If you’re a parent who is widowed, separated from a partner or divorced and you plan to couple or marry another person with children, you are forming a blended family. Before you jump in, please consider the following:
- Don’t rush things
Take all the time you need to reliably assess the new relationship, especially if your last experience was a breakup. Since none of us is perfect, and everyone puts their best foot forward during early dating, be sure that you are compatible with each other’s quirks and flaws. Really get to know each other first and be absolutely certain about your relationship. That should take a while, at least a year. Although you have met the ‘right’ person, don’t expect it to be an instant attraction for your children.
You have likely exchanged pictures and told stories about the children’s personalities. Share family rituals that your children are used to – mealtimes, play, homework, bedtime routines, chores, birthdays, vacations. Discuss religion and how you handle extended family relationships and gatherings. The more you know about each other’s families, the more you’ll be able to preview, and deal with, any problems that may arise. Your blended family will be able to establish some new family rituals.
Discuss your parenting styles and how the two of you can complement your differences. Then, plan some brief meetings, on neutral ground, with fun activity, to minimize any awkwardness.
- Meeting the children
Arrange a first, brief meeting for your partner and your children, without his/her children. S/he can give full attention to your children and there’s no need to overwhelm them with other children at first. A few more meetings with the other adult would be beneficial before all of the children meet for some activity that all could enjoy.
- Talk with your children
Imagine your children’s perspective – dealing with a new parent figure and his/her children. There will be some new rules and rituals. They may feel they are losing part of you, having to share you with a new adult and other children. Be clear about how the adults will run the household – baths, media, play dates, curfews. Especially, in the beginning, it’s useful for a blended parent to say “your mom/dad said you need to …” when doling out limits and rules.
Ask (but don’t dwell) about your child’s experience of meeting the new ‘blends’ in an age appropriate way. What was good and what was hard for them? See if it’s reasonable and feasible to follow their lead for their next meeting. When you tell them that they will be in a blended family, help them be comfortable with how they address that person. Don’t expect it to be “mom” or “dad”. Even if you are widowed, children, above a certain age, might feel disloyal to bestow that venerable title to other than their bio parent. When there is a bio parent, loyalty feelings are rampant and that could cause dissonance with your former/partner spouse. A blended parent can begin by being a special friend…love can follow.
* Give it time
Re-coupling and remarriage are adult decisions. There will be some changes for each member of the newly blended family – school, a new home, friends, family rituals, etc. Adjustment takes time and discussion. Talk with your own children first and, depending on their ages, then there’s time to have a blended family meeting, with some limitations set by the adults. Each child can share something that is hard for him/her and something s/he likes. Allow time for the new relationships to gel…blended parents and blended siblings. Addressing their feelings and facilitating some alterations will go a long way toward bonding and what can be a wonderful experience.