Anyone can start a blended family. Actually getting everyone to blend is a bigger challenge.
When you become the spouse or partner of a parent, it’s entirely normal to feel a mix of emotions. You might be excited to have these kids in your life, and anxious about how to not step on the toes of their other parent. Maybe you’re worried about how to discipline the kids, or nervous they won’t get along with your family. Your top priority, though, is probably to form a loving and respectful relationship with the new kids in your life.
As one of the adults at the head of a new blended family, it’s up to you to nurture the relationships you have with your partner’s kids. A few simple strategies, and a lot of patience, will help you get there.
Kids need consistency and boundaries to feel safe and secure. Establishing boundaries will also protect you from having to make up rules and punishments on the fly, which creates tension.
First, talk to the other parent about the kind of household you want to create. Make a list of house rules that are important to both of you, and talk about what the consequences will be when someone breaks a rule. Next, bring the family together to talk about the rules. Give everyone a chance to talk. Ask kids to share the things they feel they need from you to feel safe and comfortable. Ideally, you’ll schedule regular family get-togethers so everyone has a chance to air any grievances rather than letting them fester.
To bring your entire blended family together, focus on strengthening the individual relationships between all of you. Find common activities or interests that you can share with each child. If one kid loves sports, buy season tickets for a local baseball or basketball team. If another is into reading, make a point to schedule weekly library trips for the two of you.
If you have kids of your own, encourage them to form individual relationships with their new step-siblings. Even if it’s just asking a pair of them to join you for a grocery-shopping trip, give them plenty of chances to spend one-on-one time together.
Blending two households and establishing new dynamics is stressful! But if months go by and the kids don’t see you do anything but worry and talk about rules, they’re not going to be inclined to bond with you.
Find unexpected ways to inject some fun and laughter into your shared life. Announce a surprise beach trip one day, or decide that the first Saturday of every month will be a family fun day. Play silly board games and ask kids to show you their favorite funny movies.
Kids had a whole life with their parent before you arrived on the scene. Part of forming a bonded blended family is showing each other respect for your individual pasts. So be careful to allow plenty of space and time for kids and your partner to have together. Encourage them to have meals alone and to take trips by themselves, to show the kids that you’re not trying to wedge yourself into their relationship.
It’s also important to not expect too much, too soon. Hopefully the kids will grow to love and trust you, and each other, but you can’t rush those things. It might take years to establish a really close and loving relationship. That’s worth the wait.
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