and listen to them. Allow them to cry and get their feelings out, which may help them have a more positive day. There could be a noticeable difference when you make room for children to let their feelings out. This may mean that you need extra time on transition days, in case they have big feelings that surface.
3) Find activities that unite stepchildren and stepparents
Look for activities to do together as a family that everyone is happy to participate in. If you know that one child does not like action movies, try to pick a movie that everyone will enjoy. The more interactive the activity, the better. This gives everyone the chance to be involved. It also shows the child that they can have fun with everyone together. This sends children the message that everyone is a unit together. Try to make a habit of planning something together at least once per month and plan it ahead of time to give the children something to look forward to.
4) Always speak of other parents with respect
This can be difficult if you do not have a positive or healthy relationship with your child’s other parent. In the heat of the moment of frustration or anger towards this person, you may want to lash out. It is best if you are able to keep the negative comments away from your children, as they want their parents to be respected (even if there is a lot of conflict). This will prevent them from being in the middle of adult conflict, which ultimately will add stress for them. Even if you are not able to get along with their other parent, you should aim to be respectful towards them in front of your child.
5) Find an outlet
No matter how dedicated you are to blending a family, it can be exhausting and overwhelming. Allow yourself to feel your emotions and give yourself a positive outlet. This can include spending time with friends or engaging in an activity alone. Find something that helps you blow off steam and focus on yourself for a period of time. This will help you stay focused on your relationships because you’re taking the appropriate time to care for your own needs. You can even go to a meet-up or support group for others in your position.
6) Work with a therapist
Going to therapy on your own or as a family can help you sort out your new household roles, learn to set parental boundaries, and discuss finances. Therapy can provide a platform for family members to voice their feelings and allow everyone to be heard. If you involve your children in therapy, they can have a safe outlet to express their fears and concerns. This can help them to better understand their place in the new family unit. Therapy can also help you learn how to build new and loving bonds with your partner and stepchildren.
To work with a therapist who specializes in blending families, click here.