Struggles with blending families and co-parenting is one of the most common issues we see amongst couples who are remarried or have step children. Sometimes we even hear couples say their relationship is otherwise strong with the exception of the unique challenge of parenting someone else’s children. According to the Pew Research Center in 2015 only 46% of children are living in a home with two married parents in their first marriage. The majority of the rest of families are single parent homes or blended families. Although every blended family is different and special in its own way, there are a few common things that can be done to make the “blending” go as smoothly as possible.
Talk about it with your child:
This one may seem obvious but often times when families are blending, parents may avoid talking about possibilities of the future until it is about to happen. This doesn’t give a child enough time to ask questions or adapt. Conversations about a new relationship should start early and be as honest as is appropriate with your child. If you are seriously considering remarriage, ask your child how they feel about it. Remember they do not get to make the decision for you but including them in discussions about potential changes allows you to glean information on how they are feeling as well as helps them feel included. An example of some things you could cover in these conversations on a blended family includes:
- What’s one thing you’re really looking forward to?
- What’s one thing you aren’t looking forward to?
- What will change in the home?
- How will routines change?
- Will the rules change?
- What will happen during the holidays?
- Will the amount of time you and I get together change?
- Will you have to change bedrooms?
- Who can you talk to if you have a problem?
- Will their school change?
Talk about it with your partner:
Another conversation that needs to happen is between you and your partner. If they are going to become a step parent to your child or children there are discussions about what you both want your blended family to look like. Having these conversations early and often will help keep you and your partner united and will lower your chances of having arguments later on or in front of children. Some points to cover in these discussions include:
- Discuss the non-negotiables in our parenting (i.e., things that have to be included—faith, discipline, communication, etc.)
- What is my role as a father/mother? What do you want that look like? How do you think it should look?
- How will we make major decisions in parenting: as a team, or as independent individuals? Will one of us have more say than the other in specific areas of parenting (i.e., school, discipline, extracurricular activities, etc.)?
- Who will discipline our child? Me, you, or both of us?
- What are acceptable forms of discipline? Time out? Positive reinforcement? Just talking? Spanking?
- How will being parents change our relationship?
- How will we handle any potential negative impacts on our relationship? What is our plan?
Include your child in decisions:
Blending a family is a season of change for you and your children. It may feel to them like they are losing control over their life. This is a common feeling but can result in children acting out and resisting things that they previously had no problem with. A way to help in this is to let your child have a say in as many things as possible. For example, if you are moving homes to live with your new partner, let them pick the paint color in their room. If you are planning a wedding with your new partner, let your child help in picking some smaller details. This helps in multiple ways. For one, it lets your child feel that they do have control of some aspects of their life. This also helps them to feel included in all of the changes that are happening.
Last but not least, be patient. According to Ron Deal, the author of The Smart Stepfamily: Seven Steps of a Healthy Family, it takes about 5 – 7 years for a stepfamily to really settle into a comfortable place. During this journey, no matter how many conversations you have, there will be new issues that come up with new emotions and anxieties. However, if you take these on as a united front, with gentle perseverance and continue to have open dialogue it is entirely possible to have a healthy, happy, and unique blended family!
Blending a family is undoubtedly hard work. If you find yourself struggling at any point along in the process of blending your family or co-parenting in general, we can help. Whether you need assistance in having these conversations with your future partner or children or just need some support during this season of change reach out today to get help. Family Therapy Associates has therapists who specialize in couples work and individual support. Specifically the therapists Ida Holem and Frances Chomic are excellent resources for adolescents and teens who could benefit from added support.