Doing Life Together

family  tug of warJill and Dave are about to celebrate their first wedding anniversary as a couple. This is the second marriage for both spouses and blending their families has been more of an issue than initially anticipated. A year into the marriage, several of their children are still not on board with the new family. “We really thought things would gel much more quickly than they have. A year into this and we are only becoming aware of the issues, much less figuring them out!”

Navigating blended family dynamics is tougher than most couples realize. The time it takes to really consolidate a new family takes years and can’t be rushed. Kids feel threatened, grief at the loss of the original family, resentful, and uncomfortable with a new set of relatives. And the new couple is trying to figure out why their love for each other doesn’t translate to more peace and love in the home. So here are a few tips to help:

1) Each parent should take the lead with their own child. Don’t have the step parent step into your role. Instead, allow the step parent to be more of the nurturer in order to build positive relationships with the new kids in their household.

2) Do on-going planning. Both parents should discuss how holidays and special days will be handled, as there are now 2 different ways of doing things that need to be blended or accommodated. Also, how will meals, dishes, schoolwork, activities and routines be worked in to the newly restructured family? This requires lots of talking about former habits and routines, and requires discussing current expectations.

3) The step parent should not act as if the original parent is unimportant now. Just because the spouses have moved on, doesn’t mean the children have. Instead, offer to listen if the child wants to talk about the other parent or spend time with that parent.  Encourage communication and staying connected. This helps the child see that you are not trying to end their relationship with their original parent and that you are not threatened by the former spouse.

4) Pay attention to your reactions to your spouse’s children. If you are honest, you may be less tolerant or forgiving of their behavior because you don’t know them well and do not want them to create problems in your new relationship. So check your reactions and be patient. Regulate your emotions.

5) Don’t complain about your spouse’s children. Instead try to understand them and ask for advice as to how to handle problems. Work with your spouse so he/she doesn’t have to be dividing their loyalties. If you are not sure how to react to something, ask the parent of that child. The parent knows the child well and can help you understand how their particular child may react to something you want to do. Listen to your spouse if they are saying, “That won’t be received well with that child.”

Finally, give the process time. As mentioned, restructuring and consolidating a new family can take years.

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