By Cathie Ericson
The Brady Bunch only exists in TV land. In reality, combining two families can be incredibly tricky. When single parents get serious in a relationship, they might be feeling the crush of new love and the excitement of building a new life together. The kids who are involved (his/hers/ours) may not share their euphoria. They may not even anticipate the various blended family challenges that arise.
Easing Blended Family Challenges
“It can take ample time for blended families to get into a flow that really works. The beginning can be bumpy, so brace for impact,” says Erin Asquith, LCSW, of Verus Therapy in Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey. “Roles shift once you go from dad’s fun girlfriend to step-mom who now will discipline.”
Here are three steps to help ease the transition.
1. Develop a plan.
First, you and your partner need to get on the same page. “It’s important for new partners to sit down and discuss their values and what they want to teach within the new home they’re establishing,” says Asquith.
Once you’ve settled on a set of principles, invite input from all the kids. Share the principles in a family meeting, so everybody is in the know. But be sure to use the meeting as a springboard to let your kids share what they need.
While you’re at it, discuss new rituals and ways for the family to bond. How does it look each time they return or come back to your new blended home? Do you eat dinner together? What does the nighttime routine look like? And, while you’re creating time for the entire family to be together, you also want to remember to carve out opportunities for the “original” family to spend time as they used to before the transition.
2. Emphasize equality.
It’s imperative that you and your new partner have the same expectations for your biological and non-biological kids. This includes chores, the rules you set (such as curfew), and the financial obligations they have (such as whether they pay their own cellphone bill or pay for activities with friends).
Share the house rules and then stick with them, says Asquith. “Consistency is the name of the game, always.”
Remember though, that no matter how hard you try, creating equality is always challenging and almost not achievable, even for non-blended families. “Get ready for your kids to tell you that things aren’t fair, but do the best you can,” she says.
3. Help build relationships between stepsiblings.
Remember that your teen has always held a certain “role” in the family dynamic, and this can shift as more kids join the fold. Maybe your daughter was the baby of your family, but now she’s the middle child and almost unwittingly, the expectations of her change.
Keep that dialogue open and resist the urge to try to make them automatically become BFFs with the other kids. Those relationships will be built over time.
Above all, at the core you’re still a parent, putting your family first, points out Asquith. Parents are going to have hiccups and successes along the way, no matter what the family looks like.
Cathie Ericson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon. Read more about Cathie at cathieericsonwriter.com.