A blended family, also known as a stepfamily, is a family formed when two people come together and bring a child or children from previous relationships. When a blended family is formed, your children might be of the same age group or have major age differences, and you might also have a child together.
Forming a blended family has its share of rewards and challenges. Both the parents and the children face challenges as they adjust to new relationships and new environments. Children may find it difficult to accept a new step-parent as the one in charge, whereas the step-parents may have a hard time parenting unfamiliar children.
To ease the transition, communicating expectations and ensuring that children understand the role of their step-parent is necessary. Step-parents can show affection non-physically by encouraging and showing respect to their stepchildren.
Benefits of a Blended Family
Being part of a blended family comes with its share of benefits. They include:
A healthier parental relationship. Single parents recovering from divorce or the death of their spouses experience difficulties parenting alone. Having a partner can help them find comfort. In addition, bringing two families together can reduce the stress for both parents. A successful blended family is also determined in part by the quality of the new marriage. Children benefit from seeing their parents happy.
Financial support. Blended families create a room for extra support for parents and children. Remarrying helps parents combine their resources which may provide financial security for the family. The increased income results in more growth opportunities and less financial stress.
More people to relate with. Blended families provide children with a greater number of responsible and loving adults in their lives. Relating with more people also teaches children to be more flexible and tolerant. Extended families can offer childcare for working parents. A network of support can also be created to teach and nurture children. Having more family members means more love, which is an advantage for any child.
Problem-solving. Children growing up in a blended family learn to solve conflicts and relate with different people. As a result, they develop good problem-solving skills. Extended families also provide children with more role models.
Challenges of a Blended Family
Every type of family has its challenges, and a blended family is not an exception. Due to differences in age, personality, development, etc., the following are challenges you are likely to encounter in a blended family:
Different parenting styles
It is common for step-parents in blended families to often have disagreements with children. This causes the parents to feel angry, frustrated, and confused. To avoid this stress, parents in blended families should communicate clearly with their children about expectations and responsibilities.
Competition for attention
As a parent, you may find yourself with more children in need of your attention after finding another partner, and those children may have a hard time adjusting to the changes occurring in their home. You can create time to connect, though, and find out how they are adjusting, show compassion, and do some meaningful family activities together. This will help them have a smooth transition.
Conflicts between children
Children may have conflicts with each other. Joining a blended family can be tough, especially for children who have never shared a parent.
To avoid unnecessary conflict, do not compare one child to another. Set limits when a line is crossed and uphold consistent consequences.
While all this is happening, draw encouragement from the random acts of kindness that your kids show to each other.
Grief and loss after divorce or death
Divorce outcomes can take a toll on both children and their parents. They not only grieve the loss of their partner but also their old life, family homes, and lost relationships with children, friends, and family.
Children undergoing this difficult transition may exhibit some developmental and emotional problems. They may experience sleep difficulties, trouble at school, self-injury, anger outbursts, and defiant behaviors.
Parents ought to understand how children are dealing with the loss so that they can offer support to their children.
Planning Your Blended Family
When planning to start a blended family, it’s important to consider everyone involved. Giving yourself and your children time to heal and prepare them for the new family is important. Remember, it may take more time than expected for everyone to get along. Be patient and give your children time to adjust to the new norm.
The following are some of the things you can do when planning to start a successful blended family out on the right foot:
- Don’t be in a hurry to adore your partner’s children. Instead, be more interested in getting to know them. Love and affection come naturally.
- Do more real-life activities together. Introduce activities that bring everyone in the family together. This will give the parents and children more time to bond.
- Discuss parenting changes with your partner before marrying. It’s important to come to terms with your partner about how you intend to parent. This allows any necessary adjustments to be made before marrying, easing the transition for your children.
- Discourage ultimatums. You may find yourself in a situation where your partner or children make you feel you have to choose between them. Always remind them they are both important parts of your life.
- Avoid rigid or lofty expectations. Adjusting to being part of a new family is not an easy task for anyone, especially children. Giving children a lot of time, energy, love, and affection is not a guarantee that they will give the same back to you immediately. However, giving children the support they need may help them adjust to being part of a new family. Communicate openly, meet their security needs, and give them the time they need to make a smooth transition.
- Mandate respect toward each other. Fondness may take time, but you can always insist on respect and civility.
Parenting in Stepfamilies
Forming a stepfamily with young children may be easier than connecting with adolescent children due to the difference in their developmental stages. Older adolescents often prefer separating from their families as they experience these developmental changes. Younger adolescents forming their own identities can be even more difficult to deal with.
Establishing a relationship that is similar to a friend or counselor with your child is beneficial, rather than becoming a disciplinarian. Parents may also agree on letting the custodial parent remain responsible for control and discipline until both the children and step-parent form a good family bond.
A successful blended family is not easy to set up. However, with patience, understanding, and respect, every member of the family will start to have an easier time with each other.