Blended families are increasingly common. More and more families are raising children from different marriages together under one roof. Blending families is a fulfilling and life-changing experience, but it’s not without difficulties.
From confusion to resentment to jealousy, it’s normal for it to be an emotional experience.
Although any new family is likely to have periods of strife, you can make the process smoother. By following a few simple guidelines when raising children together, you can position your blended family for success.
There’s nothing in life more important than family. Make sure that you are doing everything in your power to make yours as happy as possible.
What is a Blended Family?
A blended family contains children from relationships other than that of the current adult partners. In some cases, this includes both partners entering with children, while in others only one partner has children.
Over time, the new partners may even add to the family by having one or more children together. In all cases, the blended families come together in a single household. The new parents assume the responsibility of raising children together.
Unique Challenges for Raising Children in Blended Families
Any time you take two different families and bring them together, there will be headaches. While you always hope that every transition will be as smooth as possible, even the easiest transitions can have the occasional snag.
The Joy of Growing Together
Every family lives at home in a way they are accustomed to. Even if you don’t think you have many family traditions, you still have a way of life you and your children know. When families combine, it will mean changes to what is comfortable.
The best blended families rely on compromise, with both families having areas where they will remain in their comfort zone. The tradeoff is that both families will need to make some changes, as well. Pushing back against changes is a natural human reaction, and makes the process more challenging.
Jealousy and resentment
Another common human trait is looking at someone else and wishing you had things like they do. When raising children in a blended family, you should not be surprised to encounter jealousy and resentment early in the process.
Children may be inclined to think one parent is kinder to their kids from a prior relationship, for example. Fortunately, you can combat this.
Establishing discipline standards
Few things are more sacred to a parent than the rules their children live by and enforcement of those rules. You treat your kids the way you do because you think it’s best for them. When a new partner comes in, possibly with their own children, there will likely be disagreements on this structure.
This also leads to strife with the children when there are suddenly more restrictions or harsher punishment. Learning to manage and implement these changes in a respectful and fair way is vital to raising children in a blended family.
10 Tips for Raising Children in a Blended Family
The difficulties associated with a blended family may seem overwhelming, but don’t worry. You’re not the first family embarking on this trip, so you have the benefit of learning from those with experience.
Understanding these ten core principles sets your blended family up for success, and makes the blending as smooth as possible.
1. Develop a plan for raising children before blending
Moving in together before you’re ready is a mistake. Not only does this lead to avoidable problems, but it also makes the children feel rushed. As tumultuous and challenging as separations are for the adults, it is harder on the children.
Parents rushing immediately into a new relationship as soon as a divorce is final denies children the time they need to grieve and understand their changed situation properly. Success rates for blended families go up when the parents wait at least two years following prior separations to unite their new families.
Just because you’ve been separated a long time doesn’t mean you can just jump into a blended family without planning, however. You’re asking your children to face a substantial life change, so make sure you’re ready.
You can’t help your kids prepare and face the changes if you aren’t ready yourself. Before moving in together, it’s important to have a plan. It’s not necessary to adhere 100 percent to it — you should be flexible — but a plan helps to keep your family on course.
2. Have realistic expectations and be patient
Everybody starting a new blended family wants the children to love their new parents immediately. While this is great when it happens, it’s important to temper your expectations.
This is a big and often scary change for children, and they need time to adjust to their new lives. A family is not made with a wedding; it is made with everyday signs of love and respect for each other.
When you enter a new blended family with the understanding that it may take time, you set your family up for success. Positive strides ahead of pace feel all the better.
Bumps in the road don’t feel as damaging, as they represent what you expected. Rushing things only leads to anger and resentment.
3. Establish personal relationships
The most effective way to forge new bonds is through direct interaction. Parents spending time with their new children creates bonds which can develop over time into familial love. Although these bonds can form in many ways, one-on-one time is most effective.
When your overall goal is combining everyone into a single family, it’s easy to think you should focus on doing as much together as possible. There is a time for group fun, and we’ll have more on that later, but individual time is essential.
When adding new children to your life, find common interests you share and build from there. Take a nature-minded child on walks on trails in the woods, or a sports fan to a game. Keeping the children in comfortable and enjoyable environments allows them to be more receptive to growing personal bonds.
Although alone time is the best way to make new bonds, it’s not the only way. It’s advisable to find group activities to take part in as a family. This is where the stronger individual bonds the parents are working on with the children branch out.
