Did you know that 16% of American children live in a blended family?
That means that they have one biological parent and one step-parent. It’s a family unit that’s becoming more and more common, and if you’re about to become a blended family you’re definitely not alone!
Blended families can be brilliant for little ones, and some step-parents can become as important as biological parents. But, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy for you, your new partner, or your children. One of the biggest challenges in blended families is setting co-parenting boundaries with your new partner.
Luckily, we’re here to help. Take a look at our tips for setting co-parenting boundaries in new relationships and create a happy blended family.
Before getting into the tips, let’s first take a look at what co-parenting is.
If you’ve been raising your children with their biological parent and working together to bring them up, this is co-parenting. You both have input in decisions made and have a responsibility to look after your little ones. The focus in co-parenting should be entirely on the child, and you usually share equal responsibility for them.
In relationships with two biological parents who are still together, this co-parenting structure is usually simple. Of course, there can still be hiccups, but, in general, it’s a fairly straightforward system. However, when parents divorce, the system can get a little trickier.
One of the bumps that many divorced or single-parents face when bringing up their children is co-parenting with a new partner. It can be hard giving some responsibility for your children’s wellbeing over to someone who isn’t their biological parent, and little ones might find it hard to respect their authority. This is why it’s so important you set boundaries and make sure everyone involved is happy with the new co-parenting setup.
When you find a new partner as a divorced or single parent, there are three relationships you need to take care of.
The first relationship is with the other biological parent. Although they may not be your partner anymore, you still have a relationship with them and a responsibility to consider them in parenting decisions. Keeping them happy is essential to a smooth transition into co-parenting in new relationships.
The second relationship is with your new partner. They may struggle with having a new child in their lives, and you need to be careful to keep them happy with the dynamic, too.
The final relationship, and the most important really, is with your child. This whole dynamic is set up to keep your child happy and make sure you, your ex, and your new partner are all benefiting their lives. It’s important not to forget your child when navigating co-parenting, and we’ll cover more of that later.
Of course, it’s not just these three people who need to be kept happy; you need to keep yourself happy too! You’re just as important, and you need to make sure you’re adding yourself to your list of priorities.
All of these relationships need to be healthy, and everyone included during the co-parenting process. When setting boundaries, be sure to consider each person and how they’ll be affected. Now, let’s dive into how you can set healthy boundaries with your new partner.
Before setting boundaries with your new partner, always talk to the other biological parent first (to make things easier, we’ll refer to this person as your ex, even if they may not be). They should have just as much input into how your child is raised, and introducing a new partner to your parenting dynamic should always be discussed with them. Address any concerns your ex might have and how involved they’d like this new partner to be, as well as the contact between your new partner and your ex.
If your ex is unhappy with you having a new partner, try to limit their contact. Avoid bringing them to drop-offs and pick-ups, don’t mention them frequently, and avoid bringing them to events (such as school plays) until the relationship is serious.
If your ex is fine with the relationship and you’re able to maintain a friendship with them, you’ll be able to discuss co-parenting more freely. Ask for their advice, discuss the boundaries you’re thinking of setting, and keep communication open with them about your new partner’s involvement in your little one’s life. When it comes to how to co-parent, you two should already be pretty good at it, so your ex’s advise could be very useful!
The most important person (or people) to consider here is your child. Make sure you talk to them before introducing a new partner into their life, and never force a partner onto your little ones. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a relationship if your child isn’t happy with it, but just don’t force them to spend time with the new partner or be happy with them – it’ll be much easier if they can do that in their own time.
Make changes slowly and always keep your little ones involved. Start with a small meeting in a park or somewhere your child is happy and familiar with. Get them used to your new partner before inviting them into your home, and make sure they know that they are still your priority.
In terms of boundaries, it can be good to discuss this with your child, too, as long as they’re old enough. Ask them what kind of relationship they hope to have with your new partner once it’s serious, and what kind of things your new partner could do that would overstep your child’s own boundaries. Be sensitive to these and make your partner aware of how your child is feeling.
