Blended families, consisting of re-married couples with children and step-children, are quickly becoming the norm. The process of forming a new blended family, and in particular starting to cohabit with a new partner and their children, can be very challenging.
These challenges stem from the fact that although remarriage may be a great and exciting experience for parents, children may not necessarily share in the same excitement and expectations. Instead, it can present some great changes to begin with which can lead to feelings of doubt, uncertainty and worry.
Blending a family successfully may not be easy but it is possible and there are proven ways to properly do this. No matter how difficult the situation may seem, understanding the problems and approaching them in the right way will always help to achieve a healthier and smoother transition into a new life as a blended family.
Identify the Challenges of Blending a Family
Age Differences and Role Changes
Large age differences between step-siblings or lesser age differences between a new step-parent and the eldest child can present a challenge in new blended families.
Similarly, an eldest child may find themselves suddenly not the eldest anymore and the youngest, no longer the ‘baby’ of the family. They may find themselves no longer an only child, thrust into a larger family having been used to a one-on-one parent relationship. All of these issues mean changes in family roles and it can be a challenge for children to adjust.
Accepting Changes and Coping With Expectations
It can also be very difficult for children to accept the smaller changes that will occur in the home, such as where vacations should be spent, the weight of a child’s suggestions in family decisions, sharing bedrooms with siblings, attending social gatherings and differences in religion or culture.
The changing family dynamic can leave children feeling insecure about their position within the family and this can often lead to resentment, especially when these feelings are not recognised and openly discussed. Recognising and understanding these natural insecurities, and then caring for and helping each other overcome them, is an important part of achieving a successfully blended family.
It’s important to be open and honest with your partner about any concerns or insecurities and to keep lines of communication open by encouraging your children to express any worries or concerns they have. Good communication can help to avoid misunderstandings and allow you to address any problems which may otherwise lead to bottled feelings of resentment over time.
Practical Ways to Blend a Family Successfully
It’s always helpful to consider how a family will be blended and make plans in advance of cohabiting with a new partner and their children. This will often involve consideration of different parenting styles, and adjustments which may need to be made to ensure a smooth transition. It’s a good idea to discuss some major parenting points and agree an approach to take with the children in advance to avoid conflicting on these issues openly in front of the kids.
For example, you may wish to discuss household rules and agree a position on homework, chores and bedtimes.
Find Common Grounds
A strong starting point to blending a family successfully is to find common ground with your partner by creating a shared list of values with the family.
Starting with shared values is important because it has the power to unite everyone under a common cause. Try identifying your top three matching values, beliefs or family traditions with your partner and discuss how you can apply them to your new blended family.
It takes time to develop love and bonds as a blended family; don’t expect this to happen overnight. A good way of strengthening bonds is to find ways to create happy new and interesting memories together.
At the same time, it’s important to allow opportunities to experience “real life” together. That is, as well as finding fun activities and outings, you should allow enough time for children to fall into a new routine with their step-parent and step-siblings and to experience normal family life.
Insist on Mutual Respect
Although love and bonding may take time, respect doesn’t have to. Both parents must insist on mutual respect in the family from the onset. No individual or family member should feel more or less important than any other. Everyone must feel involved, respected and an important part of the whole family.
Give Enough Time
For parents, as you give a lot of time, energy and love to your partner’s children, they may not reciprocate immediately. Understand that a close relationship will most likely take time to develop. Just ensure that you communicate openly, meet their daily physical, psychological and emotional needs, and give them enough time and space to adjust. A closer bond will come with time.
The prospect of forming a new blended family can seem daunting, however with enough patience, perseverance and care, it is always possible to work through any issues. Creating a functioning blended family takes time and effort, but the bonds that arise are lifelong.
Grayfords can advise on divorce, cohabitation and child contact disputes. For more information on how we can assist, book a free consultation with our family law experts or call our office at 0800 222 9500.
Neil Scott Graham, a partner at Grayfords, comments as follows: “It is difficult enough for children to have to adjust to the breakdown of their parents’ relationship without having to adjust additionally to a step-parent and step-siblings. However, if handled gradually, carefully and in a way that is child focused the evidence points to the fact that being part of a blended family can be a positive experience. Key to assisting children to adjust will be providing them with as much security and consistency as possible in the form of their ongoing school arrangements and routine, friendships amongst their peers and pets and hobbies. Additionally helping children to understand that a step-parent will not be replacing the role of their original parent and that they will still have the opportunity of spending special time with each of their original parents going forwards will be crucial in supporting them to adjust to any change.
There are a number of organisations that provide practical information and support for families that can be accessed via the resources below.
The legal position is that Parental Responsibility and the ability to appoint Guardians will remain with the child’s original parents though advice should be sought if you wish to consider alternative arrangements.”