When people remarry and blend families, it can be challenging. The greatest challenges tend to occur in families with children less than 18 years old. Here are some suggestions that might help.
- Talk about things before your remarriage.
Talk openly with your children and future spouse about what they expect and what they fear. Ask each of them how they picture future family life. You may be able to calm some fears, but it is realistic to expect some tough times ahead. Let everyone know that they probably will feel awkward around one another and that it will take time to adjust to the changes. Never ask your child for permission to remarry.
- Do not expect everything to be perfect.
Your child will likely have negative feelings toward your new spouse and new living arrangements. These feelings are common and natural. Let your child express them. If children can’t tell you what’s bothering them, you can’t figure out solutions.
Give your child permission to look upon a new stepparent initially as a friend rather than co-parent. Solid relationships take time. It takes several years to become a cohesive, interdependent family unit. Shared memories and experiences help build the foundation.
When you first blend families, it is usually best for the natural parent to discipline the children. In this way, child and stepparent are not set up for fights and hurt feelings. As the relationship between child and stepparent grows, co-parenting becomes more realistic.
- Stay patient and flexible.
A normal family routine is next to impossible with a blended family at first. Understand that your children have a lot of adjustments to make. They may go back and forth between 2 sets of homes and parents. They may have new brothers and sisters, and their parent is paying attention to someone new instead of to them. The new family may have different ways of doing things than what the child may expect or prefer. Give your natural child or stepchild ample time and space to adapt.
- Spend one-on-one time with each family member.
A strong bond between you and your new spouse is important. While parenting issues will be a challenge, don’t let your marriage suffer. Spend time together away from the children. Plan a weekend getaway or meet for lunch or dinner.
Plan individual activities with each child, whether natural or step. Spending time one-on-one helps you talk about things that might not come up in front of other family members. It also helps you get to know each other better.
- A stepparent does not replace the birth parent.
Children of divorce will still have a relationship with the natural parent. A child should not be asked to carry messages from one household to another. Let your child know that loving the birth parent does not mean hating the stepparent. And loving the stepparent does not mean disloyalty to the birth parent. Older school-age children seem to have the most problems with this.
All parents, whether natural or step, need to accept the fact that each will play some role in their child’s life. It is important for all parents to communicate and cooperate for the good of the children.
- Books can help.
Read books together about stepfamilies. There are books on the subject for children, teens, and adults.
Written by Donna Warner Manczak, PhD, MPH. Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2006-10-16
Last reviewed: 2010-07-12 This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional. References
Pediatric Advisor 2011.4 Index
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