Over the past few decades, the definition of the word ‘family’ has undoubtedly evolved – and we only have to look at the statistics to understand why. Approximately one in 10 Canadian children are part of a blended family before the age of 14, and one third of American children are by the time they turn 18.
While each family is very unique, we all face similar challenges as we introduce our children and new life partners into what we call a blended family. Whether you are a new parent to your partner’s children or you are introducing your children to step-siblings, these sensitive situations require patience, understanding and teamwork.
As you navigate through the challenges, here are a few basic principles that can help build the foundation for positive connection:
Instilling strong values as parents
As two parents with separate life experiences, it’s inevitable that there will be some differences of opinion in how to raise a child—regardless of the compatibility in your relationship. In blended families, this practice requires a great deal of patience and respect for how the other parent chooses to reward and discipline their own children.
If you find yourself in a situation where you need to discipline your partner’s child, remember that your expectations may not align with the child’s previous family life and so it is important that you let your partner take the lead. Communicate with your partner to find common ground and identify your shared values. What expectations do each of you have around your children’s honesty, household responsibilities, ground rules and more? Identifying these values and communicating them as a team is foundational to establishing your new family dynamic.
Creating a home
Instilling values is foundational, but establishing new day-to-day routines is a task that can take years for new families to become accustomed to. Each member of your new family has their own priorities – work, school, hobbies, friendships and so on. Learning to respect each others time while also setting a precedent for the small but important things – who gets to use the shower first, when family meal time takes place, what time is bed time – is a critical part of family life.
To smooth the process of creating a home, focus on establishing an environment where both partners are consistent and comfortable enforcing home boundaries. This way, each partner can thrive as a responsible caregiver to all children, as a reliable partner to their spouse and as an individual with understanding and security in the family.
Taking time to connect
There are multiple individual relationships that need to be nurtured within a blended family. However, the strength of the blended family unit is most reliant on the relationship between its adult partners. Set time aside with your partner to discuss family issues and try to end each conversation on a positive, constructive note.
Bonding as a whole family is key. But within your blended family, smaller family units exist as well and need to be nurtured. Spending quality time with your own children and maintaining your individual relationships is paramount to their development and growth as individuals. Focus on giving each child within the family equal and plentiful treatment and ensure your partner does so as well.
Nine tips for parenting in blended families:
- Avoid speaking negatively about previous partners – children often take emotional cues from their parents
- Be adaptable and readily switch from husband and wife time to parent and child time
- Patience and perseverance is key to surviving and thriving as a step-family – it may take a while for everyone to come around
- Understand and communicate the values each parent wants to instill in the family
- Establish ground rules (bedtimes, screen time, discipline) as a unit
- Commit to following your parenting guidelines – keep one another in check
- Create new rituals and traditions with your blended family
- Remember that consistency is key
- Anticipate difficult decisions and approach them with patience and understanding
If you are having difficulty navigating these challenges, family counselling is an effective way to ensure everyone feels heard. Family therapy can help open communication between parents and children, foster understanding between family members, reduce conflict at home and develop effective coping strategies for remarriage and blended family transitions. If this sounds beneficial for your family, contact Your Counselling for a free consultation today.