by Colleen M. Story
he Stepfamily Foundation states that 1,300 new stepfamilies form every day and that over 50 percent of U.S. families are remarried or re-coupled. Smart Stepfamilies notes that about one-third of all weddings in America today form stepfamilies.
Though a stepfamily can be a blessing, it can also be a huge challenge. Even if everyone lives under the same roof, members can still feel like from two separate families. Bridging the gap between the two takes time, effort, and patience, but with the right approach, the results can be well worth it.
Is It Possible to Achieve a Complete Blend?
Though parents hope that eventually, their new family can feel the same unity as their original families, experts suggest keeping expectations realistic. Family bonds take time to form, and each family brings their own history into the mix. In a traditional family, the couple gets to know themselves first before children come along. In a blended family, the parent-child connections are well established, while the new couple forms.
This makes a blended family much different and presents new challenges with which all members are unfamiliar. Children typically need more time to adjust than adults do, particularly after a divorce or separation. They may be facing numerous changes in their lives, including not only the separation of their parents, but potentially new living arrangements new schools and new neighborhoods, all of which can make blending more difficult.
Loyalty issues are also likely to get in the way, with children worrying that forming a relationship with the new parent means that they’re somehow being disloyal to the original one. Considering these challenges, it’s no wonder that blending a family can feel extremely difficult and stressful.
5 Ways to Bring Kids Together in a Blended Family
To help smooth over the transition and encourage new family bonds to form, try these five tips.
1 Don’t Add Too Many Changes
As families come together for the first time, it can be tempting to clear the slate and implement new routines and rules, but it’s best to resist. Children are already dealing with a number of big changes in their lives—changes that encourage feelings of insecurity—and adding more may prove too challenging. Instead, allow the old routines and rules to stand for some time until things start to feel more settled down. Then, and only as needed, gradually add in any necessary changes.
2 Be Patient
It can be particularly difficult when children act out or rebel against the new family. Remember what the children are going through, and how upsetting all the changes have likely been for them. Try to be extremely patient, and let the children set the pace for how quickly new relationships will form. Expect that things will probably not go the way you planned. Stay flexible, be willing to compromise, and be sure to take time out for yourself now and then to relax and regroup.
3 Keep the Lines of Communication Open
Good communication is critical if the blended family is to succeed. Parents should try to model good communication skills themselves, taking turns talking and listening, making sure what is said is completely understood, and avoiding blaming and name-calling. It can also help to put into place unique ways for family members to communicate with one another, such as a centrally located whiteboard, letters written and opened once a week at a family meal, and a complaint and praise box. When necessary, seek counseling.
4 Focus on Individual Relationships
Though it is important to do things together as a family, it’s also important to focus on individual relationships. Stepparents should make a point to spend time alone with their stepchildren away from the rest of the family. Setting up activities that the individual child will enjoy, and taking time out to enjoy those activities together, creates a space that feels relaxed and less stressful, where the bonds of a relationship can start to form.
5 Find Activities that Unite the Family
Since each family will have their own individual traditions, blended families are encouraged to establish new traditions and holidays. They may celebrate the day they all moved in together, or decide that a holiday like Valentine’s Day or Memorial Day will now be made extra special. Consider starting new traditions like a big Sunday breakfast or a monthly trip to a local fun spot like the amusement park or zoo. Allow the children to suggest ideas, and gradually the new family will start to feel more cohesive.