- Blending two families can be challenging but also very rewarding.
- Parents should be clear about the roles and boundaries between co-parents, step-parents, and other family members.
- Parents should agree to work as a team, be flexible, and encourage open and honest communication.
Maybe you've taken a year or two to recover from your divorce and are settled into your schedule of shared parenting time. You and your co-parent are committed to communicating about your children and conflicts between you are rare. If you are at this point, you are able to look toward the future with hope and optimism.
Your children appear to have adjusted to the new family structure, with your support and professional help as needed. Research shows that it takes a year or two for children to adapt to the divorce, going between Mom’s house and Dad’s house, and the other changes in the family.
Perhaps you are already in a new committed relationship. It has been 9-12 months, and you are ready to tell your ex that you will be introducing your new partner to your children. Maybe you have already done so, and the children have accepted your new partner.
Now you are considering cohabitation or remarriage. Here’s where it can be complicated.
Children are often part of the package when you find a new partner
How do you successfully blend two families? It can be challenging, and it can also be very rewarding. Here are some tips to discuss with your partner.
- Be clear about the roles and boundaries between co-parents, step-parents, and other family members. Most importantly, agree that the stepparent will not “parent” the stepchildren. Never discipline your stepchildren unless there is an emergency. The stepparent’s role, as the children experience it, should be similar to a favorite uncle or aunt.
- Discuss your roles with your new partner. Agree to work as a team to support each other when issues arise. Being clear about the role of bio-parent vs. step-parent will prevent confusion and conflict. Be clear that you are not replacing your step-kids' other parent. Respect their other bio-parent and speak well of them.
- Be flexible. Your schedules will be complicated, especially when your children are on different schedules with their other parent. If possible, each of you should try to have some scheduled time alone with your biological children. For example, if you have a week on/week off schedule, perhaps your partner can aim for a split-week schedule.
- Encourage open and honest communication. For example, you might schedule a weekly family meeting to check in with the children about how they are doing. Your goal is to build trust with your stepchildren, but expect some resistance if you try to be another parent to them.
- Be patient. It takes a long time to blend two families, and there will be problems to solve along the way. Remember to work together as a team to find solutions that work for everyone. Your step-children are processing their parents' divorce while learning to accept you as a step-parent. It will take some time to build a relationship with your step-children, so don't expect instant bonding. Get to know them, their interests, friends, and feelings.
- Accept that you and your new partner probably have different parenting styles. Don’t try to change this, as this is one way to undermine your new relationship. Your new partner may have very different expectations of his/her children. While exchanging feedback is important, you may have to honor each other’s differences. Be careful not to compare your children with your step-children.
- Respect each other’s opinions, even when you disagree. Keep communication going, but you may have to back down when your partner makes parenting decisions you disagree with.
- Prioritize the children. If you can facilitate building friendships between all of the children, that is helpful. But notice when they need a break from each other, and make more time with their biological parents.
- Focus on the positive and enjoy the time together. Create new traditions as a blended family. For example, you may have a ritual hug when the children transition in or out of the home. Family dinners at least once a week, game nights, movie nights, and other traditions help the children bond with each parent and their stepsiblings. Be a positive role model, modeling values such as cooperation, compassion, and respect.
- Seek professional support when things aren’t working well. Don’t put this off. Find a family therapist who understands the challenges of blending families.
A step-parent can be an incredibly influential and positive person in the lives of the children. Enjoy the journey, and you and your expanded family will thrive.
© Ann Gold Buscho, Ph.D. 2023