With a high rate of divorces and remarriages, family units today have become far more complex. This is especially true for people who have had a few marriages and some children during this process. When young children are involved, integrating a blended family can become quite challenging. Often, children are resistant to change, which can lead to anger, despair, and frustration. Bonding with your spouse, step-children, and step-parents requires time and patience.
Here are some tips on how to integrate a blended family:
- Develop a strategy: Start planning before you get married if you want a smooth integration of your blended family. Introduce your family to your partner’s family before the actual wedding, as this will help you identify the areas that need more work. Don’t rush into a marriage without first laying down the foundation for your children, or everyone will be miserable. Most experts recommend a slow and gradual integration approach over weeks or even months.
- Talk to your kids: Don’t just tell them what’s about to happen but ask them to express how they feel about it, raise concerns and give their input. Children of different ages and gender tend to adjust differently because their emotional and physical needs are different. It is important for both partners to openly communicate with the children and adjust the integration. The ultimate goal is to establish trust among the children; without trust, blending is almost impossible.
- Discuss living arrangements: A new home environment for a child can be frightening and can lead to withdrawal. After marriage, you may need to move into a bigger house, have separate rooms for the teens and shared rooms for the small children. All this needs to be discussed and communicated. Everybody’s role in the new household may have to be defined. It is also important to remember that the change is not only for the children; parents will also need to change their parenting style and be more compromising and tolerant.
- Plan your finances: Blended families are often larger families requiring more of everything, including a bigger vehicle, a bigger home, more groceries etc. Therefore, you need to manage your finances properly to ensure everyone’s needs are fulfilled, whether school fees, medical care, and/or other activities. Not considering finances before moving in as a blended family can lead to arguments, conflicts, and disharmony.
- Establish rules around discipline.: Sometimes, children may put you in a position where you have to choose between your partner or them. This is where you need to establish clear boundaries to avoid ultimatums and remind the children that both parents will play a role in their lives. While you cannot force the children to like their step-parent or step-siblings, you must ensure they still respect each other. Also, the parenting style of both parents should complement each other, or the children may favor one parent over another, which can lead to more complications.
- Make everyone feel included: No matter what you do, always include all the children in any discussion. Excluding some children can lead to resentment and bitterness. Children generally adjust to the prospect of a new family, but the onus is on you to be open with them, offer them security, love and give them ample time for a successful transition.
- Create new family traditions; Establishing regular family routines, activities, and rituals can help improve bonding with your new stepchildren and closely integrate the family as a whole. Plan to incorporate at least one new family ritual regularly, such as Sunday visits to church, a Saturday brunch, a day with grandparents etc. Regular family gatherings can open up means of communication with others and help families connect.
- Expect challenges: Be realistic when integrating a blended family. You may have fallen in love with your new partner right away but do not expect your children or stepchildren to do the same. With children, the development of love and affection takes time and patience. Do not be disheartened. Children take time to adapt to new family environments. The small investments in openness and communication you make today will pay off a bigger dividend in the future.
- Limits and boundaries: Sometimes, children may not respect boundaries or feel that they do not need limits, but for the successful upbringing of children, you need to set some basic rules. Initially, each parent should enforce the rules with their children, but they should be consistently applied. If you encounter conflicts and resistance or struggle, don’t be afraid to get help from a professional trained in family dynamics and those with expertise in human development and family studies.
- Acknowledge loss: If both spouses are divorced or have a deceased spouse, children will experience a loss if a new partner is brought into the picture. This is because they have a natural sense of loyalty to the other parent. It’s important to acknowledge this so that the children don’t feel like you have replaced the other parent. Remember that children also grieve, so you should give them time and space to adjust and accept the changes.
- Share each other’s culture: If your new partner is from another culture or ethnicity, create a space for both cultures. This will help children from both families learn about each other and become more welcoming and respectful of any differences that may exist.
Blending a family requires time and patience. By building trust and offering security, the process of integration can be easier and more successful.