When finding boding activities, work toward a combination of traditions and one-off events. Making Wednesday night a family movie night creates one night a week where everyone comes together, for example.
Add to these regular acts with special days, like going to an amusement park or a trip to the beach. You don’t want to overwhelm your children by making all of your time family time, but you shouldn’t neglect group fun, either.
5. Alone time is still important
As important as it is to spend time together to build stronger bonds, time apart is also a must. This goes for both the parents and the children.
For adults, spending time on a personal hobby means a chance to relax and unwind a little. Raising children in a blended family can be hard, and that wears on you after awhile.
Individual time is even more important for children of a blended family. Always remember that any difficulties you are having with the process are likely magnified for them. If a child is denied the individual fun they are accustomed to it only makes the transition more challenging.
Encourage your kids to spend some time doing what they want, and they’ll be more receptive during time with others.
6. Don’t neglect your relationship with your partner
When you’re a parent, your kids are your everything. Transitions like this are challenging for many children, so it is easy to get lost in focusing on the kids exclusively. It is vitally important that you and your partner don’t neglect your relationship with each other.
Between one-on-one time with kids, group fun, solo time and work, your schedule is filling up fast. Don’t let that be an excuse not to still have date nights and one-on-one time with your partner. You can’t build a strong family without a strong bond between the parents overseeing it.
7. Encourage an open expression of emotion
No matter how smoothly everything is going in a new family, there’s no avoiding getting emotional. You and your children are experiencing a big change, so it’s only normal to feel sad, elated, and everything in between at different times.
It’s important for your children to know they can be honest about what they are feeling, even if it’s not a positive feeling. Forcing children to suppress their negative feelings allows them to fester and build resentment.
Confrontation is uncomfortable but resist the urge to avoid the issue when a child is clearly upset. Ask what’s wrong and seek ways to deal with the situation together. Children need to have their feelings validated or else creating honest relationships becomes impossible.
8. Seek outside assistance
As a parent and spouse, you are asked to be many things, including a reliable support system for those you love. While this is a worthwhile endeavor, it’s also taxing.
When you feel the stresses of raising children in a blended family growing, you need an outside source to vent with.
Whether that is through a professional therapist, a sibling or parent, or just a good friend, outside assistance helps you to be the strong foundation your family needs. Seeking help from others is not a sign of weakness. It is a way to maintain strength.
Don’t allow problems to grow and grow inside of you when speaking to someone you trust offers a safe outlet.
9. Keep adult drama away from the kids
In an ideal world, every separation would be amicable. Unfortunately, that is not the case for many separations. No matter if you have an outstanding relationship with your ex with only the occasional minor disagreement, or if there is strong resentment or worse, what you should always seek to avoid is passing that on to your children.
Separation is hard enough without the parents using the children as pawns, or poisoning the well by making mean comments about their ex.
Attempting to pit your children against an ex not only makes your children more stressed, it greatly hinders efforts to blend your new family. When parents create an atmosphere of “us vs. them” with their exes, that naturally leads to the exes in question offering their own negative comments.
This creates unnecessary hurdles in building the new bonds your blended family needs.
10. Respect for all parties is essential
Just as a plan should always be where you start, respect is where it all ends. If there is not a feeling of respect in your blended family, there will always be problems. The important thing to remember is that respect goes both ways.
For children, having a new authority figure in their life can lead to rebellion and not listening. Teaching your children to respect and honor your partner creates a bedrock which love can later build off of.
On the flip side, new parents must be respectful of the children joining their family, as well. Taking a hard “my way or the highway” approach to disputes only fosters negative feelings. Your planning with your spouse should already have you well positioned to set guidelines for your children, so just respectfully enforce them, and be understanding and willing to be flexible when disagreements arise.
By basing your new blended family on respect, you increase the chances of your family growing closer and closer together.
The Joy of Growing Together
As overwhelming of a challenge as it may seem to have a blended family, it’s worth it. As love develops over time, you’ll be adding the most beautiful thing you can add to your life — more family! Every family, blended or not, is going to have rough patches.
We’ve all been children and know with experience that, sometimes, kids are just going to be mad because they’re kids. There is no shortcut to becoming one happy family, but you can make the process easier. While raising children in a blended family no doubt takes work, you won’t regret it one bit at the end of the road.
Are you currently raising children in a blended family? Do you have any tips for those starting out that you think we missed? Let us know about it in the comments. The more information for families the better!