By Aisha Givens, LCSW – July 16, 2019
Blended families or stepfamilies are more common than ever. These families form when two partners make a life together with children from previous relationships. When families blend, it is rarely a smooth or easy process.
These new families often form after a death, divorce, or separation of the birth parents. The transition to a new family unit can be very confusing and uncomfortable for children.
Children may feel they must choose between loving their original family or loving their new blended family. They may feel they will hurt someone’s feelings if they love someone new. They may be worried about how their relationships with their natural parents will change or how their relationships with their new parent and siblings will evolve.
Blending families creates a new dynamic, one where every person must find their role. Trying to replicate your first family can set you all up for confusion and disappointment. Instead, embrace your new family with the respect it deserves and allow for change and new growth.
The following are ways to build a stronger blended family and help children heal from the grief, disappointment, and resentment that can result from the loss or separation of their biological parents:
- Positive Reinforcement – Give encouragement and praise to children often. Find ways to make them feel appreciated and valued.
- Love – Give them positive attention and show them they are loved every day.
- Safety and Security – The children may have had at least one family fall apart or one parent leave or die, so they need to feel very safe and secure in this new family.
- Expectations and Boundaries – Talk to your new partner about parenting styles before your family blends. It’s best for the new parent to ease into a role of authority, but it is very important that both parents agree on how to parent all of the children before situations arise.
- Patience – Children deal with a wide range of feelings during the transition into a new family. It is important to remember that any new bad behaviors may be a result of their confusing emotions. Love and patience are necessary.
- Communication – Give children your undivided attention as often as possible. Prompt them to talk about their feelings and let them know they can be honest with you. Open communication with your children can be the best thing for all of you.
- New Experiences – Create new memories as you experience new activities together. Take family trips, go on picnics, have game nights, paint together. Find things to do that you will all enjoy and make new, happy memories for the children. Take photos of your new blended family to hang in your home.
- Family Meetings – As you are all adjusting to the new family unit, it is a great idea to hold regular family meetings and let each person speak their truth without being judged. This can be a time to talk about rules, feelings, events, or absolutely anything.
- Respect – It is impossible to force all family members to like one another, but you can insist that everyone respect each other.
- Limit Expectations – You may feel that you give a lot of time, energy, love, and attention to your partner’s children and get very little in return immediately. Think of it as an investment that will yield a great return one day.
You could do all of the right things and the children may still reject the new parents and resent your new family, but if you are consistent and genuine it will allow the children to know you are sincere.