Yours + Mine = Ours

Shari Macneall

Blended families are more common now than ever before as many marriages include children from previous relationships. There are wonderful aspects to building your life together as a family, but not without some challenges.

Congratulations!  Now that you’ve met the person you want to share your life with, you need to come up with a game plan.  It’s vital that you and your partner sit down together in private and hash out your child-rearing and discipline expectations prior to moving in together.

An important first step is to create clear boundaries and to discuss household rules. Disagreements between parents about discipline often invite manipulation from the kids, who quickly learn to pit adults against one another to get what they want.  This is where it is crucial you have discussed your parenting values, and know they are on the same page.

The merging of two families can often leave the children feeling a degree of uncertainty and fear.  They may wonder how this will affect their relationship with their parents, in addition to adapting to living with new members of the household.  This new union may also shatter any lingering hope of their parents reconciling.  In light of this, children will often try to sabotage the new relationship in a variety of ways.  Resistance can often take the form of acting out or placing blame.

Discuss roles and responsibilities within the home. Include children in chores, no matter how small, as this will give them a sense of belonging.  Try to set aside individual time for parent and child, child and step-parent and also step-siblings to bond. Children benefit from adults modeling love and respect, in addition to a unified front. Better they learn from the beginning that you are sharing the parenting roles. Be cognizant of feelings involved in changing family traditions and try to find some common ground and flexibility.

Try not to rush, take time to adjust, and allow children a role in setting the pace.  Respect their feelings, listen to their opinions and give space for children to have time alone with their parent and also their new step-siblings.  Step-families need time together in order to bond and figure out their new normal. Bouts of jealousy and resentment are not uncommon.

Building trust is an integral part of this process, but at the same time, we need to be honest with ourselves and to be genuine.  There will be times when children will test your authority or role in the home as a natural response to change.  Establish and communicate clear boundaries and allow the natural parent to be the main enforcer of household rules.

There will likely be times when your patience is tested, but try to remember that all children want to feel secure, valued and heard.  You may find yourself on the receiving end of barbs like, “You’re not my mother!” or “I hate you!” more often than you care to imagine, but this too shall pass.  Try to respond rather than react.  While you may not always agree or understand, by taking the time to listen, you are giving your relationship an opportunity to grow. The blending of two families is seldom an easy process, but it can be very a rewarding in the end.