Improving Loving Bonds in Blended Families
Love is the great unifying force, and one of the most difficult groups of people to unify has always been the blended family. When two adults come together, bringing their individual children from previous relationships with them into the new union, a host of new challenges arise. As much as we’d all like to believe that the new family will blend perfectly and live happily ever after, that’s rarely the case, especially in the early years of living together. That doesn’t mean a deeper love and more compassionate way of relating to each other can’t be achieved; people do it all the time. It just takes some extra attention to a few important details in order to bring more love and better connection to your blended family.
Don’t try to be a replacement parent
Regardless of how good or bad the other parent might have behaved, you shouldn’t try to replace them in your stepchild’s life. It’s impossible to replace the other parent’s role and honestly, the child doesn’t want you to. Trying to be a second mom or dad will come off as intrusive to a child who wanted nothing more than for his family to say together. Sometimes it’s best to think of yourself instead as a mentor or leader who guides without demanding. When devising strategies to rear stepchildren and help everyone get along, it’s often best to think of a blended family as a family within a family.
Agree on discipline up front
Don’t assume your style of discipline will work with your stepchildren. Speak with your new spouse about the methods and rules that were in place before you came together and how you can remain consistent with that approach or modify it in a way that works for both of you and isn’t a drastic change for the child.
Build individual relationships
In newly blended families, the tendency is to want everyone to get along right away as one big happy family. Trying to make everything work all at once not only creates an enormous amount of stress (and disappointment), it’s impossible. Instead, try to set aside time to spend with your stepchildren individually to get to know who they are and what they’re like away from the family. Let them choose the activity. As you follow their lead and allow them to reveal themselves to you, they’ll grow in appreciation and respect for your efforts. This also provides an opportunity to find common interests.
Support children in the transition
If your stepchild has an emotional meltdown on the day he or she is supposed to go to the other parent’s house, allow them the dignity of their own emotional process. Blended families are stressful for everyone, and bouncing back and forth between homes is not easy for a child whose sense of stability has been shaken. Be present and listen. Build extra time into your schedule to plan for a possible emotional outburst so you can be attentive to the child instead of snapping at him because you feel rushed.
Choose uniting activities
It’s great if your spouse and her daughter have a standing invitation to go swimming every Saturday, but spending too much time alone with a biological child in a blended family can leave the stepparent feeling like the odd person out. While it might not be a good idea to insert yourself into these special moments, be sure to plan activities that you all can enjoy, as well.
Find someone to confide in
Even in the best of blended families, there will be stress. Find someone you trust outside the family that you can share with. When your stress is properly discharged, you’ll be able to go back into the family refreshed, more attentive and as a better stepparent and spouse.
Always speak well of the other parent
Never speak negatively of the other parent in your stepchild’s presence. All children want their parents to be respected and will interpret any criticism of their parent as disloyalty from you and a judgment upon them, at least by association. If the other parent is no longer in the child’s life for whatever reason, assure him or her that the parent still loves them even though it’s not possible for them to be a part of each other’s lives.
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