Blended families (consisting of a couple and their children from this and all previous relationships) have become increasingly common and bring about a difficult balancing act between the new spouse, the new stepchildren, and their own kids.
We’ve recently become a blended family. As a new stepparent, what can I do to make the transition as smooth as possible for everyone concerned?
We have several suggestions, but ultimately the key is to be patient. The task of building a successful blended family is complicated and difficult even under the most ideal circumstances, so it will require plenty of time. Here are some points to consider:
Have realistic goals.
Don’t expect to become “one big happy family” overnight. Keep the lines of communication open and discuss your hopes and dreams together with the understanding that everyone in the family needs to stay flexible. Blending is possible, but it’s not automatic and can’t be forced. It has to arise out of the slow process of forging genuine, honest relationships with one another.
Allow sufficient time for grieving.
A new marriage is always full of hope and promise, but in your case the joy is necessarily muted by the memory of what’s been left behind. The kids in particular should have permission to mourn the break-up of their original family and the loss of everything that was associated with it – house, neighborhood, friends, school, etc. This could take up to a year or more in some cases.
Stay aware of your own emotions.
Parents who are too “outwardly focused” can overlook personal thoughts, fears, or perceptions that may hold a key to effective blending. Be sensitive to internal variables but don’t be too sensitive. Avoid the forced use of titles like “Ma” or “Pa.” Don’t take it personally if a stepchild isn’t comfortable calling you by such names in the beginning. If it happens at all, it will have to happen gradually. If it doesn’t, be willing to negotiate an alternative together.
Take special measures to give lots of affection to everyone in your new family.
Spend time alone with your spouse, working on your “couple” relationship, and making marital intimacy a priority. Also devote plenty of attention to your own kids, if any, so they don’t feel abandoned in your attempt to bond with your new stepchildren. When you show affection to your stepchildren, don’t try to “prove yourself” to them, and don’t make them feel as if they have to “earn” your love. Overall, be genuine and create an environment of respect where everyone can share their feelings openly and honestly.
Make an intentional effort to begin building a history together.
Part of what makes a family feel like a family are common experiences and shared memories, so start looking for ways to build a sense of “us” and “we” among the members of your household. Plan trips. Play games. Establish holiday traditions. Take lots of pictures. Don’t try to erase memories of the “old” family but simply work hard to build a new one together.
For further support, feel free to contact Focus on the Family’s Counseling Department at 6491 0700 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Copyright © 2010, Focus on the Family. Used with permission from Focus on the Family Singapore (www.family.org.sg), a local charity dedicated to helping families thrive through differentiated programmes, trusted resources and family counselling.