Yours, Mine and Ours
By Kim Green-Spangler
In the 70's the Brady Bunch made it look so easy and for decades the story of Cinderella made it seem so difficult - the concept of his family merging with her family and everyone living together happily ever after. Blending a family is a very important, special and demanding undertaking. Definitely not to be taken lightly and is especially not recommended for the faint-hearted. But with about 50% of all marriages ending in divorce, there are as many blended family situations occurring annually as first marriage families. In recognition of this special entity, the month of January has been named National Blended Family Month.
The ease in which a family blends varies considerably from case to case. Some factors which can come into play are the ages of the children, the temperament of all parties involved, the situations surrounding the disconnection of the initial parental union and the daily living circumstances.
Patience and respect will be required in large quantities to make the transition. All parties should remember that change requires a period of adjustment, and each person adjusts to a situation in their own way, at their own rate. In addition, each child will have to deal with the prospect of having to share a parent with the new step-parent, as well as other children on a full or part-time basis.
Proactively Handling a Blended Situation
Parents should not wait until the last minute to spring the possibility of blending a family on children. While it should not be addressed prematurely (in the very early dating phase), it should be discussed way before rings are picked out and living location is decided upon.
The adults should discuss their parenting views and expectations before mentioning anything to the children. If parenting styles do not mesh, successful blending will be even more difficult, if not impossible. If styles are not complete opposites, parenting classes could help determine the best way to handle discipline and establishing mutually agreed upon ground rules.
It is recommended that parents marry instead of deciding to co-habitate. Living together, while seemingly an easier option if things don't work out, gives children the impression that the relationship is simply a trial. Let the children know that the adults are seriously committed to each other and plan on being in the relationship for the long haul.
In order to prevent squabbles over space, it is recommended that a new house be purchased or a new apartment be found when possible. The new living space should allow each child to have his or her own room so that they have their own space. If practical, let them play an active role in decorating the new space so that each room makes everyone feel "at home."
Give children ample time to get to know their new step-parent-to-be before they will be forced to share the same living space. Let them get acquainted with all of the children involved and even the adults that will be interacting with their new step-siblings. It may help them better prepare for their new life when they have a heads-up. However, take care not to force any situations if children are clearly not yet ready. While some children may never come around, statistics show that most children of blended families do eventually adjust to and will even thrive in the situation.
When the Family Moves in Together
Allow time for the children to interact with his or her own parent on a one-on-one basis. Children may already feel like their turf is being treaded upon. Allow equal time for all children to bond with both parent and step-parent. In addition, parents should note that children, especially teenagers, may need more time to hang-out with friends to discuss this new situation. It may help them deal with the transition when they have peers to vent to.
Parents should never attempt to resolve conflicts with each other and/or their respective ex-partners in front of the children. How can parents expect children to behave and handle their emotions responsibly, when they can't demonstrate this skill themselves? Children will follow suit. Handle conflicts in private and always try to present a united front.
Communicate about everything. Hold regular family meetings and let each member of the family know that their concerns are important to the whole family. Let them know that it is much easier to deal with issues as soon as they arise. Time often muddles one's perceptions and allows prolonged hurt feelings. Family meetings will also provide a time for new schedules, ideas, and traditions to emerge.
Tips for Handling Typical Problems
The adults should have a plan in place. After getting to know all of the parties involved they should determine what their goal is. Perhaps it's just to create a respectful environment upon which a family can be built, and to make sure everyone feels loved and wanted. Whatever the initial goals are, the parents should have a clear idea in mind, always remembering not to expect too much too soon, while allowing the new step-parent to spread their own wings.
Both children and adults may feel a little jealous over having to share their time. It is important for everyone to have one-on-one time, this includes the couple. The adults must make sure that their relationship does not get shoved to the side by spending all of their time focusing on the children. It's important that children see the adults interact in a loving respectful manner. Children in particular may have a rough time adjusting. Especially if they were the oldest, youngest, or only child and their status has changed.
Despite their past history with their own children, parents must remember to treat all children equally and fairly in an age appropriate manner. If children get the inkling that they are not being treated equitably, bad feelings are sure to result. Parents will probably be accused of favoritism and the relationship between the children will be affected.
Creating a blended family can be very difficult, but is definitely not impossible. If roadblocks continue to appear, don't give up hope, get some help. Contact a local support group or a family therapist with experience to help smooth the way.
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