By Rosalind Sedacca, CDC
There are twenty million blended families in the United States alone. That number has more than doubled over the past twenty years. Some project that blended families will become the norm, or at least a majority, within the next decade. Regardless of the statistics, blended families are a growing reality in our society.
Blended family challenges can be overwhelming if not handled with awareness and sensitivity for all concerned. Whether you’re a step-parent, step-child or step-sibling, you face issues that other families do not encounter.
10 Tips For Parents & New Partners!
Here are some suggestions especially for parents and their partners entering a blended family. They will help minimize problems and tension within your new family unit.
1. BE PATIENT: Don’t expect to be the Brady Bunch right from the start. Allow your family members time to adjust to a new reality and new people sharing the same space.
2. PLAN AHEAD: Discuss family rules and rituals before you make the move into one home. Set agreements and expectations – address questions and upsets – so no one is surprised by the inevitable areas of confusion that are likely to come up once cohabitation begins.
3. DON’T DISCIPLINE: If you’re not the parent, don’t discipline your partner’s children. Kids will rarely accept that level of parenting from the “new” Mom or Dad. Their biological parent needs to maintain discipline and agreed upon rules and not expect to you to step in.
4. EXPECT JEALOUSY: Jealousy and insecurity inevitably rear up in blended families. Adults can feel threatened by the children of their new partner. Not surprisingly children can also feel afraid of losing their parent to a new spouse. No one should have to choose between their child and their partner. Spread your love abundantly and communicate responsibly.
5. ADDRESS CHALLENGES: Have family meetings to discuss tensions, insecurities and other adjustment issues. Bring these challenges into the open and share your feelings about them. Asking others to be honest about theirs, opens the door to understanding that everyone in the family is making adjustments. No one is alone in feeling unsure about the future – or wrong for feeling anxiety.
6. SPEAK OUT: Don’t be a martyr and keep your feelings in. Talk about what you need and expect. Find out what others want, as well. Create a dialogue that addresses issues as they come up. Avoid burying emotions and grudges until they explode in toxic behavior.
7. BE YOURSELF: Forget the Mary Poppins image and just be who you are. Avoid overcompensating or allowing yourself to be stepped upon due to guilt or the desire to be accepted. It takes time to win the respect of your partner’s children. It happens through the reality of your day-by-day behavior and attitude.
8. STEP AWAY: Know your boundaries. Detach yourself from issues that are not yours. Let your partner deal with their children when you don’t own the problem.
9. BE FLEXIBLE: Fine-tune your strategies, rules and approaches to conflict on a regular basis. Learn from what worked – and didn’t – and adapt your game plan accordingly. Remember, you’re the adults. Don’t expect the children to take responsibility for correcting situations that need addressing. Seek professional counsel as a support system. Innocent lives are at stake.
10. LIGHTEN UP: Have a sense of humor. Know which battles are worth fighting – and which to shrug off with a grin. Smiles can be contagious and reduce tension during tough times.
Honor the other divorced parent as well!
BONUS TIP: Be respectful of the divorced parent at all times. Honor their place in their child’s heart — and life. Kids can love many adults at one time so avoid confrontations and power plays. That’s a gift every child deserves. And there’s no greater lesson for them to learn than watching loving adults making mature decisions!
With these tips in mind, you can avoid many of the headaches that come with a blended family. They will help everyone enjoy the many rewards that can be found in your expanded family dynamic!
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Rosalind Sedacca, CDC is a Divorce & Parenting Coach and Founder of the Child-Centered Divorce Network. She is the author of How Do I Tell the Kids About the Divorce? A Create-a-Storybook Guide to Preparing Your Children – With Love! To get her free ebook on Post-Divorce Parenting, and learn about her coaching services, programs and other valuable resources on divorce and parenting issues, visit https://www.childcentereddivorce.com.