Blended families are often born out of loss. Loss of attachment. Loss of dreams, loss of stability. The couples’ gain – remarriage – is often the children’s loss. No wonder blended families face three times the difficulties when starting out then first families.
A few simple guidelines to help the blending start are:
– Separate households likely will have separate values. Sit with your spouse and figure out what values you want to develop in your home. (compassion, fun, forgiveness, strict rule-following, etc. Think about how the couple wants to run the home).
– Having different values between homes means different rules should be enforced in different homes to fit the parent values. (Trying to enforce the same rules across multiple homes will be difficult to keep tabs on, and make the rules harder to enforce.)
– There can be different rules for different kids in the same household. This means bio-parents stick to disciplining their own children and let the line for step-kids stop at respectful behavior and logistical “asks.”
– Triangulating isn’t all bad: Stepmom can ask bio-dad to enforce house rules on bio-kids. From keeping backpacks picked up, or a house rule of greeting someone when entering a room vs. ignoring them (as an aside: letting step-kids or bio-kids ignore one parent or the other isn’t appropriate).
– Understand, on average, it takes 6 years for blended families to feel comfortable together. It’s okay to feel uncomfortable, it’s not okay to act on discomfort through disrespectful actions.
– Make room for what was. Maybe bio-dad needs time alone with bio-kids and visa versa. Stepparents may feel tired of being excluded but honoring the relationship that came before you may aid you in your ability to blend. Altruism has a way of paying back in kind.
– Parents, stepparents: remember not to take things personally – even if they’re meant to be personal. Set boundaries for what is hurtful to you or unacceptable and let the rest go, or get professional support.
– Set boundaries. Decide how you’ll respond (or not) to things you find inappropriate. Accidentally rewarding negative behavior because you want to jump at the chance for positive interaction doesn’t help anyone.
– Respectful behavior gets cooperation and favors, disrespect doesn’t. Conditional love is a part of acting disrespectfully. Unconditional love comes from mutual understanding of not trying to hurt the other person.
Understand that progress is slow and attaching to a new stepparent is not first and foremost in a kids mind. It’s hard to do when they may be busy grieving their old life and the loss of family as they knew it, or perhaps the Ex is making plays for alienating the kids and ignoring you. However it’s spun, make sure your actions err on the side of controlling your behavior, boundaries that protect your feelings, and actions that reflect end-goals…to blend-in some way, some day.