It’s easy to consider others when co-parenting, but setting boundaries is about your preferences, too! Take some time to consider how much of a parental role you’d like your new partner to have and how much input you’re happy with them having in your child life. Here are some questions to ask yourself that should help determine your own boundaries:
Working out what kind of a role you want your new partner to have is vital. If you aren’t happy with them taking a strong parental role, consider whether it would be fair to let them move in with you and your child. Or, if you don’t like the idea of them discipline your child, can you leave them alone together?
Once you’ve answered your own set of questions, you’ll be better able to talk to your partner about setting boundaries for co-parenting.
From the get-go, you should be honest with your new partner about your child. Let them know that your little one will always come first and they’re your priority – and if your partner doesn’t like that, you might have to reconsider whether this is the right relationship for you. Remember to let them know that they will be a priority, though, and that you’ll make sure to put aside plenty of quality time for the relationship.
Once you’re settled into your relationship, it’s time to broach the meeting between your child and your new partner. This is a great time to see how your partner will cope with you splitting your time and doing things as a family. If they’re up for it, that’s great!
Discuss how the meeting will go and make sure your new partner knows not to be too pushy with your little one. Bonds aren’t usually formed immediately, so you’ll all have to be patient. Remember, only ever introduce a new partner to your children if it’s serious, and if it is, then it’ll be worth waiting for your child to come around on their own.
Remember, not all partners will want to be involved with your child. Some might be excited at the opportunity to embrace a new family and become a brilliant stepdad, while others might be nervous or not really up for it. Before you move forward, make sure to discuss how your partner feels, and let them know what you want from them too.
This is the right time to align your thinking so that you’re on the same page. If your partner is up for becoming a co-parent and wants to be involved, you can then move onto setting boundaries. If they’re not, look at how you can create a solution to this, which could be living apart until they’re ready to be more involved.
Discipline is one of the most tricky boundaries to negotiate. Every parent has their own idea on how to discipline their child, and you need to make sure your partner is aware of your rules. If not, chaos is bound to ensue!
Discuss bad behaviour in your child that you have to punish. For example, you might only let them have an hour of TV, and if you have a tantrum about wanting to watch more, you have a system in place to discipline them. The key takeaway here is that your partner won’t come into their new role knowing how to treat your child in these situations, but that you have to teach them.
You should also learn about your partners own discipline techniques if they have children. If you’ll all be living together, you need to get on the same page about what behaviour is punished and what isn’t, and the punishments that are given. You want to create a fair environment for your little ones, so this is a must!
If they don’t have kids, discuss how much of a role your new partner will take in discipline your child. Make sure that they’re prepared to discipline when you’re not around, but set limits on their input. A very strict partner imposing new rules on your child is probably going to cause some friction, so make sure this doesn’t happen if you’re not comfortable with it.
Co-parents often need to share a lot of information about their child, so you need to make sure you’re happy with this. If your new partner is going to have an active role in your child’s life, they need to be kept up to date. If you’re worried about forgetting this, use a collaborative calendar to keep them in the loop and make them feel included.
If you’re already using co-parenting tools with your ex, should your new partner be included? Make sure you speak to your ex before giving them permission to use the tools to avoid any arguments.
Learning how to co-parent is all about communication. As you start this journey together, keep checking in with one another to see what’s working and what isn’t. You should keep up regular chats with your child too, making sure they’re comfortable with the new dynamic and don’t have any changes they wish to make.
Creating co-parenting boundaries between everyone involved in your child’s life – including the child! – is vital to creating a harmonious family life. Hopefully, these tips will help you do just that, but if you need more help, be sure to check out the 2Houses blog for more tips and tricks.
To make co-parenting easier, both with biological parents and new partners, be sure to check out our range of collaborative tools. We’ve created features to help you share your expenses, keep other parents up to date with your child’s progress, and create a more communicative family even after divorce.
Create a parenting schedule